In 2019 Freda Douglas of the Peebles-based mental wellbeing and suicide prevention charity, Inspiring Life - the Evie Douglas Memorial Fund - commissioned Peebles based writer Clare Prenton to write the play and work with Peebles and District Men’s Shed.
What followed was a series of workshops undertaken pre-pandemic and the play itself was then completed in February/March 2020 as the first Covid-19 lockdown began.
The play was written following eight hours of recorded conversations with a group of men from the shed covering diverse topics including retirement, ageing, the purpose of the shed and more.
And from this, Clare unfurled the widely held belief that men’s sheds are filled with retired gentlemen fixing and making things for their community. During observation, she learned there are deeper conversations during the noise of their crafty creations.
Clare used this insight to bring a fictional story to life at the Eastgate Theatre at the end of January.
She says: “The stories in the play are inspired by the conversations we had in the shed, but the characters are fictional and have their own lives. Inevitably there are some references and influences from the many confidential conversations we had as a group, ninety percent of the text is fictional, but there are some amazing insights in there that I did feel were right for inclusion as direct quotes from things said.”
Describing the “constant banter” at the men’s shed, Clare’s admiration of the men and women is clear: ’I hope the play reflects the honesty, bravery and generosity of spirit the members offered up. Their stories were in turn moving, hilarious, tragic, insightful - and all things in between. I wanted the play to debunk the myth that 'men don’t talk’ because they do - given the right conditions, time and space.”
The role of a men’s shed and the benefits to the community and to the individual can be transformative.
"Yes, there are plenty of bird boxes made, or model railways built - but there is so much more to it than that,” says Clare. “And if the past two years has taught us anything, it’s that community is essential for good health and good mental wellbeing. “Equally important things happen in the tea room and over a shared tin of biscuits from health information to informal grief counselling - the sense of camaraderie and friendship is palpable. These men are our local people and they have lived through family life, recessions, relationship breakdowns, wars, trauma, loss - so it’s everybody’s story, really.”