MEN NEED to talk more, and they need to start now more than ever before. Hence the idea behind what is known as the Men's Shed movement.
Yes, a shed, a place so ordinary and yet a place apart, a place where men can enjoy escape and tranquillity or where a few, or perhaps even a large group, can share a common interest. Or maybe just chat.
The idea might be unusual but, on reflection, it's basic, even primal. As teenagers, how often did we lurk out of the family kitchen to huddle outside with our friends to talk? How often does an interest in activities help men to "open up" and share feelings and emotions? One has only to think about sport, cars, gardening, farming, crafts, woodwork, engine repairs... whatever. Indeed, how often do men retreat to their garage, garden shed or some place similar for that all-important "a bit of peace."
Now, in an effort to replicate the benefits of such an idea, a move is underway in places throughout County Sligo to set up Men's Sheds. And the beauty of it all is that one does not necessarily need to have a shed; rather the "shed" is a metaphor for the coming together in one place of men with similar interests, men left in control of what they do.
Two men helping to set up Men's Sheds are Jonathan May, a men's development worker with Sligo Leader Partnership Company, and Rodrigo Frade, a senior occupational therapist with Sligo Mental Health Services.
Jonathan agreed that the idea of "sheds" can initially be a bit misleading. He explained that in Australia, where the idea began, the shed was a place to which men might retreat, a kind of refuge, a place "to go and do your own thing."
He added: "It started off in Australia and became a movement. In Australia, they found men weren't accessing services, particularly when it came to health. They also found a lot of men spent a lot of time in their sheds and it was felt what a pity this could not be used as a resource. And so the Men's Shed idea caught on as an alternative model of engaging men."
Rodrigo described Men's Sheds as "an excellent vehicle" to combat social isolation, so common in the west of Ireland, with and said the initiative has had more impact in rural areas where it has already been set up.
Jonathan pointed out that a key ingredient of the idea is that men are in charge.
"A structured environment may not suit some people. The thing about men's sheds is that you are not required to fit in. It is open and free. You can come in and do nothing. You can just come in and a cup of tea and go off again. You can do whatever hapenns to suit you," he said.
However, while every "shed" is separate and different, he said the Men's Shed movement had an ethos with certain key principles, prime among them being that "sheds" have to be inclusive, with no discrimination. "If you are a man, you are eligible. It's as simple as that," said Jonathan.
Another aspect of Men's Sheds is that rather than bringing men to the "sheds", the "sheds" open wherever the men are. And this has particular advantages in promoting issues such as men's health.
"But it is much bigger than that. It can cater to the whole spectrum of men's needs. It's open to the men what they want do to," said Jonathan.