When most people think of a ‘shed’, they think of a small wooden building at the bottom of their garden where they put the lawnmower.
In Folkestone however, ‘shed’ means a location where ex-military personnel and their families can get peer support, advice and learn new skills. Taken from a community initiative that started in Australia.
Current members of the newly formed group include ex-serving Gurkhas, British and South African ex-service men along with former forces personnel from the Middle East.
Master Shedder and project leader, Mark Connorton, from the Shepway Volunteer Centre, explains what the SHED project is: “There’s two strings to this really, firstly, we as a community should value people who have fought for our country and for our freedom so we’re able to enjoy the lifestyles that we do.
“Where someone has received a physical injury and they may have lost a limb, or they may be visually or audible impaired, it’s quite clear they have a disability, but where people are suffering with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, which a lot of ex services are, it’s not so evident.
“What we really want to do is to bring them together in one setting, the SHED, so they can support each other, because we’ve found that the only people who really understand what it’s like to live with these issues are people who suffer them.
“We have people come here and when they first come, they’re quite tearful, they’re quite upset, and then they sit down with the other veterans and realise that they feel the same.”
“It’s about giving people mutual support.
Into the Shed
“The other aspect that’s really important to Kent SHEDS, the Volunteer Centre and myself, is that our Gurkha veterans, and their families feel part of our community.
“Over the weeks we aim that they will be completely integrated with our veterans, which they are to a degree already, but we’ve still got some way to go.”
It is easy to see the impact the SHED has made to the Nepalese community, as I arrive I can hear a lot of women’s laughter and talking coming from a room down the corridor.
The Nepalese women are learning craft skills, including how to use sewing machines that the SHED programme has managed to borrow:
“They would like to take western clothing and give it an oriental twist. Ideally when they have done that they will be able to sell the clothes in their craft shop in Cheriton.”
Along with the peer support, there are opportunities to learn new practical skills, sewing for the women, carpentry for the men and a plan for horticulture in the near future.
There are also other very real issues for some men and women leaving the forces. Many who joined up from school have never needed to pay council tax, worry about bills or learn how to budget. Every day life can be very difficult when they are medically discharged:
“We are dealing with men and women here who are extremely proud and who don’t like going to the job centre and asking for benefits, they don’t want to apply for DLA (Disability Living Allowance) because they feel like they are going cap in hand, begging.
“It can take them 1,2,3 years to be able to deal with day to day life. Some of them never really cope which is why they are living on the streets.
I’m currently aware that we have at least 2 people who are rough sleepers in Folkestone who are ex services and it’s one of our aims, when we’re more established, to go out and find these people and to bring them here to our SHED and help them because they shouldn’t be on the streets, it’s not right.
The Folkestone arm of Kent SHEDS do need help from the local community, they are desperately in need for someone with carpentry skills who can teach the men how to use the equipment. And, sewing machines for the ladies:
“If someone has an old sewing machine at home that they don’t use, we could really make use of it here.”