New Social-Distance Benches by Raytown Men’s Shed

Anthony Reardon (centre) did a lot of work on the benches with no small help from Rachel Rooney (right). Also pictured is Noel Carr (left).

Peter McNamara

In response to the pandemic, and to spread good feeling in the local area, the Raytown Men’s Shed is designing, building and installing special “social-distance” benches in flat complexes around Ringsend. The Shedders have already set up five of the tailor-made benches in the George Reynolds complex, with orders for more at other locations.

“We just put them in the other week,” says Anthony Reardon, one of the Raytown men working on the project. “But we started looking at this all the way back in March. When this whole thing kicked off, I guess we had a feeling down the Shed that the idea of being ‘socially-distant’ was going to be around for a while. We’d have had the benches up sooner,” he adds, “but this level 5 has really slowed things.”

During the lockdown, members of the Raytown Shed had to work one or two at a time to finish the benches, putting in only a few hours each week. They started with an ordinary bench design they found online, but tweaked the specifications to turn a regular bench into a safer, anti-Covid one.

The benches are a way for people to meet and chat outdoors, in a way in which they know they will be safe from the virus. There’s no second-guessing your own closeness to a person, or awkwardly asking a person to move further away from you. With the Raytown benches – and their two separated seats – you’re sure to be safe.

“We even tried using recycled wood,” says Reardon. “But in the end it was very time-consuming. And it didn’t look all that great.”

The end result is a nice sight. The benches are sturdily made and smoothly finished. They’re an inviting place to sit and chat freely, across the beds of colourful flowers. In fact, they’ve been such a hit that word has spread, and now other men’s sheds around Dublin are copying the Raytown design, to install benches in their area.

This new amenity at the George Reynold’s complex would never have come about without the help of Rachel Rooney, a member of the Residents’ Association. These benches are the first phase in her plans to enliven the complex for all its residents – Rooney is also set on installing a “Wall of Hope” at the George Reynold’s flats. With the same can-do, feel-good motivation as the Raytown Shed, she is hoping to raise spirits in whatever way she can during these difficult days.

“A Youth Club for Aul’ Fellahs”

The Raytown Shed benches are the first project in a long while for what had been a very active community hub. Since getting a dedicated site at the Ringsend Irishtown Community Centre in autumn 2019, and after a bumper “Race Night” fundraiser at Poolbeg Marina last Christmas, the Raytown Men’s Shed had been going from strength to strength. Along with everyone and everything else, the pandemic has halted their momentum.

At the time of writing, all men’s sheds are officially closed. A recommendation went out from the main Irish organising committee for all members to close up shop for the time being in the interest of public safety. Unfortunately, during these times, Sheds are the kind of outlet people need most of all. With pubs closed, with most forms of socialising reduced, and with most people left at least temporarily unemployed, having a place to go to meet people and to feel productive would be ideal.

Once the sheds are allowed to reopen again, the Raytown team plan to mount an awareness raising campaign in the locality to get as many new people involved as possible.

“We were really getting somewhere last year,” says Reardon. “But sure it’s the same all over. Thankfully, with the end of this lockdown on the horizon, we have new ideas in motion.”

Aside from the orders for more socially-distanced benches for other flat complexes, the Shed has been inundated with orders for planter boxes, with 14 requested at the time of writing. The local school has even gotten onto the Shed about making a special rain harvester. Given the community spirit of the times, it seems everyone is out to improve the locality, and make a troubled world a little easier on the eyes.

The Raytown Shed has also bought a new timber shed that’s set to be installed at the RICC in January. With the timber shed acting as their workshop and toolshed, and with their existing site at the RICC serving as the main easy-going social space, the Raytown Shed is ready to welcome new members.

Martin Byrne, the acting chairperson of the Shed, wants anyone and everyone to come along, and to do whatever they want in their own way.

“Men will be able to come and go to the space as they please,” says Byrne. “The whole point is to get people popping in, taking part. So it’s all very casual. More than anything,” he adds, “we want to get the word out that this shed is for everyone.”

Likewise, Anthony Reardon wants to give people a proper impression of what goes on at the Raytown Shed.

“We’re not down there talking about our feelings all day, I can tell you that. While some of that mental health stuff can be part of it,” he adds, “we don’t want to be making it out like it’s some kind of therapy group. It’s not that way at all. The Shed is just somewhere to go to, when you need to get out of the house. You can have a cup of tea, have a laugh. You can make something, repair something, or teach someone a skill – or not – it’s up to you. We think of it like a youth club for aul’ fellahs.”

Re-opening post Lockdown At the time of writing it is unclear what businesses and organisations will be allowed to re-open during the Christmas and New Year period, and how things will pan out in early 2021.

All the same, the Raytown team are set on re-gaining the momentum they had been building in 2019. Depending on the revised national restrictions, the Shed are hoping they can open for one day a week until Christmas. And there are already plans to mount an awareness-raising campaign in the locality, to get as many new people involved as possible. Watch out for the Raytown Men’s Shed Information Tent, which might be springing up on your street in the near future.

It’s no secret that the dark and cold winter months can take a toll on everyone’s mood. With spring still a little way off, dropping down to the Raytown
Shed for a cup of tea might do anyone a bit of good.

It’s a club set up for anyone that’s feeling bored or lonely at home, and especially any retired people looking to get out and about for a few hours a week. It might do no harm to keep an eye on the Raytown Shed, and pop in if you can.

For updates on winter opening times and other projects, check out the Raytown Men’s Shed Facebook page (search “Raytown Men’s Shed). Or you can ask about the Shed at the Ringsend Irishtown Community Centre (01 660 4789).