Niall Addis is one of the driving forces behind the new men’s shed set up in the quiet rural village of Ballykinlar.
The ‘shed’ itself is located on the grounds of the former Ballykinlar Primary School site now owned by Newry Mourne and Down District Council leased to the Ballykinlar Community Association, the umbrella group.
The Ballykinlar Mens Shed has now benefitted from this arrangement with the Council as being part of the overall Association and they are looking forward to a busy year ahead reaching out to the 55+ sector in the area.
Niall said: “Our basic aims are to engage with the elderly sector so that they are not socially isolated, and also to help improve the wellbeing, physical and mental, of the members.
“The County Down Rural Community Network (CDRCN) has been a fantastic help to us in starting up and with initial funding to get things going. The CDRCN are working closely with the Public Health Agency in trying to get sheds set up across the wider area.
“In the shedders group, we’ve received a lot of advice and sign-posting and we are now well on our way to getting ourselves on the map. At the moment there are only six of us but once we get our facilities in place and a good programme hammered out, I expect those numbers will grow considerably.
“We have received some finding through the Elevate programme so far for our shed project to help us get on our way. This programme involved a real induction which explained all the ways we could help break down isolation and challenge health inequalities.”
Niall explained that it was through this programme that the shedders in Ballykinlar managed to source a former pre-fabricated unit unit used by the NIFRS in Downpatrick with help from the Council. He said: “We secured a solid wooden building which measures 30×20 feet which is quite a substantial work area.”
The former school site will eventually become a hive of community activity as a gardening project gets up and running early next year. The Association has a very substantial plot of ground adjacent to their shed and they are keen to get the local community involved in the healthy pastime of gardening.
Niall, an Association board member, said the various groups in the Association may even work more together, and in the longer-term they could eventually set up a large polly tunnel for growing early plants for the season and vegetables such as tomatoes.
He said that if it is all designed properly, there could be a productive herb garden, an small orchard, and it could produce a selection of delicious vegetables which could be sold adding to the sustainability of the Ballykinlar Community Associations project.
Niall suggested that whatever was in season could be advertised on their Facebook page and sold to help build up a small client base and raise awareness about the work the overall Ballykinlar Community Association project is doing.
But the Ballykinler shedders will be doing whatever the members find interesting, possibly up-cycling furniture and items, having talks, visits, and generally enjoying each others company and keeping fit and well.
And some of these activities will complement what is happening with the Ballykinlar community gardeners such as making big planters for vegetables and decorative displays.
Niall explained that an Ardglass Vikings member turned up last week and donated a small ornamental boat planter to the group. “It is a great piece,” said Niall: “and it will act as an inspiration to our members as to what can be achieved with some wood and a few tools.”
The Ballykinlar shedders group have already been doing their homework and enjoyed a trip to well-established sheds in Dundalk and Drogheda where they gained some valuable insights.
Niall added: “It was a very useful trip, and you can’t build an organisation like this without modelling on what is out there. There is no point in trying to re-invent the wheel.
“With this years funding we will purchase tools and materials, and hopefully this get us moving and we will start making small simple, useful items such as furniture repair or planters first.
“We are on the right track as the County Down Rural Community Network is monitoring our steps. The amount of help and knowledge supplied by them is of immense value to us.
“The Ballykinlar Community Association has this week finally taken over the management of the community centre as we entered into a management agreement with the Council who have been very supportive. This contract is for four years and the centre is located next to our men’s shed.
“Unfortunately, our shedder group has been slow in moving forward due to the issues around Covid-19. But we hope it will clear eventually and we will get back to some kind of normality.”
Niall added that the Ballykinlar community centre project is now ready to move forward significantly. “We hope to involve the senior citizens group, a youth club, have a Saturday night club, and maybe eventually run a mothers and toddlers group. It can also operate as a walk-in centre and local groups can use it too. There is a disability ramp and a good sized car park, so it is all looking good.
“We have completed our fire safety training and have insurances in place. So it’s a question now of getting it all moving forward.
“Council did give us a sustainable Christmas tree a couple of years ago and we will be lighting this us and decorating it in a few weeks.
“Covid-19 has had a terrible impact on the voluntary and community sector and we see this first hand where we can’t deliver simple services and facilities at the moment with this mini lockdown to our small rural community.”
But Niall Addis and his team in the shedder group have put the blocks in place to get their community moving again once there is a relaxation in Covid-19 epidemic. But he recognises the uncertainty around it all.
“We will just have to be patient and do what we can. We have got to get rid of this virus in our communities if possible. It can be devastating. But the shedders in Ballykinlar are ready to start once things ease off. We can’t wait to get stuck in. “