Shining a light on Men’s Sheds

IMG_7605When I was little, my granny and grandpa had a garden shed in the trees at the bottom of their garden. We called it the Mickey Mouse House which might give you the impression we played in and around it. But we didn’t. I think this was because it was quite shaded in that part of the garden and there was a smelly pond nearby.

It didn’t stop me wanting to have my own garden shed from an early age and, 40 years later, I got a small one which is now covered in ivy and falling apart. I’ve been promising myself a big new one for the past three summers; this year maybe.

My life is now inextricable linked to Sheds of a slightly different kind – Men’s Sheds – which are doing great things to keep older men healthier and happier for longer. Important work given that 75% of UK suicides are by men, with the figure in Ireland even higher at 80%.

Sad then that when, last September 10th – World Suicide Prevention Day – I innocently tweeted about the value of Men’s Sheds in tackling isolation and depression, I got a mildly hostile response. I was told my tweet was in bad taste because many of the men who take their own lives do so in garden sheds; something I didn’t know.

Then the other day I learnt from the President of the Australian Men’s Sheds Association that the word ‘shed’ is derived from ‘shade’. And shade comes from an Old English word ‘sceadu’, which means ‘shadow, darkness’. My granny and grandpa’s shady shed at the bottom of their garden came into sharp focus in my mind for the first time in decades.

Two years ago, that same Australian informant – Barry Golding – told me that Men’s Sheds in Australia grew out of the return of veterans from Vietnam, an unpopular war.  The idea of having a place for men – with their shared traumatic experiences – to congregate, to communicate, and to care for each other freely, was initiated by those veterans. A January 2015 article on the ‘A Voice for Men’ website gives more details.

 “ A lot of these men were treated like criminals and especially rejected by the Returned and Services League in Australia, upon their return…  The Vietnam Vets were going away on retreat camps to escape society, so they could just spend time freely among their own, without the pressures of a judgmental society hanging over their shoulders. This was happening in the 1980s… and they decided to ‘urbanise’ their meeting places… Being proven as such an efficacious program for our Vets and a huge help to lonely men, such fraternal gatherings soon took hold within the general population of men. Which brings us back to the mid-1990s and the emergence of Men’s Sheds.

So from the painful birth of a global movement in Australia – where they now have nearly 1,000 Sheds – Men’s Sheds have now come out of the shadows, celebrated all over the world as an effective and empowering response to sustain men’s health and to reduce suicide rates among men of all ages.

As Irish writer Donal O’Keeffe observed, after visiting the Men’s Shed in Cork …  In essence, Men’s Sheds operate around the admission that – left alone – men are utterly useless at dealing with the sort of day-to-day stresses, which women seem to handle with an almost-intuitive common sense. Mostly that seems to boil down to talking. And it turns out that – when it comes to the important stuff – men aren’t all that great at talking. Which you probably knew… Talking makes us human and keeps us alive. Keep talking. Don’t ever be afraid to reach out, be it venturing into your local Men’s Shed or just having a chat with the person beside you in a queue. You never know, you might just find that what helps you might just be that someone else needs you to help them.

Thank you Donal – I couldn’t put it better myself.

Further information

UK Men’s Sheds Association

Donal O’Keeffe on Men’s Sheds

A fight for male space

International Association for Suicide Prevention


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