Building a shed – the first 100 days

Day 100Wednesday 8 January and, after some ‘thinking aloud’ with my daughter, I/we come up with part of an itinerary for the President of the Australian Men’s Sheds Association – visiting the UK and Ireland in mid-February.

The visit is important, Australia is the home of the Men’s Shed movement and they have over 1,000 there. It isn’t easy reconciling competing demands; everyone wants a share of the President’s limited time, such is the thirst for learning in the UK about the Australian experience. That camp-following includes me and I might just get an hour or two to find out about income-generation in Australian Sheds (my particular interest) by chauffeuring for a day.

January 8th was also significant as Day 100 in my year with the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme at the School for Social Entrepreneurs in Ipswich. A good time to take stock, not least because 6 days before I’d met my mentor – a Lloyds banker – for the first time. If meeting my mentor sounds daunting it’s not meant to – it was an entirely positive and enjoyable encounter. I sense that Graham is not only personally interested in the Mens Shed concept, but also professionally on behalf of his colleagues looking at life after banking. Golf isn’t for everyone.

Our first mentoring session is mostly about getting to know each other. Graham is there to help me to plug gaps in my thinking and doing, in a ‘critical friend’ kind of role. I’ve already identified two gaps – my uneasy relationship with figures (handy then that he’s a banker…) and the ease with which I’m distracted by things that I enjoy – like writing blog posts – when I should be concentrating on the grunt work. Right now that means the evidence-gathering, figure-work, and form-filling associated with applications for start-up funding. Success in raising finance will ultimately help build an environmental social enterprise around the Men’s Shed concept – The Repair Shed – if all goes according to plan.

Ah yes, the plan. That’s already gone slightly off course. My day 100 target was to have older men identified and involved as core members of the new Shed. I do have half a dozen names of people who may be interested and I’ll meet them in the next couple of weeks. But I’ll need to manage expectations until I know more about the current fundraising irons I have in the fire. Or maybe they’ll have ideas about new irons we can hammer into shape?

To date I’ve been turned down at stage one for a couple of big grant applications and I’m beginning to think that having very limited start-up funding (the subject of a future blog) might be just the spur to action I need. My current bedside reading is ‘The lean Startup’ by Eric Ries []

One thing I have learnt in my first 100 days – this is absolutely the right time to be part of a burgeoning Men’s Sheds movement in the UK. A recent piece on BBC Breakfast [] generated over 400 enquiries to the newly formed UK Men’s Sheds Association from men and women, and there were also local enquiries – I fielded three – across the country. Following the London launch in November, I’ve been co-opted on to the Committee of the UK Association which partly explains my involvement in helping to plan the Australian Association President’s itinerary (or should that be shed-ule?)

Just before Christmas I was delighted to be awarded an UnLtd / Santander Spark Award which will allow me to organise a ‘shed crawl’ – an idea borrowed from Ireland where they already have 200 sheds. We’ll be taking a minibus to sheds in Aylesbury, Bedford and Milton Keynes – I really believe that seeing what sheds do is one of the best ways to fuel professional and personal interest and learning.

The Crawl will be in March as the plan is that February will be consumed by a Crowdfunding Campaign – something that readers of this blog will know is an activity about which I’m an ‘instant expert’ of the armchair variety [].

No better way to learn more than to run a campaign – for community involvement and awareness-building as much as the raising funds – and to assess local interest and potential demand for some of the products I’m hoping The Repair Shed will develop. The crowdfunding team is coming together nicely, a promotional video is in the pipeline. Whether we’ll make the Valentine’s Day launch date (‘something for the man in your life – a Shed’) is unclear.

The UK Men Sheds Association website is at


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