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29 Jun 2022

Then & Now: Building up to break down boundaries

Then & Now: Building up  to break down boundaries

Mayor of Limerick Daniel Butler helping to officially open the Dooradoyle Men Shed recently Picture: brendan Gleeson

BACK IN March 2014 this column featured the remarkable growth of the Men’s Shed movement in Ireland in the previous number of years. It had outgrown Australia and now had more outlets per head of population.
Australia was the country that came up with the idea in the mid 1990s to help improve the overall health of its male population.
There were 7,000 members and 230 sheds in Ireland according to that year's figures compared to 1,200 sheds Down Under. Ireland's first Men's Shed was founded at Knockanrawley Resource Centre in 2009.
The ICA Guilds around the country has been in place to support its female members since 1910 so over a hundred years later the Men’s Shed movement filled the void for the male population.
At the time there was a dozen men’s sheds listed under the Irish Men’s Sheds Association in Limerick city and county. There were nine sheds in the city and three around the county in Abbeyfeale, Bruff, and Hospital. At the end of 2017 the number had grown to 19 as follows at Dooradoyle Raheen Shed, Families Limerick Shed, IWA Shed, St Mary's Parish Shed, Le Cheille Shed, Northside FRC Shed, St Patrick's Craft and Hobby Shed, Southhill Shed, Our Lady of Lourdes Shed, and Caherdavin and District Shed in the city. In the county Men's Sheds were located in Abbeyfeale, Adare, Askeaton, Bruff, Croom, Glin, Kilmallock, Newcastle West and the Mulcair Men's Shed in Murroe.
Men's health has always been a problem, and this is one area that is very important to the shed movement. Irish men live on average 4.4 years less than women. Males have higher death rates than women for all of the leading causes of death. Men have limited contact with GPs, are reluctant users of primary care services and often present late in the course of an illness. Health issues are addressed by holding health checks, classes and talks. 91% of men's shed members say their health and wellbeing, has improved since becoming a member.
Men have been escaping to sheds in their back gardens for many years and women have been wondering why so. This has led to many jokes and fun at their expense, but in present day living it may be no joking matter. The shed can be a sanctuary from everyday living and the hassles of the outside world. It can be a place to find peace and contentment to clear the head and to forget about the stresses of daily living. To be able to do something without undue concentration can be bread for the head. Pottering around doing various little tasks can re-energise the body rest the mind and recharge the batteries.
All people need their own space from time to time to disconnect and to be alone with their thoughts. When people are working and have a busy lifestyle it is fine to take time out. Men don’t talk face to face like women do but they can work and chat side by side. By becoming a member of the men’s shed movement, they can support each other shoulder to shoulder.
The downturn in the economy and the lack of work opportunities affected the male population badly. It left a big void in their daily lives and too much time on their hands to think about the situation. Middle aged men used to working all their lives were cast aside like non swimmers without a life jacket. Too much isolation can knock the confidence and lead to depression and further problems.
Ireland has lost so many valuable social outlets over the years where men could meet regularly and discuss the topics close to their hearts. The closure of creameries, forges, Post Offices, Shops and Pubs has put an end to this interaction. This vacuum can now be filled by becoming a member and attending the shed meetings.
The Men’s Shed movement offers men an escape from this isolation and a reconnection with others in the same situation. The sheds offer a space for men to join together to share and to learn new skills and to engage with the local community through work projects.
The restoration of old farm machinery motorbikes, bicycles and various engines is one of the many activities undertaken. Music is a big part of some sheds while cooking and art classes are part of others.
All members play their part in the work, tea break and social activities and visitors are made welcome. When a group comes together their skills set, and expertise can lead to all sorts of opportunities and projects to work on.
Ireland has a history of community development, and an ambition of the association is to see a shed in every town and parish in the country. Most villages and towns should be able to provide suitable premises rent free or for a very small fee.
If members have to raise and pay out sizeable amounts of money for rent and insurance the undue pressure would take the good out of the project. Setting up a shed will help with rural isolation and develop a social outlet for the members
Men’s Sheds are a great invention as they continue to build a social network for their members like Gloria’s song (One day at a time) one shed at a time.
By building community spirit and developing supports on the ground it will help to create an atmosphere of camaraderie and mentorship. If people can support each other locally then we are all better off nationally. The two years of the pandemic is hopefully behind us, and all members can return in safety to pursue their interests.
Sheds are all about breaking down boundaries, and to ensure that everyone's voice is heard, everyone's concerns taken on board and that everyone's contribution is valued. That is the real meaning of the men's shed movement and that is what must be preserved as an inspiration for the rest of Irish society.
If the Men's Shed movement continue to grow this skill based organisation could become a very valuable asset in communities by doing small jobs and repairs for people that tradesmen may ignore.

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