Tuesday 22 May 2018

Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project, Bolton

Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
A few things have happened in the last couple weeks which have made me want to do this post. Firstly, I've been thinking a lot about mental health after reading a few things on social media, and chatting to people I work with.

Last year, a series of events in my own life left me feeling especially vulnerable to the world around me, but on reflection, I was incredibly lucky to be surrounded by people who were ready to wrap their arms around me, offer support, and build me up. I chose to be happy, but could only do that with a lot of help. I feel very fortunate.

Then last week I read an article by Simon Binns in the Manchester Evening News. It was an incredibly honest account of how his life got turned upside down by anxiety and depression, to which most of us (at some time in our lives) can relate to. Have a read.

Next up was a trip to Men in Sheds at the Willow Hey Project in Farnworth, and something magical happened. The project was set up by Age UK Bolton, in partnership with Bolton Council and Bolton at Home. It is for men who feel isolated or a bit down, and want to make new friendships whilst having some fun. They grow fruit and vegetables (as well as some fantastic plants and flowers), make things, and aim to support health and mental well being in their community. Basically this is a free space for men (although everyone's welcome) to get together, have a chat, get involved in a whole manner of projects, and feel like they belong, in a beautiful setting.

I felt compelled to tell you about it. 
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
We all find it hard to open up sometimes. A survey by the Mental Health Foundation showed only a quarter of men had told a friend or family member that they were struggling. Even when they do share, it's not always easy to persuade them to seek professional help. Men were 40% more likely than women to wait over two years, or never tell friends or family. 

This is why initiatives such as the Willow Hey Project are going to be so important for communities in the future. Let's face it, the NHS are up against it, so it's up to us to look after each other a little more as well. Community Development Officer Chris Wood told us tales of men whose lives had been turned around after illness, bereavement, tough family situations, and loneliness. We got to talk to some of the men who access the project, who spoke so lovingly about the work they get involved in, and what it means to them. Before I get all teary, I suggest you watch this:
All about the Willow Hey Project

On our visit, Glen (a man who I am sure has been a carpenter from birth) was telling us all about the amazing Viking roundhouse they are building at the bottom of the site, which is one magnificent structure. I have to admit that I got rather excited by his talk on making Viking tool boxes, and by the end of my visit, was pretty much convinced that I wanted to be a Viking.
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
The Viking roundhouse
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
The passion they have for the work they are involved in is truly infectious, and clearly brings them joy and an increased sense of purpose, as well as meeting some new friends in the process. We all left the site feeling massively humbled by what they were doing, and by what many of them had overcome. And we wanted chickens.

Where is the Willow Hey Project?
This project is in the corner of Doe Hey Grove in Farnworth. Just walk round the green and enter via the gate.

When can I visit Willow Hey Project?
  • Men in Sheds session: Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday between 9.30am-2.30pm
  • Community growing/social day: Thursdays 10am-4pm

Now the site has water and power, they are hoping to host forest school sessions, they have longer term plans for a horticultural college on the site, and already host events such as music festivals, and parties for the wider community during Easter, Summer, Halloween and Christmas.
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
For more information, please contact Lee Harrison (Men in Sheds Coordinator) leeharrison@ageukbolton.org.uk 
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
The girls
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project
Men in Sheds - The Willow Hey Project

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