Mensheds – are not just for down under – they are thriving in the UK

As you know we have been following the shed men organisations around the World (mostly down under) for a few years.

With headlines about sheds being good for men being banded about last year.

We knew it anyway – but on the serious subject of opportunities for blokes to get help with health and support issues, Men sheds can’t be beaten and it’s great that they are finally taking off here.

So I thought it would be good to look at state of men sheds in the UK – luckily Age UK are working on them, so I went straight to them – here is a Q & A with Helena Herklots, Services Director of Age UK.

1) What were your main concerns that got Age UK involved with Men sheds?

When you visit a day centre or a lunch club, you can see that often women outnumber men by about five to one. Men do not seem to want to engage with groups that, for many people, provide valuable social contact and activities.

On top of that, we know from research that men are reluctant to access healthcare or take up benefits and support that they are entitled to. So when we learned about the success of Men’s Sheds in Australia we set out to find funding to try some ideas ourselves to meet the specific needs of lonely and socially isolated older men. Age UK then began to pilot Men in Sheds in 2009.

2) How many Men’s Sheds is Age UK working with in the UK?

Age UK received generous funding from the Sir Jules Thorn Trust in late 2009 that enabled us to fund three pilot Sheds in England. We chose three very different areas: Greenwich – an area of significant deprivation in East London; Nottingham – in the former coal mining area; and rural South Lakeland. In addition, colleagues at Age UK Cheshire have secured funding for a further six sheds in their area.

With input from the Shed members (or ‘Shedders’), each Shed has taken on a separate identity but they all share the common bond of men standing shoulder to shoulder to talk about issues they want to share. They also have fun and contribute to their local communities in a variety of ways. We are now evaluating the different models of the Sheds to see what a difference they have made to the lives of the ‘Shedders’.

We are also in contact with a number of organisations who are running sheds, only not currently under the ‘Men’s Sheds’ name. We estimate that there are around 150 other sheds although many of them work with different client groups.

3) Are you working with other organisations – ie Australian Men sheds?

Yes, we are working with a number of other organisations in the UK, Europe and worldwide. Age UK doesn’t own the concept of Men’s Sheds and we are very keen to share our knowledge and experience of our Men in Sheds project to bring sheds closer to men who need them.

We have active links with over 30 Sheds in Ireland and a strong relationship with the Australian Men’s Sheds Association through their Patron, Professor Barry Golding of the University of Ballarat in Australia. Barry has presented his thinking on Sheds to Age UK and was a keynote speaker at our recent Conference.

4) What are the long term plans for Age UK’s Men in Sheds programme?

Interest from delegates was so strong after our successful conference “Discovering Men’s Sheds” that we agreed to help set up the English Men’s Sheds Association to spread the word and share ideas. The English organisation is expected to be launched in mid 2012, making Sheds more accessible to people across the country.

5) How do some of our older sheddies with sheds get involved?

A shed is what a group of men want it to be and is limited only by imagination. The real benefit is where men get together to do things together.

If you have a shed of your own and know of another man in your street that doesn’t get out much, invite him round. A cup of tea helps. Two pairs of hands are often better than one when fixing or making things.

If you end up with a group of people enjoying the benefits of the Men’s Sheds concept then you could ask us how you might set up a local shed in your community.

Our Shedders refurbish furniture to sell in Age UK shops, recycle tools, and build bird boxes from scrap timber to name just a few ideas.

If you have a shed that you don’t get to as often as you used to and you’re worried about your tools wasting away, then see if there is a Men’s Shed in your area and think about donating them (and join in to share your skills and expertise).

6) Is there any way that readers can help in anyway during Shed Week 2012?

We would love more people to get involved and set up sheds in their community. Readers can donate unwanted tools and equipment, timber and possibly furniture for refurbishment to Men’s Sheds programmes. Alternatively, they may want to donate time or money to their local Men’s Shed group to help sustain them long term. Optimistically, if readers have premises that they think might accommodate a new shed then we’d love to hear from them. Please find out how to help by contacting Harvinder Channa at Age UK on 020 3033 1072.

There is some usefull info on their website as well – if you are looking to set-up a mens shed

By Andrew Wilcox

I love sheds Founder & judge of Shed of the year - Wilco writes mainly about sheds. About the blog Enter your shed into #shedoftheyear