It’s a sunny day in Somerset, and we’ve found ourselves in the town of Frome. Specifically, in the Frome Women’s Shed, a supportive space to meet and make new things, whether it’s friendships or bird boxes. To celebrate International Women’s Day, we sat down for a chat with the Shed-ers on empowered women, woodworking and helping the local community. (And the importance of keeping the biscuits stocked up.)

From left to right: Carol, Val, Ros (seated), Anne, Jacqui, Delia, Fiona (seated), Rosie, Teresa, Liz, Karen.

Pictured above: Cheryl.

What inspired you to be a part of the Women's Shed?

Ros: My husband and I have always had workshops or studios on the go. When we moved to Frome, about seven years ago, he found a thing called the Men's Shed. A place where men can come, make things and chat. And I thought, well, what about the women? There weren’t many women’s sheds around and I felt annoyed about that. And so I got involved at the beginning.

Val: We had an inaugural meeting to see whether or not there would be a need for a women’s shed. And how many women turned up? About 70 people!

What does the Women's Shed mean to you?

Fiona: I love coming down and having a cup of tea and a chat. I’m a bit of a gossip. But the best thing for me about the Shed is having something to do. Especially now that the evenings are dark. When I’m sitting down, I’ve always got something to knit, something to make, something to sew. Or I can go out into the garage and have a bang around and make something.

Val: The majority of us are retired now. And it’s so nice to be able to have something on a Monday morning. You know, when the weekend’s over and you might be at a loose end.

Anne: It gave me something. I’ve been a mum for ages and my kids grew up, and I wanted to do something that was just for me, not for anybody else, really.

Is there anything special about the practical nature of the Shed?

Carol: There’s something about working with your hands. And those conversations that evolve when you’re doing something, not just sat facing each other, asking ‘how are you?’. People open up.

Could you tell us about an average day at the Women’s Shed?

Fiona: The Shed opens just before 9am on a Monday. People turn up, put the kettle on, switch the lights on, do the biz and put the sign out.

Val: And the biscuits!

Fiona: Some people will bring things with them to do. Others might dip into a group project on the go, like the Linus quilt. Sometimes, there’ll be a special event, where a member of the Shed will lead us all in a demonstration. Or we might even have an outside speaker.

Liz: And the men are welcome to join us, too.

How does the Shed support the local community?

Ros: Frome is a special town and every summer we have a Children's Festival. And we’ve made oversized games like boules or giant Jenga.

Fiona: We also made kits of wooden Christmas decorations, which then went to a local special educational needs school. The children made the kits up and sold them at their fair for the school funds. And it was all made from foraged and scavenged wood.

Liz: We've renovated outdoor furniture for the hospital, added planters to the railway station and made fabric aprons for the café. And several of us have made Linus quilts, quilts for children in hospital to take home with them. They're made with love and given with love.

Is there anything you’re particularly proud of?

Teresa: The rocking horse. A local carpenter asked if any of us fancied making one. He gave us pieces of wood and we had to make them into legs and heads and things. And we got hold of these fantastic tools so, once it was clamped in, it was like cutting cheese with a tool. It was just… heaven!

Anne: At the Shed, we give people the opportunity to do something. Things they’ve never done before. And you don’t have to worry about never having done it before. It’s there for you to try.

Teresa: Absolutely. We learnt masses of skills. And we worked together on it. When we watched the carpenter come back in and see it, his face! He was absolutely amazed. He said it was far better than he’d ever expected.

Rosie: To think ‘well, actually, I’ve accomplished this’. Such a boost for self-esteem.

Ros: And we're now selling the rocking horse to raise money for the Shed.

Could you tell us more about the confidence and empowerment that comes from the Shed?

Ros: There was a lady who got in touch who had a nasty accident and hadn't gone anywhere on her own for 10 years. And we gradually coaxed her into the room. And she became a very relaxed and happy member who's now living her life, swimming, travelling, looking after her horses again. I like to think that the Shed was instrumental in getting her over that hump.

International Women's Day is coming up. What does it mean to you?

Cheryl: It's really nice to have a group of women that accept you. Up until five years ago, I hadn't ever been in a wheelchair. I was quite an active, busy lady with a business. Now, I don’t have the use of my hands, but I join in with drinking coffee. And hopefully a chocolate biscuit.

Ros: It is empowering for us, isn't it, to get together and talk?

Anne: It’s very evident when you’re not looking after a family anymore and you’re not working. A lot of us want to do things. We want to learn things. We don’t want to stay as we are. There’s more out there. The day itself is a good reminder that a lot of women are very unsure about their capabilities, but they’re there. Absolutely.

Fiona: And that’s what the Shed is about. Bringing them out.

Anne: And not only the Shed, but Women’s Day highlights that it’s possible. You’ve got a voice. It should be heard.

Jacqui: Every day is Women’s Day!

And finally, imagine that you could magically add a tool to the Shed. What would it be and what would you create with it?

Delia: Oh, do we have to create something with it? I was going to say a hot tub!

Rosie: I’d go for an industrial sewing machine, and have a go at making some handbags.

Karen: A tapestry loom.

Liz: Did you say a cappuccino machine?

Karen: I didn’t. But that would be better(!)

To read further about the Frome Women’s Shed, visit their website or follow them on Facebook.