Cuprinol Shed of the 'Plague' Year Finalists Announced

A record 331 entrants are competing for the title.

Oratory of St. Joseph
Oratory of St. Joseph.

Father Len Black with Permission from Readersheds

Every year we cover the Cuprinol Shed of the Year competition, a celebration of a great British tradition: the construction or the adaptive reuse of sheds for modern uses. British homes are generally smaller than those in North America and often don't have useful basements or spare bedrooms, so that shed at the bottom of the garden where the outhouse used to be can be very useful. These are not the fancy and expensive architect-designed sheds but are often quirky and fun, true labors of love.

This plague year may have been awful for so many reasons, but it was a good year for sheds, with so many people stuck and home in crowded conditions and a record number of 331 entries— double the number from 2020.

The Shedmaster of Ceremonies, who founded the competition and is head judge, Andrew Wilcox, tells Treehugger: "With the lockdown, many people have spent more time at home - so they needed an outlet for their creativity and to occupy their time and the first place these sheddies looked was their humble garden sheds—and they have converted them into multi-use buildings"

The Batbarn


Sheddie Fred with permission of Readersheds

Wilcox announced the finalists in each category—the public can vote for their favorite sheds in each. He points Treehugger to what used to be called the eco-sheds, but are now "Nature's Haven," which, to my eye, don't look any more or less eco than many in other categories. The most eco might be the Batbarn, which might lead Derek Zoolander to ask: "What's this, a center for bats?"

It is wonderfully made, all by hand using "medieval post and rail building using mortice and tenon lap joints in the base plate, rough wind braces, mortice and tenon at top of posts, birds mouth rafter joint into birds mouth tenon in main beams. Tongue and fork mortice and tenon at the apex." (See more photos here)

Batbarn Construction

Sheddie Fred with permission of Readershed

As marvelous as the Batbarn is, opening up the competition to bat sheds raises all kinds of category issues—next, we will have birdhouses. In fact, my biggest concern this year is about the oddities of the categorizations.

The Oratory of St. Joseph

Father black in front of Oratory
Father Black and Oratory.

Father Len Black with Permission from Readersheds

In 2020, Wilcox introduced a new Lockdown category for people who built sheds as a project during the pandemic. But there is a real overlap with the Workshop/Studio category, where people are running their businesses from their sheds because of the pandemic. Take the Oratory of St. Joseph, a remarkable shed built by Father Len Black, formerly an Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism.

He writes:

"Within the Catholic Church, I have the care of a small group of ex-Anglicans in Scotland called the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. As we had no permanent church, I enhanced the interior of the shed to make it suitable for saying daily Mass on weekdays."
Zoom screen in Oratory

Father Len Black with Permission from Readersheds

As his congregation grew, so did the shed. And when the pandemic hit, Father Black went virtual.

"Everyone can see who else is with us at Mass and then when Mass is over, we can chat with each other over a virtual coffee. This proved a great success in bringing people together, and made us all feel less isolated."

Father Black may have to enlarge his oratory yet again. Another St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country, attracting millions of visitors. After being in the Shed of the Year competition, this one may also become a pilgrimage. But it still begs the question: Is it a Lockdown Shed?

Treehugger has not demanded to see the official rules and charter of the Shed of the Year Competition, but the Oratory of St. Joseph has been run out of a shed since 2011, and Father Black is doing God's work, so I would have thought it should be considered a workshop/studio shed.

We asked Wilcox how categories were determined, and he tells Treehugger: "Sheddies decide, but sometimes we move them. [Father Black] only started zooming Mass from his shed during lockdown so it is a new use." If Wilcox tires of running this competition, we suggest he might apply to be a city zoning examiner.

The Hideaway


Rosemary Hoult with permission of Readersheds

The Hideaway is another finalist in Nature's Haven category, but if you read Rosemary Hoult's description, it might well have been in Lockdown. I know it is the one my bird-loving editorial director Melissa Breyer would vote for and spend a lockdown in.

Hoult writes:

"Despite this being a small redundant area of ground in the woodland garden we have been able to create a magical, tranquil hideaway where we can escape and connect with nature. The project has been a pleasant distraction over the past 6mths of confinement and only now can we see the benefits to our well-being that such a small space can bring into our lives. We hope to see plenty of bird life from the Hideaway and l recently counted some 30 species of birds in the RSPB survey and there some 10 nest boxes currently occupied."
Hideaway interior

Rosemary Hoult with permission from Readershed

It's a cozy classic. Hoult adds:

"The Hideaway was constructed by my husband David largely from up-cycled scaffold boards and timber. Its modelled on a National Trust vertical planked shed with a galvanised tin roof, large viewing windows to the front and a stable door."

Peaky Blinders Pub Shed

Peaky Blinder Bar

Mr. Michael Vermiglio with permission from Readersheds

One category that is a victim of the lockdown is the very popular pub shed. These are often so elaborate, but Michael and Sue break new ground with their shrine to Peaky Blinders:

"Myself and Sue fell in love with the series and we have visited Peaky Blinders bars in Liverpool and Southport and the bars main name is 'The Garrison' after the main bar frequented by the "Shelbys" in the series, and it was the main bar in Birmingham during the 30s and 40s when the Peaky Blinders were in operation and the 'Garrison' is still standing today and we are hoping to visit the pub in the summer."
Peaky Blinders Bar

Michael Vermiglio with permission from Readersheds

This is so detailed, but with lockdown the pub sheds don't get the traffic that they used to. Michael writes that he is optimistic:

"The bar is very much a family bar, and it was kitted out to entertain our family and then when all this virus has finally disappeared we can then invite our further friends and family and me and my wife will be in the bar on Saturday."

These are not your garden-variety garden sheds.

The Guardian recently ran an article about office sheds, with the horrible new moniker "Shoffice," discussing the booming sales of high-end sheds. That's what most North Americans see in the design magazines. Some of them are lovely; you can see more of them on Alex Johnson's Shedworking site. The Shed of the Year competition shows a very different thing, serving different roles, with most of the sheds being built by hand, by their users.

Wilcox notes:

“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."

That's why I titled this "The Shed of the Plague Year"—it all has a different feel about it and the sheds have often played a different role. I usually pick a favorite right away, but this year I can't decide. I think I want to get under a blanket in the Hideway with my iPad loaded up with Peaky Blinders episodes. Meanwhile, go vote for your faves in the Cuprinol Shed of the Year Competition.