This week I travelled south to the UK Men’s Sheds Association National Shed Fest event in Birmingham.
The event was inspiring right from the opening address by Mike Jenn Chair of the UK Men’s Sheds Association who reminded delegates of the benefits of Men’s Sheds for individual men their families and the wider community.
The meeting was also addressed by Alistair Burt MP who spoke very warmly about the Men’s Sheds movement and showed his commitment but joining his local Men’s Shed and emphasised the value of involving the local MP in Men’s Sheds.
It was also interesting to hear of some of the lessons from the Australian and Irish Men’s Sheds associations. It was clear from Australia that it was important that Sheds are developed from the ground up with men working together rather than being an initiative of a government department. This confirmed the approach Rural Action Yorkshire is taking in the development of Men’s Sheds Kirklees by taking a community development approach, finding men and communities to work with rather than running sessions. This approach although taking longer, produces more sustainable Sheds where the men themselves gain more through the process.
Other sessions I attended where on funding and again the emphasis was on Sheds work on a low cost, low intervention basis with an encouragement for Shedders to be cheeky and ask local businesses and others for help in kind. There was also a warning about Sheds accepting funding which changes the way they work and the people they serve.
One of the businesses which is supporting Men’s Sheds is HugoFox who are offering to provide a free website for community groups including Men’s Sheds via a simple to use content management system.
One of the interesting sessions was lead by Steven Markham from Leeds Beckett University who was conducting research on Men’s Sheds. It was clear that evaluating the benefit of Men’s Sheds through traditional methods such as the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale is fraught with difficulty and even if people make progress they can report negative results as they are then more likely to be realistic and honest as to how they are feeling. Steve also emphasised that Sheds have wider benefits for the community as a result of the contribution Sheds make to the life of others.
One of the most encouraging sessions of the day were the times when Shedders reported good news stories from their own Sheds. Sheds reported lots of examples where people were contributing to their Sheds in generous ways to the extent that they were then able to share these donations with other Sheds across the country.