by Adrian Flores
There has always been an invisible, yet powerful obstacle in the fight to improve men’s health – silence. The Men’s Shed movement is shattering that silence once and for all.
Men’s Sheds are safe and informal places encouraging openness and community among men in the form of a tool shed, creating what could be dubbed a men’s sanctuary.
“The primary purpose behind Men’s Shed is to reduce social isolation among men,” says Kevin Callinan, Secretary/Treasurer of the NSW Branch of the Australian Men’s Shed Association. “It’s to promote healthy lifestyles for men and to provide them an opportunity to get together and mix among fellow shedders.”
The movement has grown rapidly from its beginnings in the 1990s. Approximately 700 sheds now operate around the country, catering to an estimated 125,000 men. The movement has also expanded to Ireland, the UK and New Zealand, with further sheds being considered in the US and Japan.
Initially, local councils were slow to support Men’s Sheds.
“There was a lot of resistance from councils, but over the last three or four years they’ve begun to realise their worth and they’re making facilities more readily available than they have in the past,” Mr Callinan says.
He says the worth of Men’s Sheds in local communities couldn’t be clearer, especially in rural areas.
“There’s the situation in country towns where people are very isolated, and by coming together it gives them an opportunity to overcome all the problems they are otherwise facing,” he says. “Almost every shed could claim one or two suicides that have been prevented.”
The Men’s Shed movement has been lauded for its effectiveness in improving male health and well-being within local communities. In May 2010, coinciding with the release of the Male Health Policy Report, the Federal Government contributed $3 million over four years to the development of Men’s Sheds around the country.
Hunter’s Hill is the newest local community to open a Men’s Shed. The Hunter’s Hill Ryde Community Services (HHRCS) held its Open Day on the Marist Brothers grounds in Hunter’s Hill on April 18, welcoming new members ahead of its official opening later this year.
The equipment required to build the shed was donated from a variety of sources – tools came from the production of the short-lived Channel Ten TV show, The Renovators, while some of the machines were donated from the Rotary Club of Ryde.
“Four years ago, it became apparent to our organisation that there was a need for a facility for men who have left the workforce and are socially isolated in effect,” says Gary Traill, Vice President of the HHRCS. “We hope to get a profile within the community, and to provide a facility where men will want to come, to practise their skills, to learn, and also a place where they can gather with other men and talk about issues.”
Duncan Taylor, a board member of the Rotary Club of Ryde, says establishing a Men’s Shed highlights the disparity of funding and attention between women’s and men’s health.
“There are approximately 54 different organisations that cater for women. There are none that cater for men exclusively,” he says.
Mr Taylor is happy about the establishment of the shed in Hunter’s Hill, but says that it hasn’t been an easy process. The initial cost of setting up a Men’s Shed is estimated to be between $30,000 and $35,000.
“It’s a matter of drive, drive, drive, because at the end of the day it’s all about money,” he says.
More information on the nearest Men’s Shed is available at: http://www.mensshed.org.