A Lonely 67-Year-Old Sets Up a Woodworking Shed to Help Fight against Loneliness

When he was 22, Philip Jackson left the UK and came back at the age of 67. 

During this period of four+ decades, Jackson worked in construction in Australia and Thailand. When he came back and retired to his native Barnsley, he felt like a foreigner. 

He had a strong Aussie accent and everyone he knew was either dead or had moved away. He felt lonely but wasn’t the only one.

He says he had never seen loneliness like it. Old men who were lonely were many. In his search to do something, he joined the English Heritage.

Jackson Decided to Help Himself & Others Like Him Who Struggled with Loneliness 

He began traveling around the country and visited castled. He also applied for several jobs, but no one was keen on hiring a 60-year-old. 

He had also read about Barnsley’s suicide rate which was higher than the national average. This shocked him but didn’t surprise him. When he came back home, he realized the decline of the industry. 

Today, at the age of 78, he remembers hearing about an initiative during his time abroad. 

This was the Australian Men’s Shed Association. It’s a collective of more than 1000 sheds that help men battle with loneliness by doing communal woodworking.

He decided to set up a similar association in Barnsley. 

His Dream Becomes a Reality

In 2014, with the help of a grant from the National Lottery, he secured premises from the town’s council. He also acquired the necessary woodwork equipment using the donations for the Barnsley Men’s Shed.

What’s more, he also formed the She-Shed. This community space is designed for women. The participants range from 22 to 87. They meet once per week.

The men meet on Tuesdays and the women on Wednesdays. They’re a diverse group that includes homemakers, shopkeepers, coalminers, carpenters, etc.

To join one of the Sheds, the candidates go through an interview. 

It’s in a laidback atmosphere with a cup of coffee and a chat. The candidate can look around the shed and if they enjoy the environment and the people, they are welcome to join.

The shedders, as Jackson calls them, create everything from bird and plant boxes to dog kennels and ornaments. One of the members created an operational windmill for his garden. It had a lighthouse with a flashing light on top.

So Much More than Woodwork 

The Sheds go deeper than coming together to build stuff. It’s a shed with all of your friends there. It’s a pause from daily life and routine. It allows you to spend time with like-minded people.

This community provides a safe place to discuss struggles with friends. The members talk about their grandkids, housing problems, marriage breakups, etc. 

During the pandemic lockdowns, many of the shedders had a hard time. Jackson called all of them weekly and checked up on them. He also had live streams on Facebook and all of them worked on a project remotely, but still connected.

Jackson who had surgery for bladder and prostate cancer is still working hard to ensure the Sheds thrive. He applies for funds and attends the sessions. 

These communities of brothers and sisters have helped them find relief from the daily anxieties of life.