Not-so-secret men’s business
The backyard shed has long been a part of Australian culture, a place where the menfolk could go to tinker with the lawn mower, restore an old cupboard or join their mates to play with boys’ toys.
On July, 1998, the first Men’s Shed (by that name) was opened in Tongala, Victoria to provide a central hub for men to get together “doing things” and exchanging information and skills.
There are now 184 of them in Queensland, about 60 in two Brisbane zones and 30 on the Sunshine Coast and the concept that began in Australia has now spread to Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland, the US, Canada, Finland, New Zealand and Greece.
They are non-profit, non-commercial community organisations that provide a safe, friendly and relaxing environment for the menfolk.
Members come from all walks of life, and most are retired. The common bond is that they have time on their hands.
Interests are as varied as the members – woodwork, wood turning, toy making, metal work, small engine repairs, orchid growing, gardening, art and sketching, computing, discussion groups, sport and recreation, French polishing, leather work, library and books, health and welfare, music and instrument playing and upholstery.
The Shedders might build easels for a community art groups or possum boxes for wildlife; craft cutting boards or toys for sale or donation; or just get together to socialise and scheme.
Activities are enjoyable, creative and challenging – whatever the local groups decide they should be – but they also provide value to local communities.
Recently, the Pediatric Outpatients department at the Sunshine Coast University Hospital called the Caloundra Men’s Shed and put in motion a project to provide timber chairs and tables for the sick children to use.
The men also offered colorful handmade timber toys and games and the pride and satisfaction when they presented their work to staff, was obvious.
The size of the local Men’s Shed, their skills and equipment will often determine the number of activities on offer.
The Buderim Men’s Shed, for example, provides 27 different activities.
In 2015, some members made a horse sculpture for the Woombye headquarters of the Australian Light Horse on the 98th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheba.
In 2016, the Alexandra Hills and Cleveland Men’s Sheds contributed five months’ work to build a replica of a Sunderland Flying Boat.
When a member of the Carina Men’s Shed was approached by his neighbour, whose husband had been admitted to the dementia ward at a local nursing home, the group came up with an idea.
They visited the nursing home to determine how they could assist and then built a board holding different gadgets and items such as a steering wheel, power and light switches, bolts, taps and door-stops.
It was placed in the dementia ward and helps residents remember how to use items. It quickly became a talking point, feedback has been excellent and other nursing homes are now interested.
But while playing an active part in the community and giving men back their workshop in the company of others, the organisation provides a valuable benefit to the men themselves – health and happiness.
A major objective is to advance the wellbeing, health and social inclusion of all members through interest-based activities. The Queensland Men’s Shed Association Inc. (QMSA) is the elected State body charged with the promotion and advancement of the organization.
Research has revealed that staying physically active and involved with groups such as the Men’s Shed is the best recipe for retirement.
The slogan for Men’s Sheds is “Shoulder to Shoulder” – in other words, men tend not to talk face to face, but shoulder to shoulder.
And several Shedders have reported that the first approach often comes from a woman, who can see the value of the organisation for someone she cares about.
Throughout life, the culture of men seems to emphasise self-reliance. Men put less effort into maintaining social networks and, as they grow older, their lack of social interaction and social connections can put them at psychological risk.
One of the great values of the Men’s Shed is that it offers men an opportunity to occupy some of their spare time doing things that they feel are useful and meaningful.
It is a non-judgmental environment, where they can relax in the company of other men and work on projects for themselves or the community.
Members also have the opportunity to learn skills or if they have specific trade skills, to teach others. They work at their own pace and in their own time, often with the advantage of guided supervision by experienced tradesmen and professionals. So what makes it so special?
The Men’s Shed movement has become one of the most powerful tools in helping men to become valued and productive members of the community.
Craig Allingham of the Buderim Men’s Shed co-ordinates wellbeing and educational sessions.
“The culture of the shed promotes collaboration, support and acceptance. Unlike women, most men are reluctant to talk about their feelings,” he says.
“Men frequently fail to take an interest in their own health and wellbeing and rarely ask for help.”
Craig is a retired Australian men’s health physiotherapist with extensive experience working with men undergoing prostate cancer treatment and improving their continence, sexual and fitness outcomes.
“At the Buderim Men’s Shed, we have been delivering a health and wellbeing program for the past four or five years. It is important that the Shedders can discreetly seek out information and know who to go to when they are unwell or concerned,” he says.
“We run a fitness program three mornings each week and about 30 men turn up.” The program promotes active aging and assists men to be more physically functional.
“Good health is based on many factors including feeling OK about yourself, being productive, contributing to your community, connecting with friends and maintaining an active body and mind,” Craig says.
He believes that becoming a member of a Men’s Shed provides men with a safe and busy environment, where they can find many of these things in an atmosphere of no pressure and old-fashioned mateship.
Many men suffer from isolation, loneliness and depression. Retirement, relationship breakdown, retrenchment, loss of connection to children following divorce and physical or mental illness are just some of the problems they find difficult to deal with alone.
Retirement can be an exciting time, especially in the early years.
It’s having the freedom and the time to pursue interests, travel, or simply slow down to enjoy life. However, for some men, retirement can be challenging. The loss of a regular daily work routine and structure, and the associated sense of purpose can create problems.
They can become susceptible to boredom and depression, in part, because their identity and usefulness is closely tied to their working life identity.
For men who do not find new meaningful activities to replace work, there is the risk of stress due to boredom and a sense of being without purpose. It’s not the job or the money they miss so much as the comradeship, sense of achievement and self-worth.
“For a lot of men, work provided a strong sense of identity and leaving that work structure, whether it was a satisfying experience or not, was a loss,” says Mal Weier of Carina Men’s Shed.
Having experienced a work life that provides structure, retirement often means that a man isn’t sure how to fill his days and that can affect his wellbeing.
According to the World Health Organization, men have the highest rate of suicide worldwide.
Retirement isn’t always the trigger for major lifestyle changes, but divorce or loss of a partner can also be a cause for not feeling OK. And men are notoriously reluctant to talk about or seek help.
They are likely to feel or behave in an angry or irritable manner rather than admit they are sad. Most believe they should be able to snap out of it, but untreated depression can have a poor effect not only for the individual but those around them.
Research shows that men tend not to seek help until depression is severe, if at all. They see it as a sign of personal weakness and believe they shouldn’t let things get to them.
Men’s Sheds provide a male-friendly service that helps men redefine their sense of self by offering activities, companionship, wellbeing support and information services.