A landmark project set up by a County Durham charity to tackle social isolation among older people is having unexpected benefits for local wildlife.
In February this year, Age UK County Durham officially opened its new community shed, which sits alongside the charity’s retail outlet on the Mandale Business Park in Belmont and is designed to provide a location in which older local people can spend time, make new friends and use their skills on a range of different projects.
A number of the shed’s users, who come from across Durham City and beyond, are using their woodworking skills to build, recycle and upcycle a range of different items, including garden furniture and bird boxes.
But the most popular items being made in the shed are wooden hedgehog houses, which have completely sold out after being put on sale in the neighbouring Age UK store.
The community shed was built with the support of a £15,000 grant from regional employer The Banks Group’s Banks Community Fund, and the charity is now looking at the possibility of adding a greenhouse onto the side of it in the future.
Its users have now begun to take on commissions for designing and building new sets of garden furniture, and the charity is examining ways in which it can further extend the range of activities available and get other local organisations involved with making them happen.
The idea for the project was based on the successful Men In Sheds concept that has seen dedicated centres for older people being set up right across the UK, but has been designed to go beyond that by offering a multi-generational, age-friendly space that can be used for a wide range of different activities.
The shed is currently used for various weekly arts & crafts, woodcrafts and upcycling sessions, and all materials, as well as refreshments, are provided.
Robyn Holmes, CEO at Age UK County Durham, says: “Social isolation and loneliness can be a particularly acute problem for older people, who might sometimes go days between interactions with other people, and the shed was envisaged as a way of directly tackling such problems.
“The feedback we’ve had from service users since we opened has been extremely positive – not only do they clearly enjoy having the chance to use their skills and try out new activities, but the camaraderie and support they get from old friends and new has a tangible impact on their health and well-being, especially for those who might be facing bereavement or other significant personal challenges.
“The range and quality of items that are being produced is very impressive, and the hedgehog homes have been proving especially popular!
“We want to keep developing what’s on offer at the shed, with the addition of a greenhouse alongside it being one such option, and to use what’s been achieved at Belmont as the blueprint for other locations around County Durham.
“Making this project a reality would have been a much longer-term goal without the support we’ve had from The Banks Group, and the positive community impact it has already had is a terrific return on their investment.”
Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at The Banks Group, adds: “It’s great to see the difference that the shed is making to people living across our home county and we’re very pleased to be supporting such a worthwhile community project.”
The Banks Community Fund provides grants for community groups and voluntary organisations in the vicinity of Banks Group projects.
Anyone interested in applying for funding should contact James Eaglesham, fund manager for The Banks Community Fund at County Durham Community Foundation, on 0191 378 6342 to check if their group or project is eligible.
For further information on Age UK County Durham’s community shed, please visit www.ageuk.org.uk/countydurham