Tag Archives: making

Happy at home #5 – M is for …

As you may know, I like alliteration. This ‘happy at home’ post is themed around the letter M – mental health, making masks, Mars Bars, mending, menaces, music and, er, Men’s Sheds

Mental health

Are you having trouble focusing and achieving things? Thanks to Kat – co-host of a Cambridge-based study group of which I’m an arm’s length member – below is a neat little sheet to help you overcome obstacles (which may get out of proportion when we’re stuck at home alone with too much thinking time). You can find out more about Kat’s work at https://kathiby.wixsite.com/ayellowbrickroad/blog

I also like this Isolation wellbeing checklist because it’s hand-written and human and (unlike most of my own to-do lists) it’s achievable. What do you think?

Making, Mending (and Men’s Sheds)

No ‘making section’ in the current climate can ignore instructions for making face masks. You’ll probably know that the scientific evidence about the health benefits of wearing non-medical masks is not clear but, if you fancy having a go, here are a couple of links. The first is from those fine folk at Instructables (see below). It looks reasonably straight forward to my untrained eye (and possible without a sewing machine?) https://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Face-Masks-to-Support-Medical-Personnel/

The second Make a Mask tutorial comes from my friend Alison at the Goodlife Centre in London – best suited to users of sewing machines I think (with a couple of bears to help…) https://www.thegoodlifecentre.co.uk/my-mask-protects-you-your-mask-protects-me You can also download the instructions here https://docs.google.com/document/d/1HMeolzVW3MA8HyNqempSYmmA-epee8-fPEeditT8Za0/edit

Mars Bar Crispies That’s this week’s cooking-for-dummies-like-me recipe starting with M. 3 ingredients and 3 steps – what could be easier (or sweeter)? See below – give it a go.

Ingredients  (Makes 12 – you can halve the quantities if you’re not sharing)                                       4 Mars Bars or similar   /   50 gms margarine/cooking spread   /                                                         3 cups of corn flakes (approx 150 gms)

Step 1 Start melting the margarine in saucepan on a low heat. Chop up the Mars Bars into small pieces and throw them into the pan to melt. Stir, if necessary and, if the mixture is too thick, add more margarine.

Step 2 Add in the corn flakes to the melted mixture. Gently stir together making sure it’s well mixed.

Step 3 Transfer chunks of the mixture into a baking tray or similar (or into small paper cake cups). Pop them into the fridge until they are firm and chilled (I can usually only wait 15 minutes). Take out and serve.

Thank you Mark (another M) for recommending this source of instruction videos covering all sort of purposeful activities https://www.instructables.com. I knew about the website for repair tutorials, but I didn’t know it had so much more.

For anyone who likes tinkering – messing about in sheds, backyards and garages – check out page 5 in the latest edition of our Men’s Sheds Shoulder to Shoulder magazine here https://menssheds.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Shoulder-to-Shoulder-060-April-2020.pdf The magazine includes some toilet roll holders made from reclaimed materials – some inspiration there maybe?


Beware online scams! The less friendly aspect of connecting online (or by phone or on your doorstep) is when scammers trick people into giving away their money. Two links from Which https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/04/coronavirus-scams-how-to-spot-them-and-stop-them/ and Google https://safety.google/securitytips-covid19 – take your pick.


Thanks to Marcus (another M) for sending me this link to decade-by-decade isolation playlists for people staying at home – lots to explore. You can search for the playlists on Spotify and listen for free https://www.vindy.com/life/ticket/2020/03/kick-it-up-a-notch

Until next time – take care

See other posts in this “Happy at home” series here  https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/happy-at-home


Shedloads of DIY – review article

At the time of writing, we’re all being instructed to stay home because of the Coronavirus pandemic. ‘Staying home’ means different things for different people – those lucky enough to have gardens and garages have space to breathe and do stuff; I feel for those in tower blocks with young children for whom the options are very much more limited.

Already there are people speculating how the world might be different ‘when this is all over’ and I think, at a personal level, there’s no harm in thinking about projects you might undertake when the lock-down is lifted (or while isolating if you have the space, tools and materials to hand). With this in mind, I’m highlighting two books that might help practically-minded people at least plan some creative home-based projects.

Note: These reviews first appeared in Shoulder to Shoulder – the free monthly bulletin from the UK Men’s Sheds Association https://menssheds.org.uk/newsletter-archive

DIY for beginners

Full declaration: I know co-author Alison Winfield-Chislett as it’s she I have to thank for introducing me to the world of Repair Cafes (she runs one from her wonderful Goodlife Centre in London). When, with Alison’s encouragement, I set up a Repair Café in Royston I was amazed to discover how many people of a certain age and stage seemed to know about electronics. I was not one of them and, when I asked how they knew about fixing electrical appliances, I got a puzzled response; ‘doesn’t everyone?’

Well the answer is ‘no’, or nor does everyone learn DIY at their mother’s knee. Which is why I welcome this hands-on book that guides the first-timer through the basics of DIY – from the tools and terms, through 30 step-by-step projects around your home, to the techniques.

I love the ‘DIY hacks’ sprinkled throughout the text – so you can talk like a professional, even if you take a while to learn to work like one. I was also pleased the book has a gender-free feel to it – both in words and pictures – which may be explained by the female co-authorship.

Speaking as a grumpy old pedant who worked in book publishing for 15 years, while I welcome the inclusion of a jargon-buster and index, the book’s transatlantic character means there’s no explanation of the similarities between anchors and Rawlplugs, between P-traps and U-bends, and I had to check that a vice and a vise are the same thing. But maybe I’m just splitting hairs; not one of the DIY projects…

Beginner Guide to DIY: Essential DIY Techniques for the First Timer by Jo Behari and Alison Winfield-Chislett. Order online at https://www.waterstones.com/book/beginners-guide-to-diy/alison-winfield-chislett/jo-behari/9781580118286 and (if you must…) https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1580118283/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_pHM.Cb8NYR4P9

More about The Goodlife Centre here https://www.thegoodlifecentre.co.uk

Haynes Shed Manual

Another full declaration: I went to the same school as Alex Johnson – co-author of this book – and my top tips for starting a Men’s Shed appear on page 173.

Shedders know it’s a lot of fun working alongside others in a shared workshop, but we can also enjoy tinkering in a shed at the bottom of the garden. This new Shed Manual from Haynes (better known for their car maintenance guides) is a great resource for working on a range of timber-based projects in home and community workspaces, not just sheds. The authors show their passion when they say “Whatever tools you have already, a big project such as building a shed is always a good opportunity to buy some more!”

Alongside four step-by-step shed-building projects are generic sections on planning, tools and materials, furnishing and decoration. There’s more than a nod to environmental considerations, including an eco-shed build, and references to sustainable energy and roofing. But I was surprised not to see more being made of reclaimed materials; I know that making a shed from pallets is neither as easy nor as cheap as many people imagine, but reclaimed timber can make an important statement about greener ways of working.

Who would use (it’s very much a tool and probably something you’d not read from cover to cover) this book? Perhaps a reference to Eddie Grundy and Lynda [Snell] on page 163, without mentioning the Archers on Radio 4, gives you a clue.

Shed Manual: Designing, building and fitting out your perfect Shed by John Coupe and Alex Johnson. Order online at https://haynes.com/en-gb/shed-manual More from the authors at www.secrets-of-shed-building.com and www.shedworking.co.uk

For a look at light-hearted books on Sheds, see https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/12/20/shedloads-a-gift-list-for-book-and-shed-lovers

Men’s Sheds and bird boxes

IMG_4008Men’s Sheds are a vehicle to connect older men to like-minded people and the wider community bringing proven benefits in physical and mental wellbeing. How they do this varies greatly.

Despite there being over 1,000 Men’s Sheds in Australia and 200 in Ireland, with the UK catching up fast,  there is no typical Shed. Each aims to harness the resources of the particular locality to meet the needs of the men within it.

Just as Channel 4 TV’s ‘Shed of the Year’ awards stretches the definition of a shed, so too does the Men’s Shed movement. ‘Sheds’ in the East of England for example, include a former mortuary in Maldon, space in a community arts centre in Bedford, and a church building in Ipswich.

The Repair Shed in Hemel Hempstead occupies part of a warehouse and workshop space at the Hemel Food Garden – a horticultural social enterprise run by charity Sunnyside Rural Trust which works with learning-disabled adults to grow bedding plants under contract to Dacorum Borough Council.

Sheds, enterprise…

Making, mending and learning are three broad areas identified for income-generation in Hemel Hempstead. With a strong environmental emphasis on waste prevention, the plan is for the Repair Shed to turn reclaimed materials into functional items, for example furniture made from wooden pallets. An affordable repair service will run alongside free community repair events at which owners learn how to fix their broken items themselves. More formal learning by and for Repair Shed members – in repair, re-use and DIY skills – will be developed into paid-for training courses and one-off workshops for the wider community.

The Repair Shed itself aspires to be financially self-sufficient through selling goods and services, but it’s too early to know whether social enterprise is a route to a sustainable funding model. Elsewhere, the idea of income-generation and running a business operation doesn’t appeal to all Sheds.

Some Shed members like the continuity of structure, targets and plans – tapping into their commercial skills and experience – particularly when seeking to get back into employment. Others come to a Shed to get away from the stress of a business-oriented environment as Andy Wood, who helped set up the Norwich Men’s Shed, explains: “Making things to sell or offering paid-for services will be part of our business plan, but we are aware that this may cause pressure on participants to produce, which, in our view, would defeat the purpose of the project”.

… and bird boxes

That said, most Sheds do make things – whether for sale or for the satisfaction of being creative. Bird boxes are bread and butter for many Sheds – easy to make, great gifts for all ages in kit form or made-up, and a ‘nice little earner’ as Del Boy might say. At the new Maldon Shed it’s early days, but Bob Adams reports: “We have already been commissioned to make bird & bat boxes by Essex Wildlife Trust, and a few local pubs have asked us to make some flower troughs.” When the Men’s Shed in Aylesbury started, the group used bird box making as a team-building activity, making 75 in the weeks before Christmas and selling two thirds of them on a market stall before the festivities began.

The challenge of balancing ‘social’ and ‘enterprise’ activity, recognised by many social enterprises, is well illustrated by the recent bird box experience of another Buckinghamshire Men’s Shed, in Milton Keynes. A commission to make 150 bird boxes looks like good business but, for men not paid to join a production line, the loss of creativity that comes with making even 10 boxes can turn a hobby into a chore.

For more on Men’s Sheds around the UK go to www.ukmsa.org.uk