Starting Up



We would like to help other Sheds to get going and have been reflecting on the start-up process we went through.  We are very aware though that every starting point and outcome will be different – this is just how it was for us. Much of our learning was incorporated into the start-up guidance of the national website

The Camden Town Shed

The Camden Town Shed is an initiative taken by two retired men who had learned about the successful Men’s Shed movement in Australia. Men’s Sheds usually offer a workshop, tools and equipment so men in later life can use existing skills, learn new ones and be productive while enjoying the benefits of working in a social group. We felt we would like to be part of a group of men in such an environment and thought other retired or redundant men might think the same. 

Local need

We looked around our area and found that men were generally absent from regular social activities in Community Centres and saw nothing like the Shed idea on offer. We felt that a place where those attending could have a sense of ownership and could decide what they did was needed. The type of people we thought would like this were others at the end of their paid working lives who were coping with the sudden loss of role, status, workmates, income that that involves or who were looking to use their skills productively in the company of others.

Starting the project

Initially we researched online, and then visited two existing Sheds in the UK and three in Ireland to see how it worked in practice. These visits showed us what worked or not, what needs have to be balanced, who came and what a great idea it was. I then spent several weeks attending the Age UK Men in Sheds project in Greenwich whilst also making contacts around my own area.

We had to form an entity and chose to be an association with charitable objects ( see entries below) focusing on reducing isolation amongst older people. We recruited other members and set about looking for where our concern met with other organisations’ objectives. We opened a bank account and using many years of voluntary sector experience we set about looking for premises and money. With a big round of cuts going on we decided to seek money from outside the Borough.

After some time we were offered a room by a trust running a community centre with the first quarter rent-free. We had decided that wood working was  the best way to start and began collecting from building sites etc. A small advert in the local paper provided us with plenty of hand tool donations mainly from widows who had treasured their husband’s tools. A local public works contractor gave us some superb wood planks and on April 26th we got access to the room and began building a workbench.  The development time was 6 months.

With the aim of attracting men who might not be looking for an activity we printed business-card sized flyers and got their attention by approaching people in the street. That also gave an opportunity to talk. Also articles went into the local paper ( a more successful approach), and we  networked with other organisations.  Funding came from UnLtd, an organisation that supports social entrepreneurs, the Co-op Bank’s Community Fund, a trust and individuals.


Nine months on from when we first promoted the club we have ten regular users half of whom live alone, we open two days per week, and we offer a well-equipped, active workshop. Two women each came for a couple of months. Members have made numerous workshop improvements, various home articles, toys, a puzzle etc.  For the community we have made a large plant stand, a shelving rack, bird boxes, and a 4m x 1.5m castle as a target for children’s archery. Almost all our wood has been previously used.  We have refurbished tools for use in Africa and supported community events. We also ran our first public course, an Introduction to Wood-turning. Some health information has been made available.   

Our Future

This is the membership’s responsibility and is discussed over tea and in committee. Sustainability is helped by our not having any paid staff and we believe we will be able to make sufficient products for sale to cover our running costs excluding rent within a year. If we take on any paid work with just volunteer labour then we all have to agree in advance how it can be dealt with, and some work is currently underway (educational tools for autistic children). We continue to explore this question. We aim to open more days of the week once we have the volunteer coordinators, and to increase the range of activities e.g. furniture-making. We also aim to play our part in the development of a national network of Sheds by raising awareness and sharing experience. (see

Members say ‘ It’s great to learn new skills, get advice and sit and have a chat.’  Fixing, making and reusing materials has given me the motivation to improve my rented home, its  improved my mental state and given me hope.’    “The Shed lifted my life. Finding the Shed came at a good time, I was low”.


Initial Publicity

In smaller communities the initiating group will recruit via word of mouth but this needs backing up with some public promotion e.g. through the local newspaper to ensure people are not being excluded just because they don’t have the right connections. Calling a public meeting is a great idea but it might require a lot of money if adverts are to be placed and obviously this is before the group is funded. Seek local sponsorship for this. Newspaper articles, posters and mini-flyers (like business cards) are effective but we found some men will presume that it is for people with ‘problems’. If a public meeting is called at the outset and a working group formed then the larger body will need to be kept engaged though subsequent activities/meetings for what will be several months at least. Nicky Wheddon of Nottingham MiS says ‘we record all of our enquiries and find that the two best sources are posters and referrals – could suggest that local CVS could help with networking’.

For website design the Camden Town Shed placed a request for help with Student Gems which produced 23 offers in three days. The person chosen charged £140 for a simple 6 page format including a content management system which means we can alter the content (words and pictures) ourselves. Feel free to use this basic framework if it is of any help. .

There are online guides to writing press releases.

Legal Structures

There are two groups of organisations, unincorporated and incorporated. In unincorporated organisations (associations, trusts) the people are operating as individuals and can be personally sued if someone gets hurt. The incorporated forms ( e.g. a cooperative, a community benefit society, a private company) limit the liability.

In deciding which to choose other issues will be considered such as how much the membership is to be in control, who can become a member, whether the service/facilities will be available to non-members, whether it will employ (now or in the future) staff on permanent contracts, and whether it will (now or in the future) trade regularly where risk, significant borrowings or long –term liabilities are involved. To read an online guide to different structures and how to choose one link to structures. In getting advice it is best to go to a specialist. See also ( advises on all types or organisation) and

Charitable Status

In February 2011 the founding group of the Camden Town Shed decided to form an association (a club). As we had also agreed that we were going to operate for public benefit and not to distribute profits to members we found we could become a charity and an association by adopting the “Small Charity Constitution” found on the Charity Commission website See  To complete this we needed to state the purpose of the association and who it was to benefit and accept the simple rules it contained. It only required three people to sign. We used one of the model clauses also found on the website to state the purpose clearly and succinctly and

with the document signed the Shed was formed. A Small Charity is one whose annual income is less than £5000. The management committee and the trustees can be the same people.

The main benefits of being a charity are that it confers status (helps with your credibility in fundraising), gets tax relief on donated income and reduces premises rates by 80%. If you decide not to register with the Charity Commission these benefits would need negotiating with each authority. Becoming a charity places some requirements on an organisation to provide accounts and a report but it does not mean that you cannot sell goods at a profit providing that such activities are in pursuit of the charity’s Objects. The Objects clause needs careful consideration.

Within a few months we had received more funds than £5000 and so we had to register with the Charity Commission. That required completing an application, answering some rigorous questions and making a trustee declaration. The key issues are to identify that the proposed activities have a public benefit and that this benefit extends to a wide enough group or groups of people.  The key part of our response on the question of public benefit was the following:-

“The aim of this organisation is to relieve distress derived from unemployment or enforced retirement at the end of our working lives. This distress can include loss of purpose and direction, loss of social interaction, loss of opportunity to exercise skills, loss of identity and status, and loss of control over your life.These and other factors eg. the effects of reduced income and ageing can lead to further  health problems, including depression, reduced confidence, decline in abilities etc. Research indicates that this distress tends to be worse in men because men are less likely to have developed social relationships to the degree women usually do, and men are less likely to be able to have a validating domestic role which they can continue after retirement.”

The key part of our response in reply to the question whether the benefit was unreasonably restricted included the following:-

“The intended beneficiaries are people who have come to the end of their working lives either through retirement or redundancy and to whom this presents challenges. The beneficiaries qualify if they are no longer working and do not expect to work and have need of social interaction and practical and creative activity of their own choosing, which they are not able to obtain in other ways.”   We did not make this gender-specific as we could not say that women would not be included in some way. We also had to show that people experiencing poverty would still be able to attend.

The Charity Commission website offers registering organisations support in the form of model Objects clauses which as they are already approved speed up the process. We thought of using one that fell under the Recreational Charities Act which focuses on leisure activities and is normally used for sports clubs. The Commission said this was not appropriate and so we did not use that category but adopted a clause which states our purpose as:

To promote social inclusion for the public benefit by preventing people from becoming socially excluded, relieving the needs of those people who are socially excluded and assisting them to integrate into society.

For the purpose of this clause ‘socially excluded’ means being excluded from society, or parts of society, as a result of one of more of the following factors: unemployment; financial hardship; youth or old age; ill health (physical or mental); substance abuse or dependency including alcohol and drugs; discrimination on the grounds of sex, race, disability, ethnic origin, religion, belief, creed, sexual orientation or gender re-assignment; poor educational or skills attainment; relationship and family breakdown; poor housing (that is housing that does not meet basic habitable standards; crime (either as a victim of crime or as an offender rehabilitating into society).

This was accepted by the Charity Commission and so may be a helpful precedent to other groups who want to register a shed as a charity.

NB. The above is simply the experience of the Camden Town Shed and is not intended to offer any legal advice to other groups.

Shed Expenditure

Malcolm Bird is the Senior Coordinator, Men in Sheds for Age UK Cheshire and has set up four Sheds with Lottery funding. He advises that for a 1000ft staffed Shed the costs will be approximately £6500 rent, £20,000 for coordination, £7500 running costs, plus £12-15,000 of capital for tooling up. A volunteer-led Shed will obviously cost less. The Holywood Shed currently operates without a premises cost too. Actual figures are hard to come by but the Camden Town Shed has a £3600 rent bill and in its first year has spent £2000 on running costs and £3300 on set-up costs. A lot has been saved through donations of all hand tools and some power tools.

A major question is whether a coordinator is to be employed. The alternative is getting someone or a small group of 2-3 to coordinate as volunteers. How would you go about finding them? Would a paid person be more reliable/ more accountable/more professional etc than a small group of volunteers? If you have a paid coordinator will you be able to continue to fund this post and if not, does getting the users to take over responsibility afterwards work? If you want your Shed to be there in years to come is it better to start as you expect to continue or does the project need input, and of what kind, to begin with?  Where is the balance between providing and enabling?

Shed Income

The more a Shed generates its own income the stronger the appeal will be to grant-giving sources.

In Kind. There is something about the Shed idea that seems to generate goodwill. Examples include surplus goods such as a container load (almost) of kitchen units; a civil engineering firm offering ‘any timber in our yard – indefinitely’ plus a new router following a surprisingly short informal chat with the MD; rent-free periods; a prestige motor company that brings round off-cuts of exotic timbers and takes away any power tools that need sharpening; an arrangement with a furniture-selling charity shop for unwanted wood and another with a shopfitters.

Developing sales income – Whilst this is necessary Sheds have to bear in mind that their members attend voluntarily and most have had enough of working to deadlines and targets. It’s also worth reflecting that when some members of an Australian Shed got fed up with being pushed to make things for sale they took the toys down to the local children’s home and gave them away. The goodwill this generated resulted in more income than the sales would have produced!

Some sales examples: The MiS Eltham Shed makes and sells at Open Days a wide range of garden goods from bird tables through to wall pots to benches because almost all local properties have gardens. Another Shed markets similar products through a garden shed retailer who puts the products on display because it improves his sales. The Athy Shed is renovating and selling old bicycles donated by the Police. By arrangement with an author on working with autistic children Camden Town Shed is meeting orders for the educational tools he has devised. Nottingham MiS is averaging £400 pm with garden-related products.

Members contributions: The general pattern across Australian Sheds is that members pay both membership dues and weekly attendance subs. Amounts in each case vary but there is always a means devised to support those for whom that would be difficult. Fixing a figure on weekly subs that suits everyone (a lowest common denominator) will dissuadie those who can to pay more. Offering a standing order form (where the member instructs his bank to pay a regular amount to the Shed) could produce more income and if gift-aided might enable you to recover tax paid adding 28% to the total for not much paperwork. In one Shed daily contributions were set by a member’s meeting at £1 per person per day but when offered a standing order form the amount donated was over three times the total of daily cash contributions.



If you are a start-up one problem your group will have is credibility. Who are you? With no track record even the biggest distributors of small grants like Awards for All will wait until you can show what you can do. Some ways to overcome this are by starting small and raising money from those with whom you do have credibility, borrowing another organisation’s credibility if they will guarantee your group, or looking for funds that back start-ups or social entrepreneurs. It always helps if you can demonstrate that your group are doing as much as they can to meet their needs themselves.

The key to raising funds is to show that you are going to fulfil the funders objectives – that you have a well-thought out plan that will address one of their aims and you have the capacity to deliver. Other criteria will also apply. Public bodies usually set out clearly what their objectives and criteria are but trusts each have their own ‘personality’ and ways of working. Fortunately there are some very good guides around.

For a no-nonsense introduction to fundraising from trusts and foundations link to . This site also has links to all the main sources of information including online databases.

For suggestions on local fundraising try these links ;

Sheds could appeal to funds specialising in health, social welfare, elderly people, unemployed people, or possibly the environment. A check should be made on how the Government’s ‘wellbeing’ agenda is to be implemented locally. Contact your local authority’s officer with responsibility for the voluntary sector to get a picture of local grants. To date grants have come from a wide range of sources including: the Lottery, a Neighbourhood Renewal Fund, the Tudor Trust, the Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust (an exception), the Wakeham Trust (a tiny family trust), the Cooperative Bank Community Fund, the Lions and Rotary Clubs, individual donors, a local company and UnLtd.

 Research that supports Sheds

Steve Iliffe, Professor of Primary Care for Older People offers the following summary:  ‘Participation in meaningful activity is one of the five determinants of health and well-being in later life, according to the Age Concern & Mental Health Foundation Report, “Promoting mental health and well-being in later life”, published in 2006. The other four are: discrimination, relationships, physical health and poverty. Participation in meaningful activity has three components: staying active, having a sense of purpose and avoiding social isolation. The evidence that the first two components have a positive effect on health and well-being in later life can be found in two literature reviews at

Having a social role and social activities was the second most common attribute of a good quality of life reported in the National Statistics Office Omnibus Survey (2001) of people aged 65 and over, higher than having good health (4th ) and having no financial worries (7th ). (Adding quality to quantity: older people’s views on quality of life and its enhancement Age Concern 2003). However, the same survey showed that 93% of respondents had plenty to do.

Social isolation is particularly important because it is associated with present and future physical ill health, increased mortality and worse mental health. Social isolation means objectively measurable lack of social contacts, and is different from loneliness, the subjective experience of social isolation. This is an under-researched topic. There are few well-designed studies of interventions to reduce social isolation, but those that have been carried out suggest that group activity is more effective than individual alternatives, like ‘befriending’. The evidence for this is summarised in the report Promoting Health & Wellbeing in Later Life, by the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research & Policy in 2010 (’

Steve Iliffe,FRCGP FRCP Professor of Primary Care for Older People, UCL Royal Free Campus, Rowland Hill St., London NW3 2PF  (October 2011)

Detailed sources include  Age Concern England’s ‘Working with Older Men’ 2006 – Sandy Ruxton.The ‘Grouchy Old Men’ report (Mental Health Foundation 2010). The Men’s Health Forum has data on the health inequalites faced by older men. Local health statistics will also be helpful. Age UK will be releasing a report on the Men-in–Sheds Programme by Lancaster University on July 26th2012. More detail on available information is needed.


Whilst it is preferable to have a space where your things do not have to be tidied away a starting point could be a room you hire by the hour. Community spaces are usually hired rather than let but if you expect to hire regularly and for a long term negotiate a rate drop. Some places to look at are community centres, church basements and redundant school rooms (the Gorey Shed in Ireland is based in the unused woodwork room of a community education facility).

When searching and negotiating look for common interests. City farms, furniture reuse projects, allotment societies, wildlife trusts and eco projects might see mutual benefit in having a MensShed around. The Camden Town Shed successfully negotiated a rent-free period on the basis that it was bringing to the centre 14hrs pw bookings and a group of new users the local authority was targetting. If you are prepared to take a short tenancy then some Council property may be free of rent because the Council would rather it was used than the area look deserted. The charity Healthy Planet ( has unused commercial properties to offer because the companies will save on the business rates if the premises are occupied by a charity. Although occupancy is on a day-licence they can last a year or more. Approaching companies directly has worked in Eire.

Size: In two other instances in Eire the men built a shed on spare ground with used wood.  The Manx Shed in the Isle of Man started in a double garage. The successful MiS project in Eltham operates from a room in a community centre which is only 5 x 4m – and it includes a sink! Six people can work at a time but there is also a shared outside area.  It opens five days a week and has a membership of 43. Armagh City Shed is even smaller and has a membership of 46. If you are going to work in wood you will very quickly need a separate wood-store. If planning your room the coordinator of MiS Hartford once said  ‘it’s a mistake to make your sitting area separate from your kitchen as people are reluctant to leave the conversation to make the tea’!

Health and Safety

This is in part general and in part specific to your facility. For general advice the Health and Safety executive produce loads of very information. You will also need  friendly on site professional advice. Local FE Colleges have been successfully approached as have retired Local Authority officers. A signed disclaimer can be a helpful defence providing you have done all you should.