|A Men’s Shed in the UK
Smaller housing complexes had, by the early 90s, left less room for Australians to have their traditional large back-yard sheds. Men, especially retired ones, therefore, were often left without a place to go or activities to get on with.
As a result, the concept of community sheds was born, and it has since become something of a phenomenon in that country. Like Ugg boots, Fosters and Home and Away, the export has since taken off in Ireland.
“Each shed is as individual as the men involved, “ John Evoy of the Irish Men’s Sheds Association told us. “Most involve the use of tools, fixing motorbikes, upholstery, that kind of thing. There are usually about five or six projects on the go at once. At the same time, there will be men there drinking tea or playing darts – they are a hive of activity.”
As traditionally men have been less encouraged than women to be interested in their own wellbeing, the sheds have become an excellent medium by which to tackle the problem of mental health. Australian professor and Men’s Sheds researcher Barry Golding estimated that since the Australian network began, it has saved roughly 2,000 lives from suicide in that country.
“Feeling isolated and having a poor social network,” John Evoy says, “is equally as bad for your health as being a heavy drinker, and twice as bad as being a heavy smoker or obese.”
Potential members shouldn’t be put off by the prospect of boring seminars, however, as that is not the approach the organisation take. John says: “A coordinator in the country told me that they had trouble getting people to join, as the men didn’t believe there was anything wrong. The problem isn’t the reason to join. We aren’t called the Men’s Health programme and we don’t give lectures. We want people to come along because they have assets like time and energy.
“I’ll give one example of how problems end up getting discussed. There was one shed where there was no running toilet at the time and the men kept having to go outside. This led to a conversation about how many times each was going to the toilet, which resulted in a spontaneous discussion about the prostate, and the importance of getting it checked.”
You can find out how to join a local Men’s Shed, or set up a prospective one near you, by contacting the Irish Association at their website Menssheds.ie.