Shed community under threat after 70 years due to council cash constraints

A group of “old man’s sheds” which for 70 years have given owners somewhere to enjoy their hobbies and to escape from the world could be flattened due to council budget constraints.

The Middleton Cabins Owners’ group is a community of 36 red 30ft by 10ft sheds set beside a Hartlepool coal yard overlooking the North Sea.

The owners are mainly men, aged between their mid-50s and early 80s, who come to their modest site, a short walk from the town’s plush marina, to swap stories, share cups of tea and carry out hobbies like making lobster pots or repairing fishing nets.

The sheds are also home to 11 wild cats who are fed by the owners, some of whom spend the whole day “pottering” in their cabins, chatting to their friends and doing jobs.

The cabins have moved locations along the coast since they were built after the Second World War and could close in eight weeks when the lease ends and a funding agreement comes to an end.

The owners, many of whom are retired or on sickness benefits, currently pay £200 a year for their plot.

Hartlepool Council has previously paid a £10,000 subsidy towards the £14,000 lease, but it has said it can no longer afford to do so – and owners PD Ports has increased the lease to £17,000 a year.

Ron Clark, director of the owners’ group, said: “They are old man’s sheds, cabins for boys.”

The owners have a strong sense of camaraderie and share their knowledge when they carry out projects, he said.

The sheds were first built after the Second World War (Tom Wilkinson/PA)

Mr Clark, a 72-year-old retired engineer who worked in the oil industry, said: “It will carry on as long as it is allowed to carry on.

“There’s all sorts of people who come and if we put them all together, we have the best skills in the country.”

Asked what will happen if a deal cannot be agreed to save the cabins, he said: “It’ll be desolated, where will we go? Nobody knows.”

Paul Moore, 58, has decorated his “Toon Shed” with seashells and comes every day for breakfast, lunch and tea.

Mr Moore, who claims sickness benefit due to a back injury, said: “There’s a lot of old people who come down here. Some have disabilities, some have cancer, and this is the only place they can come to relax and talk to people.”

He said he hopes a deal can be struck to save the group, adding: “We have put a lot of work into the cabin and it’s a shame to lose them.

“I hope they can come to their senses because they are going to lose a nice community.”

Hartlepool Council said it had leased the site from PD Ports for some years and then subsidised the cost to cabin owners.

A spokesman said: “In the present financial climate and with difficult decisions needing to be made on council funding priorities, it was considered that this could unfortunately no longer continue.”

The council said it will support the owners dealing directly with the port but if no agreement can be reached, it will have to “aid the removal of the cabins ready for the lease ending in April”.

PD Ports was unavailable for comment but told ITV Tyne Tees: “These are matters for the council rather than the operator of a commercial port.

“If the council would like to enter into a new agreement, we are happy to discuss.”

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