A Catholic priest who uses his garden shed to livestream Mass during lockdown is a finalist in the annual Shed of the Year competition.
Father Len Black, from Inverness, is in the running for the 2021 Cuprinol Shed of the Year, having converted his shed into a chapel, called the Oratory of St Joseph.
After he became a Catholic Fr Black, a former Anglican priest, and a member of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, was put in charge of a small congregation of fellow ex-Anglicans who lacked a church of their own. In Fr Black’s own words: “I enhanced the interior of the shed to make it suitable for saying daily Mass on weekdays.
“It soon proved too small for our needs so I extended it into what had been the porch, the only extra cost being two panes of glass for the extra side windows. My father was a cabinet maker and I have inherited many of his skills, so all the work was done by myself using materials I already had. At this point that it became The Oratory of St Joseph. Joseph was a carpenter, my father was a cabinet maker, and I built the shed.”
The humble shed has been transformed by the enterprising Fr Black and has only grown over time: “I had a number of small statues of Saints and a large statue of Our Lady, St Mary, which took up residence in the Oratory and with the help of a good friend in Edinburgh I was able to find a splendid circular brass tabernacle, six brass candles and a crucifix, large statues of St Joseph, the Sacred Heart, the Infant of Prague and various other ecclesiastical items to adorn the chapel. I was also given gifts of a splendid Orthodox Icon of the Scottish Saints and another of Our Lady of Walsingham.
“As the Ordinariate began to grow, I added a pavilion, a raised platform with a roof, between the shed and the garden pond to give an outside sheltered seating area. As numbers continued to grow I added clip on sides to give protection from the weather. Two years ago I decided to improve this by extending the already extended summer house. Again, costs were minimal, and now it is 14 feet long – eight feet longer than when it started.
“The shed, The Oratory of Saint Joseph, has been a work in progress over the years and all who come to Mass each week say it is a haven of tranquillity in a quiet garden not far from the centre of Inverness, the Capital of the Highlands of Scotland. My wife, Ruth (yes, I am a married Catholic priest), who is a textile artist specialising in Celtic design, designed and made three stained glass windows, now inside the entrance.
“The three-part altarpiece, the Madonna Enthroned with Saints and Angels, is a copy of a work be the Italian painter from Florence, Agnolo Gaddi, who produced most of his works between 1369 and 1396.”
This particular jury-rigged barque of St Peter is up against some fierce competition however. Model Danielle Zarb-Cousin’s conversion of her parent’s shed into a 1970s-inspired Creme de Menthe bar provides a profane alternative source of solace amidst lockdown, and the Oratory will also have to go up against specialist bra-fitter Joanna van Blommestein’s summerhouse-based lingerie boutique, offering temptation in the garden.
Other contestants include Herefordshire archaeologist Rebecca Roseff, who has shown solidarity with the church theme by constructing a gothic style shelter for rare horseshoe bats during the summer.
Other entries were no less quixotic, with Isle of Wright resident Nicholas Pointing constructing a shed dedicated to creating a replica of the car featured in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
The winner of the competition will receive £1,000, £100 worth of Cuprinol products, a plaque, and “eternal shed glory”.
Andrew Wilcox, head judge and founder of the competition, said: “The past year has been an incredibly challenging time for all of us and, now more than ever, we're aware of how important the humble shed can be. Sheds are not just unloved, brown structures at the bottom of the garden that house tools and household junk – they are vital spaces where you can go to relax, work on a project or burn off some steam.”