Q&A: Malcolm Bruce – Men Don’t Talk

Men Don’t Talk, a new play created by local writer and theatre director Clare Prenton and inspired by conversations with members of the Peebles and District Men’s Shed, will finally have its first professional reading on 29 January following a pandemic postponement. Malcolm Bruce, one of the shed founders and currently the Secretary of Peebles and District Men’s Shed,  reveals more about the experience of working with Clare on the play.

Tell us more about the origins of the shed and how it has grown?

Our shed grew from an initial public meeting organised by Voluntary Centre Borders in 2017. They had already formed a shed in Gala and others existed throughout the Borders. Peebles was an obvious location to have its own shed and the model was already well developed. From that meeting a small working group of around six of us was formed and our shed was born. We called an opening meeting which around two dozen men attended. The hat was passed around and we had a small float to start our journey in earnest. We rented space from Live Borders, initially in the Drill Hall while we looked for suitable premises of our own. After a very long search, the opportunity to have our own space within what is now School Brae Hub emerged and the rest is history. Our membership now stands at around 150, including several women. Most are retired men whose previous working lives range from manual workers and tradesmen through to white collar professionals. Many have no historical connection with Peebles but have settled in the town for various reasons. Some are married, some widowed or otherwise living alone. The main thing is that from day one, we operated an open-door policy: all we ask for is a name and address for insurance reasons.

Personally, what do you get out of being part of the shed?

 As one of the initial group who grabbed the ball and ran with it, I now feel that I am wound into the very fabric of the shed and will find it very hard to let go, if I ever do. I have made many, many new friends and have found kinship with others due to a shared upbringing in the town. I have learned new skills in many areas such as wood turning, carpentry and electrical installation work. In my role as secretary, I have taken primary responsibility for fundraising and am very proud of the fact that since our inception, I have managed to secure grant income of around £50,000 toward properly establishing our premises. I am confident that should I get knocked down by the proverbial bus, the shed is in good shape for the future.

What was it like talking to Clare about talking (or not talking)?

I am so impressed by Clare’s vision, her understanding of what we are about and her ability to create this wonderful piece from a few chats round a table with tea and biscuits. She very generously describes the input from our members, but they were just being themselves and it was her imagination and style which has pulled this piece together. I know from speaking to the participants since those sessions that they all took something away as well from the simple act of speaking about their experiences. All consider Clare to be a friend.

The shed involves many different people, all with different experiences and outlooks on life. Is it precisely that mix that makes it work so well?

Asked and answered, I think. The important thing is that none of us take ourselves too seriously and just want to have a few hours doing our own thing, whatever that may be. Sometimes we work together. Sometimes alone. We all have different strengths and weaknesses but have so far managed to blend them into what has become a workable model. I hope we have genuinely made a difference in even just one life. That would be enough for most of us.

Like many get-togethers at the shed, the rehearsed reading of Men Don’t Talk on Sat 29 Jan begins with tea and cake (at 4pm), followed by the reading at 4.30pm. Find out more here.  Also see here for an interview with Clare Prenton, the writer of Men Don’t Talk.