What is a Mens Shed?
Mens Sheds or Community Sheds are non-profit organisations that originated in Australia in the mid 1990s and rapidly spread to New Zealand, Canada, England and then here in Ireland. The first Mens 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 Groundwork NI programme 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.
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!
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’.
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