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A former soldier who lost both legs in an explosion in Afghanistan has praised the Men’s Shed group in Fort William for helping him reintegrate back into everyday life.
Stuart Gallagher, 32, who was serving with 1st Battalion, Scots Guards, at the time he was injured in 2013, was among the members from the town’s Men’s Shed taking part in the group’s open day on Saturday.
Men’s Sheds are based on the concept of garden sheds – providing a place to pursue practical interests but with the big difference being the social connections and friendship, sharing of skills and knowledge.
Held in the group’s premises at Blar Mhor Industrial Estate, the open day event attracted a steady flow of visitors happily buying items made by the members which ranged from bird tables and dog bowl stands to Harry Potter-style ‘magic’ wands.
The wands were crafted by Stuart, who has used his interest in woodwork to help rebuild his life.
He moved to Lochaber with his wife in 2016 after being medically discharged from the army the previous year and says the local Men’s Shed has made a major difference to his life.
‘I was doing stuff like this in my own garage and joining the Men’s Shed was mainly to get me out and about,’ he told us.
‘I was making stuff for a while at home but it started getting a wee bit lonely, mainly because there was no one my age I could say to “come round for a cup of tea” kind of thing as they are mostly all working.
‘I don’t work and someone said why don’t I come to the shed. So I did, got introduced and thought this is pretty much like my garage but with a lot more socialising.
‘I just got right into it. It helped clear my head and I got to know people,’ said Stuart, who hails originally from Glasgow and moved to Lochaber where his wife has family.
‘This has made a massive difference to me and made me focus on everything I was before. Attitude-wise, it’s got me to focus on other things in life. Life’s so short, you need to crack on and do the things you can do.’
Stuart, whose woodworking skills are mainly self-taught, opted to make the wands for the open day in case there were younger members of the community dropping by.
‘All kids love Harry Potter so I thought – wands? Why not?’
Deputy chairman of the group Gordon Gair said the open day had been a great success.
‘It was a fantastic day and pretty busy most of the time. We have raised a bit more than £860 towards our running costs, which is excellent.
‘We sold lots of items and got plenty of orders to start working on.’
Asked if he would recommend the Men’s Shed, Stuart told us: ‘I’d recommend it to anyone. When I first came the big age difference between myself and the other members made me a bit wary.
‘But the age thing didn’t matter to them. This is a place to enjoy and get you out of your house.
‘I was sitting at home on the couch and feeling sorry for myself. This was the ideal way of tackling that. It’s been brilliant.’