WHILE some of us will be looking forward to the promise a new year brings, it can be a challenging time for those who find themselves isolated or lonely.

Men often find it particularly difficult to talk about their problems and can find themselves struggling with depression, anxiety and low mood.

But a project running in Bolton is providing a place where socially isolated men can make friends, learn new skills and make a contribution to the community.

Men in Sheds, a partnership between Bolton at Home, Bolton Council and Age UK, now has five sites throughout the borough, including Tonge Moor, Harwood and two in Breightmet, one of which is based at the Lancashire Wildlife Trust.

The list is completed by the Willow Hey Project, in Farnworth – a former allotment, tucked away behind Doe Hey Grove, in Farnworth.

The group, which has around 20 regular members, began as a community food growing project.

But members also create bird boxes, bird tables and even wooden reindeer ornaments.

And it makes partnerships in the community, supporting schools and working on a projects, including a sensory garden at Winifred Kettle

Chris Wood, community development officer at Bolton at Home, has played a key role in making the Willow Hey site a success.

And he says Men in Sheds helps men, particularly older men, to open up to one another about their feelings.

He said: "Some have lost their partners, or their partner has dementia. Isolation is a big problem. We get a lot of referrals for guys on their own. This has helped reduce that isolation and create a support network.

"It just works in terms of engaging men. I’ve done lots of community work and it’s difficult to do that, women are more open."

Mr Wood adds that members of the group form bonds and support one another

He continued: "The lads have set up social things outside the project. There have been massive improvements. We’ve had a few lads coming off anti-depressants as a result of this place

“It builds confidence and self-esteem, and there’s the camaraderie, the lads have the craic and have fun.

"Friendships that are formed down here, that’s a big part of it. Blokes don’t normally talk about personal stuff, but it happens naturally down here, standing side-by-side and working on stuff. It just works."

And Mr Wood believes that Men in Sheds provides a vital social hub for its members.

He said: "Blokes used to talk in pubs or clubs, but with the decline of them this is a social space where they can come together. They are fixing things and making things and indirectly chatting and about personal stuff."

One member of the group is former engineer Phil Cooney, whose wife suffers from dementia and now lives in a care home.

The 67-year-old says the project became a lifeline for him after he became 'lonely and isolated'.

He said: “This is somewhere to go with a good bunch of lads. I say ‘this is my Shangri-la, I walk through this gate and all my troubles are gone.

“I just leave the millstone around my neck and leave it at the gate – it all disappears.

“We talk about anything – Donald Trump is a favourite — we just have a laugh and a joke.

“I’ve made so many friends, everyone is really, really friendly, it’s more like a second family.”

Mr Cooney adds that being a member of the group has helped him 'tremendously'.

"I was at that point where I was starting to get depressed, then somebody suggested this place and I’ve never looked back," he said.

Another member of the group, who asked to be known only as Brian, also found the group increased his sense of wellbeing dramatically.

He said: “I’ve come on a long way since I’ve been here. My confidence has just gone straight up, I love it down here. I just wanted something to do, I was just stuck on myself all the time."

"I’ve made lots of new friends.”

And Arthur Morris from Great Lever says being introduced to the group has really improved his quality of life.

“I was a bit lonely and isolated. I don’t go out socialising and drinking, but this place has been brilliant," he said. "I just fitted in straight away.

“It’s lifted me up no end. I found it brilliant from day one. We all muck in and it’s like a well oiled team.

“We’ve done things for the community and I just enjoy it, I’ve made a lot of friends.”

To find out more about Men in Sheds visit meninshedsbolton.weebly.com