As we all start to move gradually out of lockdown, the people in the closely knit community of Ringsend, Dublin 4, are grateful to the local Raytown Men’s Shed for the social distance benches the shed members have made for the area.

The benches – with their two separate seats – keep people safe and allow them to meet and chat outdoors. They have been such a hit, other Dublin sheds have copied the design.

The Social-Distance bench designed and made by the men at Raytown Men’s Shed.

“We started looking at this back in March of last year,” says Anthony O’Riordan, one of the Raytown members who worked on the project. “We had an idea that social distancing was going to be around for some time.”

The Raytown Shed started its life out as the “Marine Area Community Shed” set up by local man Martin Byrne on the back of a visit to the Rochfordstown Shed in Westmeath where his brother is a member.

“My own journey,” Martin says, “started back in 2016, having been diagnosed with colon cancer. This was a life-changing experience. Over the following years my life in relation to work, family and day-to-day living changed dramatically – leaving me with more time on my hands, more time to think, more time to worry.”

However, in the first couple of years Martin met obstacle after obstacle in trying to secure premises to get things going with the men’s shed. Property in this beautiful, close-knit community in nation’s capital is both scarce and expensive, making it all the more difficult.

It was around this time that another local man, Anthony O’Reardon became involved. Through his contacts in the Ringsend and Irishtown Community Centre (RICC) and Irish Rail – where he works as a train driver – a 20ft container was recycled into a workshop and placed at the back of the RICC.

It was also decided to change the name to Raytown to connect it to Ringsend.

Martin, Anthony and a third founding member, Paul Horan, then set about raising money to fund events and projects in order to attract new members to the shed. A new timber shed has been purchased though this funding also.

Fellow shedder, Joe McGoldrick, soon grew to love attending the shed.

“What I enjoy about it,” Joe says, “was getting the chance to use power tools. As we work, we get to chat on various issues like our own good and bad experiences in work down the years, the state of the country, sport and a little local gossip!”

Treasurer Paul says: “I have been a taxi driver for many years and as such I have been quite flexible with my time and can juggle voluntary work with the shed, workshop and ongoing projects and making a living.”

All four men are constantly promoting the shed in order to grow the membership. With planned hillwalking and woodworking, there is plenty for new members to keep them busy.

Projects to date include the social-distanced planter benches, fairy doors and rain harvesting planters for local schools, Grow it Forward produce and even reusable face masks for the community. They are adamant that without the help of the RICC, Irish Rail, local businesses, grants, councillors, TDs and the wider community, Raytown Men’s Shed would not be the success it is today.