A RICKETY old former science classroom in Abbeyfeale is to be transformed into a new community portal for men of all ages.
The hut on the grounds of the town’s old technical school is to become West Limerick’s first ‘men’s shed’; a dedicated workshop where men can learn new skills, socialise and feel part of their community.
The project is being led locally by West Limerick Resources and the Abbeyfeale Community Education Centre, which was opened this year on the site of the old Mountmahon school.
Breda Deedigan, manager of the new centre, said that the men’s shed programme has taken off around the world because of its flexibility, appeal and core values.
“The concept behind it was that men won’t talk face to face, but they will talk shoulder to shoulder. I had heard about the men’s shed concept about a year ago, and I could see that this was an ideal location for it.
“It’s a place, other than the pub, where men can come and meet and chat. They will do what they really want to do”.
The shed will be located in one of the old school’s science labs, which is separate from the main building and will allow participants to come and go at their own behest. Once it is up and running, the shed will host everything from workshops and training courses to information sessions, and it will be the men taking part who decide when and what they wish to do.
“There’s a whole multitude of things that we can provide, but it will be at their behest, rather than us saying ‘this is what’s happening’”, Ms Deedigan said.
At the moment there are 80 men’s sheds in Ireland, with many based in rural areas in a bid to tackle potential problems such as long-term unemployment and rural isolation.
“They’re able to gather and work on meaningful projects in their own community,” Ms Deedigan said. “If they’re living in isolation and don’t want to go to the pub, they’ll be able to come here, have a cup of tea, cook food... I think it’s a necessary addition to the community, and I do think it will take off.”
Experience around the world has shown that men can be a notoriously difficult demographic to reach when it comes to health awareness and other information campaigns. Men’s sheds can provide a fruitful point of contact where charities can reach men in an environment where they are open, receptive and keen to learn.
“There are so many things that women will go to, and will talk to each other at, whereas men don’t. They love the emphasis on the practical side of it: building, getting their hands dirty”, Ms Deedigan said. “They’re the kind of things you’d hope for – that [men’s health campaigns] have this freedom to raise initiatives like that.”
Ms Deedigan said that dedicated coordinators are already in place for the men’s shed, and they have already held preliminary discussions with members of the local community.
Over the coming months, volunteers will start “reconstructing” the old lab and fitting out the fledgling shed with work stations, training equipment, and a small kitchen. The shed is likely to receive a proper launch in the coming weeks when things are truly up and running, Ms Deedigan said.
“I’ve looked at documentaries on men’s sheds, and there’s young guys of 18 with senior citizens, and a wonderful mix of experience and enthusiasm. It brings us back to having a good community base.
“With the high level of unemployment, it’s good to see something focusing on local, indigenous talent and ability. They’ll make it for themselves, on their terms.”
The men’s shed is just the first of several initiatives set to be rolled out at the community education centre in the coming months. Ms Deedigan said that as well as full and part time VEC courses and West Limerick Resources’ programmes, she hopes to set up children’s summer camps, starting this Halloween and running next Easter and the summer holidays.
“If you get young people to come into this environment, they become very comfortable with it from a young age.
“You want them to associate the VEC with more than just basic education