Why Come to Men’s Shed St Andrews?

By Professor Chris Oliver

After a very busy life as a consultant orthopaedic trauma surgeon and professor of surgery working at The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh I retired almost three years ago. My life was about saving lives and limbs. I am still based in Edinburgh, but live in The East Neuk some of the week. Moving from a very busy professional life to retirement mode can be very stressful for many. It’s easy to carry on one’s old life, while continuing some medical practice and research. But moving onto new activities and adventures is hard for some to do, but having a good social network and community to relate to is important when moving into a new retirement life.

I accidentally discovered Men’s Shed St Andrews via a cycling friend – his wife had “ordered” us to attend! In spring of 2019 I first attended the Men’s Shed and thought this would not be for me, surely, I was too young? The first hard part of becoming a “shedder” is to physically turn up at the Shed in the first place. Once I had discovered and attended the Shed I immediately found it a warm friendly diverse community of men of all ages, who “talk with each other, rather than at each other.” It’s “shoulder to shoulder” as the Australian Men’s Shed say. This way of communication is different for many men. Lots of new activities occur, some expected and some not.

On my first visit I helped make some animals out of willow for the Guardbridge cycle path. A lot of activities revolve around woodwork; learning how to make an Adirondack chair is a rite of passage to becoming a shedder. All Men’s Sheds are a bit different, with varying activities, many doing charitable work for their local community. For instance, we were requested to make ten planters for Leuchars railway station by the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Scotland, which we duly handed over on the station platform one rainy day last winter. This was quite pleasurable, seeing how you could be making a valuable contribution to brighten up many people’s lives. The Shed is for all men, age 18 to 100 plus, who come from all walks of life!

I had always wanted to do wood turning again. I turned a cherry bowl at Men’s Shed St Andrews. It was my first bowl since woodwork at school in 1973, when I made a similar one, but that was nearly 50 years ago. Lovely to relearn old skills, and not too dissimilar to my past life as an orthopaedic surgeon – it’s just a slightly different kind of woodwork! As I went into the dish of the bowl an “ugly” gnarly knot appeared. The chisel started kicking. No longer “perfect”, I was disturbed, but fellow shedders quickly reassured me, saying it’s a lovely unique feature. It seems a lot of people really like knots; even my dentist, a secret wood-turner, told me how beautiful knots are. I never knew! I realise that this beautiful bowl now represents my acceptance of imperfection. It’s a deep metaphor for me. Everybody doesn’t need to be perfect, I don’t need to fix everything in my life, I can now pick my battles more carefully; and if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Philosophical times for the Men’s Shed, and a wee bowl.

The pandemic stopped all Shed activities. We have just reopened with all sensible protective measures. During the lockdown we kept together with twice-weekly Zoom meetings. This was important, as some of the members are vulnerable and isolated. Surprisingly, one of our members, Gazza, aged 75, who had never had a smartphone, or used the Internet before, got himself online to stay connected. Virtual meetings have made us even closer friends.

Across Scotland the National Scottish Men’s Sheds Association has helped develop about 130 Sheds across Scotland with at least another 50 in development. The Shed movement is exploding as men realise the positive effects on their health, new friendships, and subliminal mental health support surrounding the Shed experience.

We are based behind the Botanic Garden at the end of Wallace St, St Andrews KY16 8AN. We welcome new members. Come along and give us a try. Twitter.com/CyclingSurgeon

Men’s Shed St Andrews email: mensshedstandrews@gmail.com Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mensshedstandrews/

Men’s Shed St Andrews Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/standrewsmensshed/

Scottish Men’s Shed Association – find a shed near you: https://scottishmsa.org.uk/

Professor Chris Oliver

Shed St Andrews

Gnarled Bowl

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