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-90s and plans were put in place to improve a number of aspects relating to men’s health.
The conference in question took place in 1995, and was the first national health conference dedicated to men in Australia. 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.
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 then a number of articles supporting men’s sheds have been published, stating they help increase the length and quality of life of elderly males.
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 one hundred men’s sheds in New Zealand and almost a hundred in Ireland.
In many ways men’s sheds can be seen as extension of the original 19th 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 the garden.
The Australian Men’sShed 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
For more information go to the UK Men’s Sheds Association website. http://www.menssheds.org.uk