A pioneering project set up to help people with disabilities or mental health issues find friendship and purpose in the natural surroundings of Durlston Country Park in Swanage, has been so successful that it’s looking to expand in 2023.
The Everyone Needs A Shed scheme was part of the £1 million Lottery funded project to restore the wider Durlston Pleasure Grounds and included laying new pathways, restoring dry stone walls, creating a new woodland play park for children, managing wildlife habitats and organising arts events.
Durlston Country Park, run by Dorset Council, hopes to open the Shed five days a week with more volunteers
Made out of recycled shipping containers
But the unexpected success story of the project was down to the Sheddies – the affectionate name given to members of the shed, created in the woodland at the northern end of Lighthouse Road, Swanage.
An old, half forgotten storage shed in the grounds was cleared out, demolished and replaced by a new building made out of recycled shipping containers to be comfortable, efficient and accessible by wheelchairs to create a space where anyone and everyone could get involved with gardening.
The scheme was then opened up to all, regardless of age, health or disability, giving volunteers the chance to join in projects which help out the Durston estate, but which more importantly provides friendship, support and a community for those who could have been alone and forgotten during lockdown.
There are always practical projects for the Sheddies to work on
Volunteers have given 7,000 hours
Volunteers have now contributed more than 7,000 hours to the Everyone Needs A Shed project, including nearly 3,000 hours from people with disabilities or long-term health problems.
The group is self sufficient, recently raising £430 from the sale of woodland crafts that members made and sold at the Swanage Christmas market, and has contributed much to the grounds at Durlston including bird boxes, stone signs and outdoor models.
But numbers of those attending have started to rise so much, reaching 28 at one meeting in December 2022, that a recruitment drive for more lead Sheddies – volunteers in a leadership role who are trained to support other members – will begin in January 2023 so that the shed can open its doors for more days every week.
Lead Sheddie Chris Butler explains another project to volunteers
An inclusive and welcoming space for all
Durlston Country Park project leader Ali Tuckey said:
“Everyone Needs a Shed is one of the biggest successes of the Durlston Pleasure Grounds project. The vision to create an inclusive and welcoming space where people of all ages and abilities could come together has been achieved despite the challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The principles of the Shed are that it provides a flexible, low commitment volunteering experience for anyone, but in particular wants to support people with disabilities or health conditions, or people who may be lonely or isolated or suffering from mental health problems.
“People who come to the Shed can take part in a range of activities, from gardening, to stone carving, woodworking, willow weaving, crafts and maintenance work.
“It has really exceeded our expectations – 40 percent of our volunteer time is now provided by people who identify as having a disability or a long term illness and it enables them to be part of a supportive community which can contribute practical work to Durlston.”
The Everyone Needs a Shed project was formulated at Durlston Castle
Sheddies use existing skills and learn new ones
The Shed also welcomes other groups, such as the Purbeck View School for young people with autism and the Out of the Blue Mental Health support group, providing a quiet and supportive space where people can socialise and learn new skills.
Sheddies are using existing skills and learning new ones to contribute to the wider project, while also creating a strong community – and at the same time becoming self sufficient, with many sessions entirely volunteer-led, and generating income through sales of produce and homemade items.
The Shed currently meets four times a week
- Mondays 2 pm to 4 pm – Cuppa and Chat – enjoy a cuppa and make some new friends in the woodland surroundings. Just drop in
- Tuesdays 2 pm to 4 pm – join a ranger to help out with practical tasks to support the park including painting, fixing signs, creating crafts or taking part in other DIY projects
- Wednesdays 2.30 pm to 4.30 pm – join the team of lead Sheddies to take part in various activities including arts, woodwork and gardening
- Fridays 2 pm to 4 pm (resumes 3rd March 2023) – the gardening group looks after vegetables, plants and flowers, which are then sold for a donation on the plant stall to help fund the project
Willow weaving workshops create new items to sell at the craft shop
Always free tea and coffee and a friendly chat
Lead Sheddie Doug Sheffield would like to see more regular sessions become viable to increase the service offered to Swanage.
“This is a lovely open space which can benefit so many people – it is non judgemental and very welcoming, where we all muck in together and keep people active and busy, helping Durlston at the same time as finding new friends and working out any problems they may have.
“It is very relaxed, very casual and there is never any pressure on volunteers or visitors – although there is always free tea and coffee and a friendly chat to be had!
“It’s a great community, but with more volunteers to help lead the group we could run more sessions on Thursdays and every Friday and become more flexible about what we can offer.”
96 year old Gerald still finds plenty of ways to help out at the country park
Five ways to better personal wellbeing
Currently, the oldest sheddie is 96 year old Gerald, who said:
“I’ve been coming here since the start and come here every week. It’s really neighbourly and I’ve made friends. You get different ideas and it keeps your brain active. I used to be able to get out more, but now I can’t, but the friends I’ve made here help me out a lot.”
Other sheddies are in wheelchairs, have dementia, suffer from brain injuries or coping with depression, but all have a way to offer practical help to the project while finding friends and benefiting from being in beautiful natural surroundings.
Everyone Needs A Shed works around the principal of there being five ways to better personal wellbeing:
- Helping people connect to each other and to nature
- Being more physically active
- Learning new skills
- Giving back to the community
- Having time to reflect and be mindful
Among the volunteers are Sue and her collie-cross lab therapy dog Dougal, whose skill is getting close to those who are lonely and gently nudging them until they give him a fuss!
Sue and Dougal, the therapy dog, both volunteer at The Shed
“Who doesn’t love stroking a dog?!”
“Dougal is registered with Therapy Dogs Nationwide, and has worked with the Memory Cafe at Wareham and local residential homes, but now we work as volunteers at Durlston, at the Castle or at the Shed.
“Using dogs as therapy animals is not a new idea, they have been used for more than 40 years with the care sector and also are a great help with special needs and autistic children and adults.
“They give a focus and help to calm people, improve communication skills, increase confidence levels and help to control movement – and who doesn’t love stroking a dog?!”
Chris Butler and Doug Sheffield with tools donated to the Shed project
A common desire to enjoy people’s company
Former teacher Chris Butler is now a lead Sheddie and said:
“I enjoy outdoor working, making things and have a background in teaching, so I can pass on those skills to others, but lead volunteers can be all sorts of people with all sorts of skills.
“There’s no special aspect to being able to help here, just a common desire to enjoy people’s company and help them to make a difference to their own lives to to other people’s lives.”
The Shed was made to be accessible by wheelchair and always welcoming
“I’m happy because he’s happy”
Recommendations have been made by dozens of people taking part in the project, including the mother of an adult son with brain damage who said:
“We come here because on a Monday we can just sit and chat, on a Wednesday we can do some sanding or gardening, and on Friday we do gardening.
“It’s definitely social for him having different people to talk to. He’s just in his flat with his carer. And although the carers do their job well, they aren’t his friends.
“But he comes here, he feels comfortable and relaxed and gets on with people. He loves being outdoors – he used to work on a farm so being outside is what he feels he needs. He can do a bit, talk a bit and that doesn’t matter.
“It’s different company, different people and people are getting to know him and are talking and joking with him. I’m happy because he’s happy.”
Thomas with a reindeer he helped to make for sale at Swanage Christmas market
“Just come along and see if you like it!”
Thomas, another of the regular volunteers, said:
“I’ve been coming to the Shed for about six months now and get involved with woodworking, a bit of painting and helping with the tea and coffees.
“Everyone who comes here is really, really friendly, our leader Doug makes things as nice as possible for us and everyone working here enjoys themselves.
“But we desperately need more volunteers to work at the Shed, so just come along and see if you like it!”
Sheddie Matt may be in a wheelchair but has a lot to offer as a Durlston volunteer
“I think it’s a sort of therapy”
Another volunteer added:
“I was a Samaritan, the listening and chatting is very much aligned with what happens here, so here I am.
“I wanted to get involved with the community, and I can’t get involved in Samaritans now as the nearest one is in Bournemouth, and it seemed like a waste of training not to continue to listen and be there for people.
“This is really hands on, relaxed, it just feels a very good place to contribute to. It’s a combination of young and old, completely mixed abilities, which is perfect.
“There are people that need support and people that don’t, but actually just want to have something to do and have a chat.
“I think it’s a sort of therapy, it just gives people an opportunity to talk where they know it’s safe. There’s no judgement going on.”
- More about the Sheddies is on the Durlston Country Park website