ⓘ Mens sheds or community sheds are non-profit local organisations that provide a space for craftwork and social interaction. The movement originated in Australia ..


ⓘ Mens shed

Mens sheds or community sheds are non-profit local organisations that provide a space for craftwork and social interaction. The movement originated in Australia as a way to improve the health and wellbeing of older men. However some have expanded their remit to anyone regardless of age or gender, and have similar aims and functions to hackerspaces. There are over 900 located across Australia, with thousands of active members. Mens sheds can also be found in the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, United States, Canada, Finland, New Zealand and Greece.

The slogan for mens sheds is "Shoulder To Shoulder", shortened from "Men dont talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder", adopted after the 2008 Australian Mens Shed Association AMSA conference. The users of mens sheds are known as "shedders". In 2014, Professor Barry Golding coined the term "shedagogy" to describe "a distinctive, new way of acknowledging, describing and addressing the way some men prefer to learn informally in shed-like spaces mainly with other men." Sheds as a venue for mentoring other men and Inter-generational mentoring is a growing outcome. Academics are using mens sheds as a research venue and research partner in exploring mens health and social needs.


1. History

The mens shed movement originated in Australia. One of the precursors of the movement began in the 1980s in Broken Hill, New South Wales, involving former miners. Another was the Albury Manual Activities Centre, also known as "Albury Mens Shed" which opened in 1978. Work in Adelaide, South Australia focused upon the gender biased and inappropriate care of older men living with dementia in care settings and work with Vietnam Veterans in South Australia also played its part. The first national health conference dedicated to men in Australia took place in 1995. The first mens shed by that name was opened in Tongala, Victoria, Australia on July 26, 1998. Named after its founder, Dick McGowan, the shed predates the Lane Cove Community Shed in New South Wales by just a few months, though both likely originated from ideas discussed at the National Rural Health Conference in 1995. Lane Cove Community Shed was opened in December 1998. As well as being a place for craftwork and socialisation, it also provided vital health information to its members.

These communal sheds were inspired by backyard sheds, where a man would go and carry out tasks such as restoring furniture or fixing lawn mowers. Mens sheds can also be seen as an extension of the original nineteenth century idea of working mens clubs in the UK and Australia: "to provide recreation and education for working-class men and their families". In time working mens clubs increasingly focused on charitable work and recreational activities typically associated with pubs. Whilst acting as hubs for information exchange, the community educational aspects foundered, as mens sheds remained in peoples homes typically at the bottom of the garden.

Mensheds Australia was established in 2002 by Peter Sergeant and Ron Fox. It became clear an overarching infrastructure was needed to support men in establishing and managing their mens sheds in regional, rural and remote areas. It involved documenting practical information and knowledge, tools, checklists, processes and training materials while utilising modern technology. Much work was undertaken in establishing mens sheds in some of the remotest parts of Australia and in Indigenous communities. The Australian Mens Shed Association was established in 2007 by the Australian independent community-based mens sheds to represent, support and promote the mens shed movement and to act as a central hub for information exchange. The Australian Mens Shed Association is funded by the federal government to provide initial and ongoing practical support for the development of all mens sheds.

The Irish Mens Sheds Association was established in 2011 and was the first shed association to be founded in the Northern Hemisphere. The member Sheds of the Irish Association are from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. One notable difference between the mens sheds in Australia and Ireland is the age demographic of the participating men; in Ireland men of all ages participate while in Australia it is mostly retired men. In February 2013 Westhill & Districts Mens Shed opened its doors as a constituted charity, to be the first mens shed following the Australian model in Scotland.

By 2015, mens sheds were also active in a number of other countries, mainly based throughout Europe and South Asia. This included over fifty mens sheds in New Zealand and over two hundred in Ireland. At end of 2019, there were over 500 mens sheds across the UK. The United States has set up a national association, the US Mens Sheds Association, and had 3 Sheds in Hawaii, Minnesota and Michigan by May 2017.


2. Categories

Every mens shed will have its own unique aims and focus on a certain subject. Mens sheds can be defined into five main categories. These categories are work, clinical, educational, recreational and communal.

Work sheds are for those who want to remain active and have an overall goal. These sheds focus heavily on restoration and construction, while helping the local community. Clinical and Communal have similar features, with the core of their aims focused on helping the local male community interact and discuss their health and wellbeing. Recreational mens sheds are created to help promote more social activity in the local area.

Educational sheds are aimed at improving skills and qualities. Popular educational sheds are based around a certain skill, such as cooking.

Virtual sheds provide an online capability where members from all mens sheds and other remote communities across the country or around the world can actively communicate and be involved in numerous research, writing and photographic activities. The International Historians Association has created a community shed for veteran responders which include police officers, firefighters, paramedics, rescue workers and the military who have injuries, incapacities or disfigurements that make them immobile or unwilling to join local work sheds.


3. Health and wellbeing

One of the main reasons for the creation of mens sheds was to improve the overall health of the older male population of Australia. "Mens sheds have been described as a male-friendly service providing a health by stealth approach". Research acknowledges the positive role that sheds can have in "addressing the gendered health disparity that males face".

Professor Barry Golding argues that men sheds help address imbalances in healthcare outcomes that affect men. Men have worse health outcomes across all age groups than females in most Western countries. Concern has been expressed that a lack of support for older men and associated lack of visibility hampers progress due to limited research. Longitudinal studies of mens sheds and their impact are missing. Sheds can also help counter negative cultural, social and ideological attitudes towards men.

One area where mens sheds are seen to be making a difference is in the diagnosis and treatment of diabetes. Men are at higher risk of un-diagnosed and un-treated diabetes as well as having higher rates of diabetes. In Ireland the national mens sheds association is working with Diabetes Ireland, health care providers and professionals to address male diabetes. The growing links between mens health and sheds is identified in literature for practitioners.

Mens sheds are also directly involved in supporting men with Dementia and Alzheimers disease, especially in the early stages. Alzheimers Australia NSW helped develop initiatives through their "Every Bloke Needs a Shed" pilot project.

Research supports the value of mens sheds to the shedders themselves. 2007 research found the following;

  • 79%, I get access to mens health information
  • 99.5% of men, I feel better about myself,
  • 97%, I can give back to the community
  • 97%, I have a place where I belong
  • 77%, I feel happier at home.
  • 90%, I feel more accepted in the community
  • 97%, I am doing what I really enjoy

Approximately 30% of shedders are disabled.

The positive aspects of the shed environment are often linked to peer support, learning and how "Each shed participant is both a teacher and a learner.".


4. Support and funding

The Australian Government has acknowledged the social importance of mens sheds for a number of years. They have now been actively promoting and funding mens sheds projects. Mens sheds are now part of the local community in many parts of Australia, and are becoming part of its culture. This has led in recent times for them to also be supported regionally and funded by local and regional organisations and councils.

Other countries where mens sheds are becoming popular have also recognized their social & health benefits. Ireland recently acknowledged and promoted them in their National Mens Health Policy 2008-13.

Mens sheds are funded through a number of specialist charities, private investment and government sources.

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