An innovative shop called Renew, part of Swindon’s budding Men’s Sheds project, has become a centre for engagement and creativity, and sells a range of beautiful furniture, made and upcycled by the ‘Shedders’.

Based in Victoria Road, Old Town, the shop opened just before Christmas and is already hosting upholstery workshops, with many more about to begin, teaching cookery, upcycling and crafts.

Already plenty of creatively decorated furniture is for sale, as well as quality household items and gifts. And the new upholstery workshop run by Erica Sawdon is proving popular with men keen to learn a new skill and to contribute to the project.

Workshop participant Austin Hall said: “I’m enjoying. I have never done anything like this before, so it’s quite a steep learning curve.”

Bill Bendall added: “The workshop was on offer, and I like learning something new – it keeps your mind occupied. It’s interesting, finding out how things are done. A mind is like a parachute – it only works if it’s open.”

Erica, who worked as a police officer for 30 years before training in upholstery, has volunteered to teach one morning a week, and is working with her students to renew upholstery on old furniture and to make sure it is fire regulation-compliant, so items can be sold in the shop.

“We’re working on a set of chairs, as the foam need a fire retardant layer,” she explained.

Renew is part of the UK’s Men’s Sheds Association, a project aiming to relieve social isolation and loneliness, to help promote health and well-being, and build a sense of community.

The focus is on men’s wellbeing and sharing skills, but it is open to all. People from all walks of life and all parts of the community are encouraged to have a good time together and work on projects for the community and themselves.

The ‘shed’ is in St John’s church hall, in Whitbourne Avenue, and opens on a Tuesday and Wednesday from 10am to 4pm. The new shop sells the items created by the Shedders, and is open Thursday to Saturday, from 10am to 4pm.

“It’s a way for people to learn and pass on skills. Men can come and participate, and we hope it will benefit men’s health and well being. We have really big interest in what we are doing – and we may need other groups in Swindon,” said Kevin Prosser, who helped set up Renew.

Originally from the Stroud area, Kevin has lived in Swindon since 1995. A Christian since 1987, he joined what is now the Gateway Church shortly after arriving, and has worked on various church and community projects ever since.

“We have one 81-year-old cabinet maker who teaches the others who to restore pieces of furniture and to reset the joints,” he explained.

“It gives men an opportunity to explore and do new things, as well as sharing skills they might have. When they first start, I tell them, it’s about you, it’s your space – what would you like to do in it?”

In honour of the shed theme, the new shop features a full size shed inside the showroom, with a church pew donated by Christchurch.

Kevin said they had been delighted by the voluntary help and donations received, to help convert the old store into the bright, useful space it is today – with the display area as well as a kitchen and workroom.

A couple of volunteers helped with the painting, the electrician gifted his time, the kitchen units were donated, and the new boiler was fitted in for the cost of the materials.

“We have been overwhelmed by the way the community have come together to open the centre. Organisations, churches, businesses and individuals have all donated their time and materials” said Dawn Prosser, part of the Development team for the project.

“We look forward to becoming a centre for creativity and community, a place to pass on skills as well as provide opportunities for people to engage in activities that help people remain, physically, mentally and socially active.

They also aim to provide an affordable space and creative outlet for artists and crafters to teach and sell their products and give opportunities for school-aged entrepreneurs to learn skills then sell their products in the shop.

About nine men are members of the Renew group, but Kevin has been receiving numerous enquiries and referrals for potential new members.

“This week I’ve had three enquiries from organisations wanting to refer people, and we are looking for volunteers who might help run new groups,” he said.

Men’s Sheds was founded in Australia in 1998 and came to the UK in 2009, with 430 running in this country and a further 114 in development.

Traditionally, a man’s shed was his space for getting away from it all – to pursue practical interests, and enjoy making and mending. The difference with the Men’s Sheds movement is that while garden sheds are usually solitary in nature, these are all about social connection and friendship.

The Shedders might meet in a shed, but the place might be an empty office, garage or warehouse. Many groups help the community, through maintaining, building or restoring. Although activities vary, many do woodworking, metalworking, electronics or car maintenance. They typically attract older men but many have young members, and women too.

The movement is a response to an increasing understanding of the impact of loneliness on people’s health and well-bring, with research suggesting prolonged loneliness can be as bad for health as obesity and smoking. Some older men may find it harder to build social networks, and feel the loss of a sense of identity after retirement – and the Men’s Sheds movement helps them meet like-minded people.

Anybody interested in taking part, whether to share skills, learn them, or both, is welcome to do so. The Swindon branch is run under the umbrella of Swindon Christian Community Projects, the organisation behind, among other initiatives, the foodbank.

Renew is looking for donations of quality furniture donations to sell in the shop, as well as quality pieces of wooden furniture that would be used for restoration and upcycling, tools, fabric for upholstery, primer, timber, pallets and fixings – as well as an area to store wood.

If you think you can help, know someone who might like to be involved, or have a donation, please call in at the shop during opening hours or ring 07954 331074. For more information and a full list of workshops and activities, visit the Facebook page, Renewswindon.