Men's sheds or community sheds are non-profit organisations that originated in Australia, to advise and improve the overall health of all men. However some have expanded their remit to anyone regardless of age or gender, and have similar aims and functions to hackerspaces. They normally operate on a local level in the community, promoting social interaction and aim to increase quality of life. There are over 900 located across Australia, with thousands of active members. Men's sheds can also be found in the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, United States, Canada, Finland, New Zealand and Greece.
The slogan for men's sheds is "Shoulder To Shoulder", shortened from "Men don't talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder", adopted after the 2008 Australian Men's Shed Association (AMSA) conference. The users of men's sheds are known as "shedders". In 2014, Prof 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 men's sheds as a research venue and research partner in exploring men's health and social needs.
In Australia in the 1990s a number of issues were raised about men's health. In Australian culture, there was little encouragement for men of all ages to socialize and discuss their feelings and wellbeing. This problem was identified at a men's health conference in the mid-1990s and plans were put in place to improve a number of aspects relating to men's health.
The roots of The Men's Sheds movement have been traced back to the 1980s with work in Broken Hill, New South Wales, and the lives of former miners. Some attribute the origins of men's sheds to the Albury Manual Activities Centre, also known as "Albury Men's 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 it's part.
Mensheds Australia was established in 2002, by Peter Sergeant and Ron Fox as an outcome of their Economic Gardening activities. It became clear an overarching infrastructure was needed to support men in establishing and managing their men’s 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 men's sheds in some of the remotest parts of Australia and in Indigenous communities. In 2008 Mensheds Australia commissioned Assoc Prof Gary Misan from Spencer Gulf Rural Health School (SGRHS), the University of South Australia, to study 'Men's Sheds As A Strategy to Improve Men's Health'. Mensheds Australia received a number of awards for its work with Men's Sheds. Life Awards 2010 Suicide Prevention Australia. Bryce Courtney Award for Community Service top 10 shortlist 2009. Information Technology and Communications Award, use of technology portals to communicate, 2010 Australian Technology Users Group. National Broadband Award for use of technology infrastructure to communicate to regional and remote areas 2007. In 2009 Peter Sergeant received the first Unsung Hero Award for services to rural and remote health in Australia presented by the National Rural Health Alliance.
Prof Barry Golding has noted that, "For many communities, service providers, community workers and governments in Australia, calling a shed in a community setting a Men's Shed anywhere before 1998 was too hard and contentious.". Men's Sheds challenged the acceptance of the gender agnostic approach to service provision which only saw a need for services for women. This institutional blindness resulted in "... many older men ... not even recognised as being gendered.". Negative cultural, social and ideological attitudes towards men are being countered by the expansion of men's sheds.
The first national health conference dedicated to men in Australia took place in 1995. It was suggested that men's sheds could help promote social interaction and reduce depression related illness in elderly men. After the conference, a number of men's sheds began to form across Australia. Media interest was focused upon negative stereotypical views of sheds and men whilst touching upon the health issues caused by a growing ageing population and the emerging medical discipline of gerontology.
Men's sheds originated from the shed in a backyard scenario, where a man would go and carry out tasks, such as restoring furniture or fixing lawn mowers. The first men's 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, and was founded for "shedless" men, encouraging social activities friendships, while providing vital health information to its members.
Since the emergence of men's sheds in 1996, the number of sheds has grown year on year. The main aims of a men's sheds have also become much more varied since their foundation. Men's sheds are also active in a number of other countries, mainly based throughout Europe and South Asia. This includes over fifty men's sheds in New Zealand and over two hundred in Ireland. The United States has set up a national association, the US Men's Sheds Association, and has 3 Sheds in Hawaii, Minnesota and Michigan, as of May, 2017.
In many ways men's sheds can be seen as extension of the original nineteenth century idea of working men's clubs in the UK and Australia: "to provide recreation and education for working-class men and their families". In time working men's 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 men's sheds remained in people's homes typically at the bottom of the garden.
The Australian Men's Shed Association was established in 2007 by the Australian independent community based men's sheds to represent, support and promote the Men's Shed Movement and to act as a central hub for information exchange. The Australian Men's Shed Association is funded by the federal government to provide initial and ongoing practical support for the development of all men's sheds.
The first country in the Northern Hemisphere to have an association is Ireland, where the Irish Men's Sheds Association was established in 2011 to support the development and sustainability of men's sheds. The member Sheds of the Irish Association are from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. One notable difference between the men's 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 Men's Shed opened its doors as a constituted charity, to be the first men's shed following the Australian model in Scotland.
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Every men's shed will have its own unique aims and focus on a certain subject. Men's 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 men's sheds are created to help promote more social activity in the local area.
Virtual sheds provide an online capability where members from all men's 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.
Health and wellbeing
One of the main reasons for the creation of men's sheds was to improve the overall health of the older male population of Australia. "Men's 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". 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 men's sheds and their impact are missing.
One area where men's 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 men's sheds association is working with Diabetes Ireland, health care providers and professionals to address male diabetes. The growing links between men's health and sheds is identified in literature for practitioners.
Men's sheds are also directly involved in supporting men with Dementia and Alzheimer's disease, especially in the early stages. Alzheimer's Australia NSW helped develop initiatives through their "Every Bloke Needs a Shed" pilot project.
Research supports the value of men's sheds to the shedders themselves. 2007 research found the following;
- 99.5% of men, 'I feel better about myself',
- 97%, 'I have a place where I belong'
- 97%, 'I can give back to the community'
- 97%, 'I am doing what I really enjoy'
- 90%, 'I feel more accepted in the community'
- 79%, 'I get access to men's health information'
- 77%, 'I feel happier at home'.
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 ...".
Support and funding
The Australian Government has acknowledged the social importance of men's sheds for a number of years. They have now been actively promoting and funding men's sheds projects. Men's 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 men's sheds are becoming popular have also recognized their social & health benefits. Ireland recently acknowledged and promoted them in their National Men's Health Policy 2008-13.
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- Mensheds Australia (Est 2002)
- Australian Mens Shed Association (Est 2007)
- Scottish Men's Sheds Association (Est 2014)
- UK Men's Sheds Association (Est 2013)
- MENZSHED New Zealand (Est 2010)
- Irish Men's Sheds Association (Est 2011)
- The Shed Online (Est 2010 - Closed 2016)
- Beyond Blue (Est 2000)
- Men In Sheds In Powys (MISIP) (Est 2015)
- US Men's Sheds Association (Est 2017)
- Canadian Men's Sheds Association (Est 2015)