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Men in sheds… and what goes on in there

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It’s a fact that men tend not to complain about social isolation and loneliness but the ‘Men in Sheds’ movement has been a major success. Read first hand accounts of how this scheme helps men learn and develop new skills, and put something back into their community.
 

Inside the mind

To set the scene for this piece, let me take you on a little trip into my background to help explain where I’m coming from… I trained at the Institute of Psychiatry in London in the early 1970s, which was an interesting time. Since 1968 it seemed everyone was rebelling – I’d been to the American Embassy to protest against the Vietnam war – and lots of young health professionals were voicing concerns about how the so-called mentally ill were being treated.

Men in Sheds are enjoying the retired life.

There was a rumour that children were being given electro-convulsive shock therapy, and psychosurgery was still being carried out. So I found myself walking the streets of London with a huge placard saying “People not Patients”. I could never get my head round the fact that even though we don’t know what goes on in the brain of a depressed person, we still give them powerful drugs to change the way the brain works.
 
Then after some years working at a university in the North-East, I decided to teach a course on Abnormal Psychology, but most of the literature was a bit stodgy for the students, so I changed it to one on Mental Health and Illness, which was far more contentious – and the students loved the opportunity to be critical about traditional psychiatry. They really liked the idea of alternative approaches to dealing with mental health issues. It was like seeing myself years earlier.
 

Men’s Sheds

So, to Men’s Sheds. One of my colleagues spent some time in Australia working with their health service, and when he came back he told me all about this movement they’d started out there called 'Men’s Sheds'. It’s a way of getting men together in a workshop or shed where they can make and repair things, or even just hang out. It was particularly aimed at men who had retired – a time when vulnerability to some mental health issues had been identified if people lose a sense of purpose with the loss of their work, their friends and their income.
 
Social isolation can be a real problem, and not everyone wants (or can afford to) go to the pub every day. It’s a fact that men tend not to complain about that sort of thing, and certainly wouldn’t attend anything to do with mental health. But the men in sheds movement was a major success – men went along, learned and developed new skills from other blokes, and put something into the community. There are over 1,000 sheds in Australia now.
 
The first English shed was developed by Age Concern (now Age UK) in 2009, and there are now over 100 in the country, some funded by the National Lottery. They come in all shapes and sizes, full-time and part-time, and are mainly located in smallish towns and rural areas, which is a bit of a pity as cities tend to have larger proportions of people with mental health issues, and it’s easy to lose a sense of community in a city environment.
 
There’s a central Men’s Sheds Association now with its own website which lists contact details for all the Sheds in the UK, and also has advice on setting up a Shed. There are videos about Men’s Sheds to be found on YouTube.
 

A first hand account

Will Gore, who runs Men in Shed’s Leeds, said: “Men in Sheds is a project that aims to connect with men who have been through a life changing event by encouraging them to spend their time in a positive way.
 
"The shed is a workshop full of woodworking machinery that allows the chaps to learn new skills or use skills they have learnt through their lifetime.
 
"What we have found though is that the shed is actually a conduit for men to come together in an environment where they feel comfortable to relax, discuss any issues and to occupy their minds.
 
"Some days the men work hard making gifts for family and friends, some days they just chat and drink tea. Either outcome has a positive effect on their mental wellbeing.
 
“The shed is a warm and vibrant place where there is always something happening. We have had a range of men, from those in their late 20s to 96 year's old. Men who have found themselves in between jobs to those with learning difficulties who do not want to be segregated.
 
"Some men turn up twice a week, some turn up now and again for a cup of tea. At any stage of life you can experience change and none more so than at retirement, so the project provides a place where men can come together to be distracted from the daily stresses of life and to be constructive.
 
“One of our shedders is 83 years old and only joins us in the winter when it gets too cold on the allotment.
 
"He prefers to come down for a cup of tea and a chat but rather than woodwork we have helped him to use the internet for the first time so he could look up where he fought in the Korean War. These moments show how the shed is far more valuable than just woodwork.”
 
A Men in Sheds Leeds participant said: Since retiring from work I have found that coming to the shed has been the best thing, it means a purpose in life.
 
The thing I missed most when I retired was the social part of work, the people who I had worked with. Coming down to the shed is great, being with other people again, making things and having a laugh. I would recommend it to anybody.
 
After 2 years of chronic depression I decided to make a determined effort to make myself better. I discovered Men in Sheds and have not looked back, I don’t need to take the medication anymore. The camaraderie and support I get in woodworking is marvellous.
 

A parting thought

It’s clear then that this project is a great idea, not just for those living a retired life– several sheds involve comparative youngsters who are keen to get involved, and who themselves learn from the older men. Several of my old students have got involved, and have learned a lot from the retirees.
 
Men and sheds go hand in hand, and so for me this makes perfect sense - it’s a whole lot better to provide environments that enhance people’s lives, and thus improve their health, than to wait until there’s a problem and then treat it. And it’s somehow comforting that my views haven’t changed since those days at the Institute of Psychiatry.
 
Have you got any experience with Men with Sheds? Or would you like to get involved? Leave a comment below and join the conversation.
 
This article has been commissioned by retiresavvy and any opinions voiced are the author's own.
 

Comments

I discovered Men's Sheds quite independently as the Norwich shed share premises with a local food co-op of which I'm a member. I have limited practical skills but, after surviving cancer and taking voluntary redundancy I'm now retired and getting involved with a number of new activities. They would appreciate admin help and I'm looking forward to getting involved, socialising and acquiring some new practical skills as well.
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