A new community for Waterford
Ireland has long been welcoming of different nationalities, and none other than the men’s sheds. However, disparities can sometimes arise from people with poor skills or a lack of English. Yet, one shed in Waterford is bringing people of different communities together to integrate into Irish society.
The shed sits beside Viking House in Co. Waterford, and is one of a number of direct provision centres in Ireland, with this particular one housing single males. Many of the shed members are either living there or have previously lived there.
The New Community Shed is exactly what it sounds like, a collection of men of different nationalities that have come together to form a new community. The shed is home to a number of different nationalities, from China to Georgia, the management committee even has at least six different nationalities.
David Mutebi is one of the members of the shed and the management committee. Originally from Uganda, David moved to Ireland ten years ago after living in Germany for some time. Initially, David struggled in Ireland, “It was hard to find work and I found it difficult to put bread on the table for my family,” he says.
David sought help from a local charity shop, and taken aback from the kindness he received, David wanted to give back to the country that had helped him in his time of need. David reached out to Frank Kennedy of the New Community Men’s Shed, and after a chat and cup of tea, David knew that the shed was the best place for him to give back.
David thankfully finds himself in a better place today, he’s in his last year studying Community Development in Waterford Institute of Technology and works part-time in a hospital.
David’s story isn’t a unique one, but it is one that is shared with many members of the New Community Shed.
Bahati Matambera is another member of the New Community Shed. Bahati was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo, he moved to Ireland a little over 6 years ago. Bahati joined the shed just six months ago, and has found it beneficial to keeping himself busy. “Coming from Africa, to a completely different culture, the shed has definitely helped me. I can talk English now”.
The same is true for Georgia born Zurab, who came to Ireland just over two years ago and joined the shed in October last year. “My English wasn’t so good, so I joined the shed in the hopes of improving that”. Both Bahati and Zurab are both speaking unbroken English, and seem to have reaped the benefits of this particular men’s shed.
Men’s Sheds are known to be welcoming places, with this particular shed branching further afield and welcoming women into their shed. A decision that lies with each individual shed, one particular woman invited into the New Community Shed was Ying He.
Ying He moved from China with her husband five years ago. A long-time practitioner of Tai Chi, she too wanted improve her English, so she agreed to teach the martial art to the shedders with the view of improving her English through her time with the men.
Being the only woman in the shed, Ying He says that the men have been very welcoming to her since she joined. “Everyone is very nice, the Irish have a great sense of community spirit and are always smiling,” she says. Speaking in fluent English, it’s clear that Ying He has benefitted greatly from her time in the shed, but her improved English isn’t all that she’s gained.
Ying He remarks that the men have taught her woodworking skills, and she’s put these to the test by building a tea table. “I’ve built a tea table! I love woodwork now, the men have been so good teaching me”.
Ying He, David, Bahati and Zurab are all fine examples of how the New Community Men’s Shed is helping people of different nationalities integrate successfully into Ireland. Tom Farrell, a founding member of the shed, notes that the language gap can be difficult but there are ways around this. “If you show it to the men, it’s a different thing altogether,” he says.
Originally from Drogheda, Tom has lived in Waterford since his 20s, and at 62, he’s finding it difficult to get work – a similar story with most members of the shed.
Tom remarks that having been teaching the men mirror etching, it had been difficult at times because of the language barrier. “If you show it to the men, it’s a different thing altogether. The language barrier is difficult, but when you show it to them, it makes sense.
“We’re trying to get a class going on IT skills for the men. As well as that, I’ve recently completed a TEFL course, which is to teach English as a foreign language, so we’re hoping to get that up and running in 2020. We’re hoping that this will help bring on the men’s English, they can have proper conversations with people”.
The shed usually opens around 9.30am, with Tom being the first one there to open up. “It’s not something that you have to be here at half nine – just come in when you feel like it, have a cup of coffee, have a chat, do a bit of work or whatever.
Another founding member is that of Frank Kennedy. Being there from the start, Frank was originally with St Vincent DePaul– who help adults go back to education.
Frank remarks that during his time with St Vincent DePaul, he found that 95% of the immigrant population that actually went on to study as adults failed in their first year. “We found that language was a problem, access to IT was a problem, study environment was a problem, everything was a problem.
“What we found was that people really needed a big brother, someone to say, ‘Hassan, don’t do dog grooming, go and do something else’. Someone that knows you and knows the situation. So that’s really how the New Community Men’s Shed came about”.
Frank set out to get to know the men coming to the shed, through general woodworking, and identifying their strengths and weaknesses, and then advise them on what they should do next.
As for members, Frank says that they’re so successful that they don’t have many. “We had seven fellas there who went on to do a barista training course. All seven of them have got jobs so they’re no longer members of the shed,” laughs Frank. All in all, the shed has a true pot of about 30 men currently.
A common theme amongst participants in the shed is their lack of English, but Frank notes that although some of the men learn academically, others have found the interaction in the shed beneficial to their language skills.
The men appear to have integrated successfully into the local community, but Franks adds that they may have only integrated into a substrate. “When you ask them if they’ve been to the library, the cinema, the local café, they say no. So there hasn’t been any major problems, they integrate into a substrate of the community. They’ll go to the park or the open-air gym in the park. As Irish people, a lot of our activities take place in the pub, so [some] immigrants are excluded from that, especially if they’re Muslim, and many of them are poor.
“These people are a massive resource for the community, if we don’t put the effort in now, it’ll just get worse, they’ll get stuck in the cycle of poverty. Their children will be reared in poverty and so on. There’s no downside in putting in effort to help people coming to Ireland.”
The shed has become a natural part of this new community’s skills development, with English being addressed by Tom, Frank is looking to help develop their IT skills in the hopes of making the men workplace ready.
“We made some kindling, and with the sale of that and support from the local Lions Club and Vincent DePaul we have an overhead projector and eight laptops. That’s something that is very important, we’re going to engage with a few tutors to come in and teach the men some key skills, for example payroll. Basic office procedures, so they can walk in to an office and say ‘I can do that’. We’ve a panel of 24 people waiting to start now.”
It’s clear that the New Community Men’s Shed has gone beyond the basic description of a shed, and now provides a lifeline to many new people coming to Ireland. People coming to the New Community Men’s Shed have been granted a way of speaking with their fellow community members and have a chance at living successfully in Ireland through Frank and Tom’s training programmes.
About the SDGs
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 agreed goals that reflect economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. The Goals cover areas such as ending poverty, economic development and gender equality to name a few.
The Irish Men’s Sheds Association are one of twelve Sustainable Development Goal Champions, as identified by the Department of Communication, Climate Action and Environment. As SDG Champions, IMSA will help raise public awareness of the SDGs, and illustrate practical ways in which organisations and individuals can contribute to achieving the SDGs.
As a Champion organisation, IMSA focuses on four SDGs,
· Responsible Consumption and Production
· Good Health and Well-being
· Sustainable Cities and Communities
· Reduced Inequalities
You can learn more about the Men’s Sheds and the SDGs by clicking here