Friday 30 September 2016

101 things to do in a man's shed

The Men's Shed Movement is catching on in Ireland, and is making a real difference

Ciara Kelly

Published 10/08/2015 | 02:30

Waiting for opening: In Ireland, men traditionally met up in pubs, but then society changed, many pubs closed and men were left with nowhere to go. Happily, the Men's Shed movement has tackled their isolation.
Waiting for opening: In Ireland, men traditionally met up in pubs, but then society changed, many pubs closed and men were left with nowhere to go. Happily, the Men's Shed movement has tackled their isolation.

I had cause recently to visit a Men's Shed or, to be more precise, I was in the Newtown and Newcastle Men's Shed in Co Wicklow. Actually, I should be flattered I was allowed in, as Men's Sheds are generally female no-go areas. But I was warmly welcomed, by a great bunch of lads, who showed me around the premises.

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This Shed is a relatively new venture, only on the go for a few months - so it's impressive what they've achieved in a very short space of time. There's a bursting veggie garden, a chicken coop, a thriving workshop area and a self-built extension - already added on to the original shed to cope with the large numbers of men who have joined since it opened its doors in February. But Men's Sheds as a movement have been popping up all over the country for the past few years - and I'm a big fan.

We don't have a tradition here in Ireland of men going for coffee together, like they do in Italy. Or playing boules together, like they do in France. So, in communities here, there aren't many inexpensive places for men to get together to talk, or even not to talk, with other men. There may be sports clubs or golf clubs, but they tend to be the domain of sporty or wealthier middle-class men, and so the ethos and the expense exclude many others, whether that's intentional or not.

In Ireland, ordinary men, if they were to meet up, traditionally did it in pubs. But with the smoking ban and other changes to traditional pub culture, that avenue of socialising closed for a lot of men, leaving many in local communities feeling cut off and isolated. Men who, at the best of times, found it difficult to socialise themselves, now seemed to have no outlet to do so, even if they wanted or needed to.

Women traditionally have been better at building social networks for themselves. With lots of different groups available to them where they can meet up, have a cup of coffee and talk, share, off-load or generally vent. Men genuinely don't have as many options.

A Men's Shed is somewhere were men can get together for a chat (or not) but can also do other stuff that interest them - like grow things, or make things or generally potter about and do what men really love to do, which is drink tea and hatch plans. The lads in Newtown gave me a fairy house for my garden that was beautifully crafted from an old tree trunk with little doors and windows and a roof. It's a lovely thing that I'll have many happy years of looking at in my garden, and I've no doubt that they spent many happy hours making it in the shed. Win-win.

Society is changing and evolving, and in the last few years men have been hit hard, by unemployment, redundancy, financial stresses and an altering of traditional roles that have been challenging for many. Some have adapted reasonably well, but equally, some have struggled and sometimes felt left behind. Depression, suicide and mental health difficulties have been the result in many men's lives, as not every man is well equipped to deal with those issues. And there hasn't been an obvious outlet, in Irish society, where they could go and simply be themselves, that didn't cost a lot of money. Seeing the lads in Newtown, I think a Men's Shed might just be that place.

As one man said, "I'd seen some of these lads around the town for years and nodded to them but I wouldn't have known them to talk to. Now in a few short months, everything has changed - we've become friends."

Simple and brilliant.

@ciarakellydoc

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