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Men's shed makes great mates

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Chris Cameron, Hugh Martin and John Still

The men’s shed at Bruce McLaren is more than just a workshop where amazing pieces of metalwork are created.

The three men who helped set it up together have found it’s also provided something invaluable – friendship.

Retired engineers Chris Cameron, Hugh Martin and John Still met as the village was being built and quickly discovered their love of all things mechanical was something they had in common.

“The workshop brought us together,” says Chris simply.

Their love of a good laugh soon became apparent too, and when John admits they broke into the construction site ‘totally illegally’ one night just so they could suss out where in the village the shed would be, ​it's easy to imagine the suppressed giggling that invoked judging by the laughter the memory of that night​ sets off.

Once they’d moved into the village they wasted no time in setting the workshop up with the necessary equipment, with a bit of help from Ryman who supplied the benches, cupboards, the sink and other bits and pieces.

They also drew up a health and safety agreement which everyone using the shed must sign to ensure safe and correct usage.

Now, with about 20 members of Bruce’s Blokes’ Shed, there has been a steady output of product.

There are model cars, trains and planes on display as well as Hugh’s latest project, a working replica of a Doxford ship’s engine which harks back to his days as a chief engineer on passenger ships.

Then there's his amazing replica of a steam engine which took him eight years to complete and is now on display in the village.

John, the ‘master vehicle modeller’, is currently building a 1:10 scale model of Bruce McLaren’s Austin Seven racing car but has a completed miniature of a logging truck proudly on display outside his apartment.​

However, the shed members also use their mechanical engineering expertise to undertake many tasks for the village and the residents.

One important project was to build a four-wheel trailer to enable the village’s gardening crew to move their rubbish bins to the compactor.

Another was to install some 20 stainless steel trellises and espaliers to keep the many roses, wisteria and jasmine around the village flourishing.

All the shed members are very happy to respond to the many requests for help from the residents, says John.

“Bases to hold up umbrellas on verandas, spice shelves, cat doors, golf cart and fishing rod repairs, bowling green markers and the assembly of kit-set furniture, just to mention a few tasks!”

The shed has now become a feature that the Ryman sales team show off to prospective residents.

And while they are proud of their handiwork, what they most value is just having a place to hang out with a mate and maybe do a bit of creating while they’re at it.

“It’s been fantastic,” says John.

“If the three of us are here we can come in at 1pm and go out at 5pm having done about 10 minutes’ work but have plenty of chatter and cups of tea!”

The men, whose wives all get on too, say they socialise more with each other now than they did with their old friends from years ago, and will often take in together events such as the Writers’ Festival, symphony orchestra and theatre productions, or even just an impromptu fish and chip evening.

“That’s the fascinating thing about this place,” Chris says.

Adds Hugh: “We do serious operations in here too, undertaken by using our resident pilot. A lady came in with a dog, one of those pottery ones that hang over a vase, and its paws had come off so she asked if we had any glue.

“We gave it the full treatment, and had it laid out on the towel for the operation and then told her we’d have to keep it in overnight for observation!”

Says John: “She gave us some chocolate Easter eggs for doing that which was very nice. Although our standard fee for doing jobs for ladies is half a dozen beers!”

The men are quick to add that while it is called Bruce’s Blokes’ Shed, it is not out of bounds to the female of the species.

Says Hugh: “One lady asked me ‘do you allow women?

“And I said ‘Of course! You just have to be able to tell dirty stories, swear and make tea!” he laughs.

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