The Coal Shed at Big Pit National Coal Museum

Big Pit opens men’s shed to combat isolation

Alex Stevens, 21.06.2019
Partnership with Men’s Sheds Cymru part of growing movement
A new Men’s Shed – a place for men who would like to develop new interests and who may feel lonely or isolated from society – has been established at Big Pit National Coal Museum in south Wales.

It offers a place to socialise while taking part in activities, and is one of a growing number of sheds across the UK.

It was set up in partnership with Men’s Sheds Cymru, which provides advice and support to people interested in setting up groups.

Big Pit was a particularly appropriate place for a group, says Chris Southern, the south-east Wales development officer for Men’s Sheds Cymru. “The mining industry was a fairly male-dominated occupation, as were many of our industrial workforces. Many men, particularly those who may have worked most or all of their lives in such industries, find themselves unexcited by the range of social activities commonly offered to older people.

“In a Men’s Shed group, men feel more able to curse a little more colourfully, and banter with each other a bit more informally,” says Southern. “Most importantly, men have the opportunity to get involved in physical, practical projects: they like to do things, and to stand around discussing the best way to solve this or that problem. This is the culture that enables men to also express themselves a little more openly, when the need presents itself.”

The group has been set up in one of the museum’s outbuildings, the pit’s former coal shed. Initial investment from a sponsor, Western Power Distribution, provided a new ceiling, redecoration and a range of hand tools.

The initiative fits alongside Big Pit’s other community development work, says Sharon Ford, the learning, participation and interpretation manager at the museum. “We strongly believe that our museums can be powerful tools in improving community health and wellbeing, and believe we should be working with communities to find ways to tackle issues by making good use of our collections, spaces and staff.

“The fact that a group of men are doing this at the coal shed, and bringing life back to a space which was previously so important to the operation of the mine, is really special to us.”

Big Pit also runs a dementia-friendly underground tour that has proved successful, says Ford. “The biggest impact of this has been seeing ex-miners reanimated by coming to a place which is so familiar from their own working lives, and also by being able to talk to the guides, who are ex-miners. They speak the same language, so can have conversations which they probably couldn’t have anywhere else.”

Both projects took time and resources to set up, says Ford, and relied on working in partnership. “Making connections with people is all-important. Also, it can take time to convince colleagues to reframe the use of resources, but once people start to see the benefit and impact of this work, they are generally sold!”

The men's shed movement originated in Australia. UK shed associations support several sheds for women as well as for men.