Men in Sheds Cymru
Ed Bridges - Policy Adviser (Wellbeing)
I was delighted to attend the formal launch of Men’s Sheds Cymru recently, a project designed to bring together men (particularly, but not exclusively, older men) across Wales and provide an informal, friendly setting for men to socialise and learn from each other. The project is based on several successful from around the world – including the pioneering Australian Men’s Shed Association and (closer to home) the Irish Men’s Sheds Association, who are providing support to Men’s Sheds Cymru as they get the project off the ground.
The programme is based on the idea that “men don’t talk face to face – they talk shoulder to shoulder”, and helps to provide them with an environment in which they can get together over enjoyable, mutually-agreed activities. The sheds are open to all men, regardless of age, background or ability, and are places where men can share skills and knowledge with others, develop old skills and learn new ones.
What really struck me about the project is just how desperately we need it in Wales, and how such a simple idea can make such a profound difference. We know that there is a proven link between loneliness and reduced mobility and death amongst older people. It therefore stands to reason that we should welcome any initiative that makes it easier for older people to get together – especially older men, who are often the hardest group to reach. Research brought out last year showed that older men in Wales are the loneliest group of people in the UK. Even when older men go to day centres or lunch clubs, they are much less likely to socialise. Where the Men’s Sheds Cymru project is so valuable is that it focuses on activity rather than socialising. It was suggested at the launch event that a group of men can be left in a room for an hour and won’t say a word to each other – but if you ask them to assembly some furniture together, they’ll know everything about each other an hour later (even if the furniture is still in its box!).
That’s why the idea is such a successful one – it understands that men socialise over tasks and that the planning and execution of those tasks is a social event in itself. The Australian men’s sheds project has shown how far the idea can go – from its initial launch in the late 1990s, it now has over 850 registered sheds across the country and it has been recognised as a huge force for social good. In the UK, the programme is at a much earlier stage of development, but there are already 40 Men’s Sheds in the UK.
In partnership with Hafan Cymru, the plan is to develop a similar network for Wales. The involvement of Hafan is important, as it is an organisation which has traditionally focused on vulnerable women and children – yet its partnership here underlines the fact that the men’s shed project is one that values the input of women and recognises how integral other groups are to making each shed successful.
I look forward to seeing how the project develops over time and supporting their efforts, and I hope men across Wales will seek to find out more about the organisation and how it can make a difference to their lives. Anyone wanting to find out more about the Men’s Sheds Cymru programme can either visit their Facebook page or e-mail them courtesy of the Irish Men’s Sheds Association.