By Jeanne Brideau
My introduction to the Men’s Shed movement came about during a casual conversation about positive aging in Perth, Western Australia in 2015. Someone said that, whilst staying positive is a challenge for many senior citizens, men, as compared to women, seem to experience more loneliness, depression, alcohol or drug abuse as well as other physical and mental problems often erroneously associated with age.
This conversation led me to explore the topic of Men’s Sheds, a movement which is part of the Australian well-being landscape. More than 1000 sheds belong to the Australian Men’s Shed Association (AMSA). Here’s how it works. First, I will ‘’zoom in’’ on a typical Men’s Shed and then I will explain how this movement is contributing to a shift in attitude for many men.
Place: a large garage, barn, shed or hangar divided into open sections containing work benches, work tools and equipment. Each section has a specific purpose. In one section, there is furniture in different stages of repair, in another there are lawn mowers, bicycles, snow blowers. Another space is filled with cubby houses, bird houses and yet to be completed shelving units, while another has a computer corner. In one corner there are sofas, rocking chairs, a table and chairs; this section is obviously a comfortable space to share a tea or coffee.
Atmosphere: men from all walks of life are shoulder to shoulder, sharing stories, working together to restore furniture, share computer skills, repair small machines, build items to be sold, raffled or offered as a contribution to a community event. The atmosphere is congenial and laid back. Most of the men are retired and have found this haven where they can, at their own pace, continue to be useful, pursue activities that have been an integral part of their working or leisure lives and sometimes learn new skills. Some come mostly for the comfort of the place, and to enjoy a cuppa with the boys. Here and there, young men can be seen learning new skills and benefitting from the experience and wisdom of older men. The place is like a beehive seemingly co-ordinated by a chap who could have won the Mr. Congeniality contest.
You have just witnessed a scene found in both rural and urban settings in the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and more recently Canada, Japan and at least 6 European countries. The concept was initiated in Australia in 1978 with the aim of breaking the cycle of loneliness and exclusion experienced by many elderly men. It sought to provide a venue for informal learning, sharing of skills and knowledge, and the opportunity of working on personal or community projects in a safe, non-judgmental and intergenerational environment. From the onset, it proved to be especially popular among retirees, and men going through divorces, bereavement or loss of employment.
Australia has kept the lead in being a model for other countries. With the launch of the federal government’s Male Health Policy in May 2010, three million dollars was allocated to the Australian Men’s Shed Association on a per member basis representing an estimated 175 000 individuals. This is Western Australia’s definition of a Men’s Shed: WAMSA recognizes a men’s shed as any community-based, no-profit, non-commercial organization that is accessible to all men and whose primary activity is the provision of a safe, friendly and welcoming environment where men are able to work on meaningful projects at their own pace, in their own time, in the company of other men. A major objective is to advance the health and well-being of their male members and to encourage social inclusion. Refer to Wamsa.org.au.
The grassroots movement is mostly identified as a non-profit, charitable organization. In some instances, trust funds and grants offer monetary support, whilst universities and private companies are becoming involved thanks to the immense effort and dedication of the Men’s Sheds’ founding members. Together, they are joining forces to make their regions’ sheds a viable means to counter the social exclusion of men with time, expertise and energy to share. With the creation of national associations, information is shared, services and systems are created and toolkits, as well as manuals, are developed thereby facilitating the task for the establishment of new sheds.
In Canada, Manitoba and B.C as well as Halifax NS are working together to set up a network, which will be conducive to the creation of a Canadian Association of Men’s Sheds reflecting the vision and needs of the various Canadian communities. A toolkit for the setting up of Men’s Sheds has been developed by the UBC’s Men Health Research and is being piloted in 2015. Moreover, UBC has involved university students to help identify ways to enrich and to add an intergenerational component to the project. Since Men’s Sheds do not exist solely for seniors, but are accessible to all men regardless of age, health condition, ability, background or culture, the input of the younger generations seems essential to ensure the visibility and viability of the movement now, and in the years to come.
And so, it is interesting to note that a movement generated by a need to contribute to the well-being of older men has crossed oceans and continents. It addresses the fact that in Western countries senior men often have limited social networks, serious health problems and premature mortality rates and focusses on a way to harness the incredible goldmine of competence and wisdom held by senior men. In allowing men to regain a sense of purpose and dignity whilst improving and maintaining their health and well-being, Men’s Sheds go beyond the individual’s needs and contribute directly or indirectly to family and community interests.
For more information refer to:
- Barry Golding’s most recent (2015) research and writing project: The Men’s Shed Movement: The Company of Men . Common GroundPublishing, Illinois, published August 2015
- A 25 minute documentary: Turning point Irish Men’s Sheds ….a must for anyone interested in Men’s Sheds.
- Okanagan Men’s Shed Association.
- Men’s Shed Manitoba
- www.mensshed.org/Who-is-AMSA www.wamsa.org.au/
- www.niace.org.uk /campaigns-events/events/discovering-mens-sheds
- Mr. David Willoughby (co-ordinator) Herbert River Men’s Shed, Queensland Australiaemail@example.com
- Mr. Doug Mackie, Mens’ Shed in Winnipeg, firstname.lastname@example.org 204-832-0629
- An article written by Kristin A. Reynolds, Corey s” Mackenzie, Maria Medved and Kerstin Roger published in Ageing and Society, volume 35, Issue 03, March 2015, p.531-551
- Mens’ Sheds-John Oleffe of UBC speaking on global news, youTube.ca