How men’s sheds are helping Aussie men reconnect with the world

2 min read

Men’s sheds are a uniquely Australian creation and they’re playing a crucial role in boosting men’s mental health by helping combat isolation. But what actually happens behind closed doors?

Gary Green, a men’s shed pioneer and community engagement manager of the Australian Men’s Shed Association, recalls a time when he was travelling around the men’s sheds of Western Australia’s wheat belt. At one shed he was early. He watched the members drive in. Each new arrival received” a friendly ribbing from the others. 

“The old bomb’s made it again,” they said. The arrival fired back with a witty response. 

“That’s when I realised what men’s sheds are about,” says Green. “That lovely Australian way of having a dig at each other, but not seriously; being able to give it and take it and keep it humorous.”

Men’s sheds have exploded in popularity since they emerged in the early 1990s. According to AMSA, there are now 957 sheds in Australia with an estimated membership of up to 150,000. That makes men’s sheds the biggest male community organisation, and largest community development initiative in Australia. 

Men’s sheds began organically in the 1990s. The first shed appeared in Goolwa, South Australia. At the time, Green was a community health nurse in Eastern Victoria with a focus on men’s health, particularly older men. He was concerned about the impact of social isolation. He liked the idea of guys working together in sheds, so he formed a men’s shed in the small town of Orbost. 

In subsequent years more sheds sprang up around the country, often without the founders knowing other sheds were starting elsewhere. In 2010, AMSA was formed and men’s sheds now receive funding from the Federal Department of Health. 

Green says the movement ‘fluked on something’ by tapping into a deep need of Aussie men. “There was never a Government official or bureaucrat coming along and saying ‘you need a men’s shed’.” 

He says many many men who take advantage of sheds are retired. They keep busy for the first two years with bucket-list trips and projects. “Then everything is done and they sit around and they’re bored witless.” Green says he can drive around a small town and point out the homes where there is a bored, isolated older man because their garden is immaculate. 

“Guys want to do something useful,” he says. 

In the men’s sheds they work on a variety of projects. “If you can think of it, and it’s legal, it’s probably being done,” he says. They mostly start off with woodwork, then metal work. But most importantly, they teach each other skills. 

Green says one member explained to him the ‘rule of thirds’. A third of the time a shed member works on their own stuff, another third is work for the shed, and the final third is community work, which might be fixing chairs for the local kindy. “Most men’s sheds are very active in the community,” he says. 

A Beyond Report in 2013 found men’s sheds have had a significant positive impact on health. Members scored significantly higher than non-shed members in physical and general health, vitality, and mental health and wellbeing.

Gary says Men’s Sheds are now expanding outside Australia with 550 across New Zealand, the UK, Ireland and Canada. 

Green himself is a member of five sheds, including three in Tasmania, where he now lives. “I love the interaction between the blokes,” he says. “It’s the camaraderie, the mateship, the taking the mickey out of someone and having a laugh.” 

If you or someone you know could benefit from a men’s shed, AMSA has lots of detail on how to start or join a shed on its website.

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This information is current as at 16/12/2016.

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