A SWANSEA Bay mental health champion has heaped a shed-load of praise on a community well-being project.
Jayne Whitney, the health board’s Suicide Prevention Lead, has welcomed news that the founder of The Men’s Shed in Clydach has won an award, pointing out that the work it does, through bringing people together, has almost certainly saved lives.
Men’s Sheds are places for the community to enjoy craftwork and social interaction, whilst helping to improve the health and well-being of its members.
The one in Clydach was established in 2019 when retired teacher Belinda Gardiner saw a derelict blacksmith’s forge in the Swansea Valley village and thought that it would make an ideal home for a local branch of the growing movement.
It quickly became a lifeline for men and women in the area and its popularity grew, resulting in Clydach Community Council naming Belinda its Health and Well-being Award winner 2023.
Jayne said: “As a health board we’re trying to encourage more arenas where people can meet up. All credit to the Men’s Shed in Clydach, they sound as if they’ve got it really right. It’s absolutely brilliant work and long may it continue.
“I can absolutely say, with the evidence base and knowledge within mental health, that that group has almost certainly saved lives. That’s how important it is for our communities and people who live within them.
“I wish there were more available in all areas for people.”
Jayne also signposted the 111 Option 2 mental health helpline as a great source of support for those experiencing poor mental health, as well as encouraging people to talk to their Local Area Coordinator.
She said: “If people are finding it difficult to know where they can go to find help, they could ring in 111, choose option 2, and ask for advice.
“Our Health Board launched the service back in the summer, and it’s open 24 hours, seven days a week. You can phone about your own mental health or it can be used for anybody who’s concerned about a neighbour, a friend or a relative.
“You go through to a trained mental health practitioner and they will have a discussion and take you through a triage. They’ll listen to your story and they will be able to direct you to the right support, or maybe you will be invited to come for an assessment.
“They could also look to the local area coordinators, who are community based and work with people who want to engage with others in their communities for support and to combat social isolation.”
Belinda Gardiner said: “It’s absolutely amazing to win this recognition. It’s an award from the community – that’s why it’s so very special.
“We started the shed four years ago this June and it has gone from strength to strength.
“I never imagined it being so successful so quickly. It has snowballed – particularly since the pandemic, and more latterly, during the cost of living crisis when we gave out homemade soup and fresh bread tea, coffee, biscuits and cake.
“People were coming earlier and leaving later.”
When informed others believe the shed has helped save lives Belinda was quick to say: “People just come here and if anyone is troubled, we try to help them.
“There are lots of stories I could tell you and I know that we have saved lives.
“It’s quite humbling really that a little shed like this, that just started from an idea, has saved lives, not only in the village but the wider community.
“Some, who have come to the shed, have been quite depressed and thought that the only way out was suicide. But after coming to the shed, and people listening to them, and supporting them, it has brought them back and encouraged them to want to live again.”
Clydach councillor Matthew Bailey said: “Belinda was nominated by people from the village and we felt she was a worthy winner following the sacrifices she has made in her own life to benefit others.
“But she would be the first to say that the men’s shed is what it is because of each and every one of its regulars.
“It’s not just a social group. It’s much more than that.
“Without wishing to overhype it, although it’s perfectly true, the men’s shed has provided a lifeline for a lot of people, especially during Covid when people were locked indoors. It provided an outreach service where they were either collecting prescriptions for them or just giving them a ring to see if they were OK.”
Fellow Clydach Ward councillor, Gordon Walker, added: “Unfortunately, people do lose loved ones and they can fall into the habit of sitting at home dwelling on things but this is somewhere for them to come and talk to others.
“There is a lovely ethos here and fittingly, for a former blacksmiths, this place has forged many friendships.”
Husband and wife, Stuart and Ann Rees (pictured left), both in their 70s from Graigfelin, are regulars at the shed.
Ann Rees said: “I don’t think my husband would come if it was on his own, so we come together.
“He sits with the men and I sit with the women – then we find we have something to talk about when we get home.
“When you’re at home all day, with just the two of you there, you have nothing to talk about. After being here you can go home and have something different to talk about.
“It’s a lifeline not only for people in the village of Clydach – we have people from Pontardawe and Morriston coming along.”
Stuart Rees said: “I’ve been coming along for over a year now. It gets you out of the house for a couple of hours, it’s nice to get out. And you meet different people and do different things.
“It’s definitely good for your mental health – everyone is so nice. You can talk to anybody who comes here.”
Places to get help with mental health
Mens Sheds Cymru – The home of Mens Sheds in Wales
Jac Lewis Foundation
Local Area Coordinators in Neath Port Talbot – Neath Port Talbot Council (npt.gov.uk)
Local Area Coordination – Swansea