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Mens Sheds

Short guide to starting a Men's Sheds


This guide has been compiled by Groundwork Northern Ireland (GWNI) as part of the Men’s Sheds Movement Project funded by the Public Health Agency and delivered by GWNI.  The guide has been informed by the work of the Australian Men’s Sheds Association; the Irish Men’s Sheds Association and most specifically from the experiences of Men’s Sheds across Northern Ireland.

Since the project started in December 2014 Groundwork NI has engaged with existing Sheds from all parts of Northern Ireland and has met with individuals and groups wishing to start a Shed. This guide has been developed in response to one of the most commonly asked questions, “How do we start a Shed?”  As each community is unique so too is each Shed and as such not all the information contained in this guide may be applicable to your circumstances.

The programme which runs to November 2017 is designed to:
•    Support the growth of new Men’s Sheds throughout Northern Ireland
•    Provide effective services to Men’s Sheds
•    Raise awareness and understanding of the Men’s Sheds model

Through the project Groundwork NI can provide support and assistance to existing and new Men’s Sheds. The support offered is bespoke to the individual shed.  Examples include training, action planning, arranging visits to other Sheds, networking events, sourcing funding, registering with Northern Ireland Charities Commission, developing policies and procedures.

At a regional level the project seeks to raise awareness of Men’s Sheds through promotion at different events and activities.

What is a Men’s Shed?

Background to Men’s Sheds

Men’s Sheds or Community Sheds are non-profit organisations that originated in Australia in the mid 1990’s and rapidly spread to New Zealand, Canada, England and then here in Ireland.  The first Men’s Shed in Ireland opened in February 2009 and since then over 220 Sheds have sprung up; some 50 of these are in Northern Ireland.

They were set up to advise and improve the overall health of all males. However they have expanded their remit to include anyone regardless of age or gender.

The Irish Men’s Sheds Association describe Men’s Sheds as being;

“any community based, non-commercial organisation that is open to all men where the primary activity is the provision of a safe, friendly, and inclusive environment where men are able to gather and/or work on meaningful projects at their own pace, in their own time and in the company of other men, and where the primary objective is to advance the health and wellbeing of the participating men”.

Sheds offer a social space for men of all ages to engage in meaningful leisure activities, whilst chatting to other men from their locality, thus creating a sense of community and belonging for those who may have been isolated and lonely before joining the Shed. Men’s Sheds provide a place to get out of the house, learn new skills in an informal setting, and learn more about health and wellbeing, again in an informal way, through chatting with other men.

A Shed’s activities usually involve making or mending in wood (e.g. carpentry, joinery, turning, carving, whittling, furniture renovation).  Other activities may include metalworking (milling, sheet metal, welding, etc.) bike repair, gardening, electronics, tool renovation, boat renovation, model engineering (model railways, planes) and even building a car! Reclamation, reuse and restoration feature strongly, and other activities also include painting, mosaic work and basket weaving.

Members of Men’s Sheds come from all walks of life – the bond that unites them is that they are men with time on their hands and they would like something meaningful to do with that time. Although Men’s Sheds are open to women, they remain a minority group!

Essential features of a Shed

•    There is something practical to do. This normally is a woodworking workshop. The key is that a man can come long to the Shed, have a look around and a discussion about what he is interested in, find something that matches and want to come back.
•    A good atmosphere. Men usually arrive a bit hesitantly; a second key is that the atmosphere is friendly and the welcome should be good.
•    Has a relaxation/social area. It is important to have this space to encourage chatting and general interaction.

Men’s Sheds brings together three key ingredients; the sharing and revaluing of practical skills, a rebuilding and strengthening of connectedness and community, and a means to open up dialogue around health and wellbeing.

What a Men’s Shed is NOT

•    Commercial. Most Sheds do not wish to become places of work with deadlines and targets to meet. While many Sheds do produce goods for sale as a means of generating income it is done in such a way that the Shed does not resemble a workplace.
•    A service provider. The majority of men should be mentally and physically able. Men with support needs may be advised to attend with their carer.

What are the benefits of a Men’s Shed?

Men’s Sheds were conceived as sheds for shed-less men and encouraged social activities and friendships while providing health information to shedders. This is of particular importance as many men do not talk in some more conventional settings about their feelings or emotions and have not been encouraged to take an interest in their own health and well-being.

Sheds provide direct and indirect opportunities for improved health and well-being for men. Directly, in their ability to provide health information to men who may otherwise not access or seek such information. Indirectly, in combating the effects of social isolation, providing men with a sense of purpose and self-esteem, improving physical health and mental well-being and increasing help seeking behaviour. Although health benefits are not amongst the main motivations for attendance at Sheds, most shedders acknowledge that these benefits exist. Direct means of health intervention include organised health checks, the distribution of leaflets and information and health talks. Indirect health interventions include members “looking out” for one another; the recognition of symptoms and mutual advice.

A recurring feature of all Sheds is the warmth, hospitality and genuine interest in improving the quality of life for men. Many men speak of the renewed sense of purpose that the Shed has given them, how it has helped them to reconnect with their community and instil a sense of identity and belonging.  Some of the comments heard in Sheds include:

‘it gives me something to look forward to’,
‘without it [the Shed] I would be lost’,
‘when my wife died part of me died with her, coming to the Shed has helped me to come to terms with her passing’,
‘it gives me a great feeling to know that my skills are valued and I am able to share this with others’.

Why establish a new Shed?

How could a shed benefit your community?
It is important that should a Men’s Shed be opened in your community that it offers a community benefit.  Consideration should be given to how a Shed could benefit your community.
Think about what is already there. What partnerships could be developed with other organisations to develop the Shed?  Is there potential to link with an existing Shed in your locality? What are the demographics?  Is the area predominantly retirees, unemployed or a mixture?


Who is the Shed for?

•    Is it for a group of likeminded individuals who want to start a Shed for their own personal reasons?
•    Is it for a community group that would like to develop a Shed to improve on existing services?
•    Is it an already established group that would like to take advantage of being involved in a Shed network?
All of these are valid reasons for developing a Shed, all viable ways of preventing social isolation of men within their community and encouraging social engagement - the primary outcome of all Sheds. It is important to establish the aims and objectives of the Shed early in the planning stages. Keep an open mind and a clear focus on the desired outcomes of a Shed.

Sample aims could include:
•    Promote collaborative learning, knowledge transfer and social interaction
•    Improve health and wellbeing
•    Reduce feelings of social isolation and loneliness
•    Increase access to local health services and support network
•    Have some fun at the same time!


All Sheds are different and the timeframe to develop a Shed varies on individual circumstances, local demographics and resources available.  Starting a Shed is hard work requiring a lot of patience, time and commitment but it can also be very rewarding.

Research/Visit other Sheds

Visit other Sheds and ask questions about how they started. Sheds are open and welcoming to people visiting and learning from their experiences. Much information can be gained from visiting other Sheds and it is a way of forming friendships and networks that will be invaluable into the future.  A Directory of Men’s Sheds in Northern Ireland is available from Groundwork Northern Ireland.

The Irish Men’s Sheds Association was established in January 2011 with the purpose of supporting the development and sustainability of Sheds in Ireland. It is a member based organisation formed to share information freely between Sheds and support communities and organisations wishing to establish a Shed.  The Association has a team of Advocates who support Men’s Sheds around the country. Each of the Advocates offer their time and experience to help with getting a Shed up and running and with its ongoing activities. Contact details for the Advocates for Northern Ireland are available on their website.  The website has a wealth of information around health and safety, latest research and news of events in Sheds across the country. For further information about the Irish Men’s Shed’s Association and membership visit

Australian Men’s Shed Association represents Men’s Sheds across all of Australia. The website has a host of information.

There is also information on the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association and UK Men’s Sheds Association

Engaging with the general public

The only way to find out if there is a need for a Shed in your community is to consult with local people. The most time efficient way of doing this is to hold a public meeting. This should be held in a central easily accessible venue, advertised widely through churches, sports clubs, community organisations, posters, word of mouth, aiming to get as many men as possible on board. Remember without the men there will be no Shed.

This meeting is the ideal occasion to recruit the first Men’s Shed Steering Committee that will oversee the development of the new Shed.
It is important that the meeting is well planned with a focus. A suggested format would be:

1.    Open the meeting – thank everyone for coming along.
2.    Present your idea for a Shed – remember not everyone may be familiar with the concept. If facilities allow, play a promotional video such as the one produced by the Australian Men’s Sheds Association –see website. Or invite a guest speaker from another Shed to share their story.
3.    Open the floor to suggestions and discussion and have someone assigned to take notes.
4.    Invite volunteers with time available to establish a Steering Committee to advance the project.  It can be difficult to attract members to a committee but without it in place it will be difficult to advance the Shed.
5.    Use the opportunity to recruit potential new members.  Gather contact details for future reference.
6.    Set a date for the next meeting. In the beginning it is crucial to meet, formally or informally, in the very near future to keep the momentum going. This social interaction is the real beginning of a Shed.  
7.    Finish with a cup of tea and an opportunity for people to chat in a more relaxed manner.


The Steering Committee

The Steering Committee is in place to manage the early stages of establishing the Shed.  Roles such as Chairperson, Secretary and Treasurer need to be defined to enable it to function effectively. The Steering Committee should have 5-8 members each with different skills and experience to offer.

In the early stages it is very important that the Steering Committee has a visible presence and continually promotes the concept of the Shed in the local community.

Shed Constitution

In basic terms, a constitution is a set of written rules or an agreement governing the aims of the organisation, how it will be run and how the members will work together.

A constitution is important because:

•    It will act as a point of reference and help resolve any problems that may arise in the future;
•    It reassures the public and funding bodies that the group is properly run and the money is effectively managed;
•    It illustrates that the group is democratic and accountable, with clear methods by which decisions are made.

It is recommended that the constitution contains information about:

•    What the charity is set up to achieve (purposes)
•    How the charity goes about achieving its purposes (powers)
•    Who is involved in the strategic oversight of the charity
•    What happens if changes to the administrative provisions or purposes need to be made
•    What happens if the charity wishes to wind up

It should also contain administrative provisions relating to:
•    Governance of the charity
•    Internal arrangements for meetings, voting and finance
•    Membership to the charity (where applicable)
•    The appointment, retirement and removal of trustees
•    If and how trustees can benefit from the charity

The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland

An organisation must apply for registration as a charity in Northern Ireland, regardless of its income, size or whether or not it has received charitable tax status from HMRC, if:
•    it has exclusively charitable purposes
•    it is governed by the law of Northern Ireland
•    it has control and direction over its governance and resources.

For further information visit


It is vital that insurance is in place from the very beginning. Public liability and buildings and contents insurance are required for the Shed.  If renting, check with the landlord that buildings insurance is in place and if any additional insurance cover is required for contents that are not already covered by the landlord’s policy.

Remember to check that members are covered under any policy. The insurance premium depends on the number of members, activities undertaken and the limit of indemnity required. Some insurance companies may have restrictions on the use of dangerous machinery or require users to have completed health and safety training to enable them to operate specific machinery. It is important to provide your insurer with up to date specific information so that the policy remains valid. When seeking insurance it is vital that the insurer has a clear understanding of the activities in the Shed in order to provide the Shed with the most appropriate cover.
Some of the questions that insurance providers may ask include:
•    Location of premises
•    Name of premises
•    Type of premises
•    Equipment to be used
•    Who would be using the equipment
•    Main activities
•    Number of session per week
•    Number of attendees
•    Age of members

When comparing insurance premiums take into account the differences in coverage of each policy option and how each suits your situation before making a final decision.

Running a Shed


The Shed constitution will define membership criteria. Some Sheds cater for specific age groups while others cater for men of all ages and some women members. Each Shed is unique and there are no set rules.

Shed ethos and values

These will influence the development of the Shed. Example ethos and values include:

•    Everyone has a voice and will be listened to.
•    Feel free to give advice and be open to hearing advice.
•    Suggestions and comments are always welcome.
•    The Shed is open to all men and women and everyone is equal.
•    Lack of finances is not a barrier to joining the Shed.


There are some Sheds in Northern Ireland that have the support of employed staff working alongside volunteers and others that depend solely on volunteers. Funding for staff positions can be difficult to secure and is often for the short term only. While all members are equal in the Shed it does greatly help with the running of the Shed if people are assigned duties alongside that of the roles of committee members. Some Sheds operate a system whereby at each session there is a designated supervisor in place that assumes responsibility for the safe running of the Shed during that session. The supervisor must have received adequate training in all aspects of running the Shed and specifically in health and safety to enable him to demonstrate safe use of equipment and sign off when members are proficient in its use.  Having a bank of volunteer supervisors allows for rotation therefore avoiding fatigue.

How often should the Shed be open?

Once again each Shed has a different opening schedule. Some open one day a week others five days. Whatever the schedule it is important that it is meeting the needs of the members and that it is sustainable.


Each Shed is different in terms of the activities undertaken.  The ethos of a Men’s Shed is that members should be doing something that they enjoy in a relaxing and welcoming environment.  Members can choose to participate in whatever is going on or simply relax in the company of other men. Some Sheds offer a mixture of structured activities such as basket making, painting or gardening workshops, informative talks and free time.  Some of the most popular activities include woodwork, basket making, painting, gardening, metal work and sports. What you can offer will be informed by the members and by the facilities available.  It is important that it is the members that decide on the activities, and that this is not decided for them.


To start a Shed you need a venue. Some factors to consider include:

•    Is there enough space for all planned activities?
•    Is there any outside space?
•    Is there enough storage space?
•    Allow for expansion.
•    Is there public transport?
•    Is there convenient (free) car parking?
•    Is it suitable for members with disabilities?
•    Could neighbours be affected by activities e.g. noise or dust?
•    Are the necessary and adequate services available (electricity, water).
•    Is there a social area for members to chat and relax?
•    What is the cost?

It is important that the space is dedicated specifically to the Shed. It can be difficult to manage a system where the Shed is sharing premises with another organisation.  Sheds of all shapes and sizes can be found across Northern Ireland – vacant shop units, former schools, former factories, portacabins, industrial units and even sheds.

Health and Safety

Health and safety is a key factor for any Shed.
Each Shed should devise procedures to promote safety and minimise risks. These include:

•    Recording information about each member – emergency contact details, any medical conditions.
•    Workshop induction for any member wishing to use machinery.
•    General tidiness of workshop area and checking of equipment.

Shed Procedures

It is important that procedures are in place to ensure the effective running of the Shed and that health and safety is being adhered to. Some procedures implemented by Sheds include:
Sign in / sign out book – each person signs the book when they attend the Shed and again when they leave the Shed. This also provides some useful statistics to use in reports back to funders, publicity etc.

Welcome form – each member is asked to complete the form. It records name, address, emergency contact details and any medical conditions that he feels the Shed should be aware of.  Part of this process is pointing out fire exits and general safety arrangements.
Workshop induction – this is for use of the workshop electronic cut-off points, personal protective equipment location & use, and machinery safety notices. Having been shown how to use a machine safely the supervisor observes them using it and signs the training record on the workshop induction form for that machine. This way any supervisor can easily check if the person is approved to use a machine without all supervisors needing to be an expert at everything.


What does it cost to run a Shed?

Costs vary dramatically from Shed to Shed so it is difficult to give a figure for start up and annual running costs. In planning for the Shed finances consideration should be given to the following budget lines:
1.    Training
2.    Lease/rent
3.    Insurance
4.    Rates
5.    Electricity
6.    Heat
7.    Equipment
8.    Phone/internet
9.    Office supplies
10.    Postage
11.    Publicity
12.    Membership fees
13.    Tutors
14.    Materials
15.    Catering

Generating income

There is no doubt that starting and operating a Shed requires finance. A small amount of funding is required to enable things to happen such as setting up a bank account.  Income includes donations, funds received through grants, income derived from goods produced, fundraising through special events and membership fees.

Remember donations do not have to be monetary. Contact local builders merchants for off cuts or builders for unwanted machinery (provided it is in good working order). These items can be invaluable to your Shed. Ask around and it can be amazing what items are donated.

The funding environment is always changing and it is best to contact your local Council in the first instance to identify potential funders.
Sheds differ in their approach to membership fees. Some Sheds operate a system where each member pays an agreed rate each time they attend – this is usually a minimal amount. Another option is to invite members to donate; while this eliminates the risk of excluding anyone it depends on the continued generosity of members.  Other Sheds have a policy where there is no membership fee.  It may be easier to put a fee structure in place from the outset than try to introduce at a later stage. Contributions for refreshments (tea/coffee/biscuits) are usually treated separately.

What now?

There may seem to be a lot of work in setting up a Men’s Shed.....but......remember there is a lot of help and support if you do want to go forward with planning a new Men’s Shed in your local community.  Many other groups have been there before you and would be happy to share their experience.  We would be delighted to talk to you, please contact:

Groundwork Northern Ireland
63-75 Duncairn Gardens
Belfast BT15 2GB
02890 749494


Developed by GroundworkNI in conjunction with PHA