The last 12 months have been incredibly tough for all of us. With the Men’s Sheds in a cycle of restricted opening to complete shutdown, it has been difficult for members to get together, to arrange projects or plan for the future.

We catch up with TP O’Gorman of Kilbeggan Men’s Shed in Westmeath about how the sheds are a port in the storm for many men and the value they bring to the lives of members.

TP describes a particular time in a man’s life when things may seem to have fallen apart.

“Youthful years are full of activity. It’s like the Grand National in some ways. Then you come to the end of the race when you retire. You’ve come over the last fence and you’re coming up to the finish line. And you think, ‘God, I’ve done it all and it’s going to be all happy from here on in.’”

But he points out that this is not always the case: “When I retired from teaching, I thought, ‘The phone’s not ringing. There’s no one calling. I had thought I was important. What a fool’.”

So, while retirement can bring its own rewards, it can also lead to loss of identity and requires new ways of thinking and living. Despite his initial misgivings that a men’s shed was not for him, TP decided to investigate with friends. “We visited a few sheds and thought we could do this because we’d seen what the other guys had done.”

Having seen the men’s shed in action, the group made plans to set one up in Kilbeggan – little by little they were joined by other men from the local area.

“Suddenly, what we found was we had a new network of friends. Men who [we’d see] on the street, but we never chatted to. Men we had met coming out of mass or had seen in the pub and you waved at them – but you never had the opportunity to talk.”

All those social barriers fell away in the shed: “Suddenly these guys become your friends, and this is a different kind of friendship. This is friendship of a voluntary nature. You’re going there because you want to be there. It boosts your confidence because you’re suddenly meeting a whole different range of people but there’s no pecking order, there’s no hierarchy. Everybody’s on an equal footing.”

The camaraderie forged in the shed becomes an essential part of a man’s day-to-day life and this may have been jeopardised by the pandemic – but not lost.