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Men’s sheds: Making friends and pursuing practical interests

If an Englishman’s home is his castle, his shed surely must be his inner sanctum. Now this sanctuary has become a shared space for men to come together to make friends and do practical activities. Men’s Sheds is an organisation aiming to target loneliness among the male population.

Loneliness is becoming an increasingly recognised problem across the Western world, particularly among older men. In a response to this need, Men’s Sheds was set up to create a space for “Men coming together, working shoulder to shoulder making, fixing and talking”. Originally started in Australia, this volunteer run organisation has now been established in the UK and Ireland. It has also been attracting attention from across Pond as it was covered in a New York Times article earlier this month. As acclaimed American doctor and popular science writer Atul Gawande recently tweeted about the interventions to reduce loneliness:

Atul Gawande ‏‪@Atul_Gawande Sep 6

More lethal than obesity: Researchers confront an epidemic of loneliness in older adults  ‪@NYTimes. Need more such work.

Encouraging friendship is important not only for quality of life but the 2005 Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging concluded that friendships could increase life expectancy by as much as 22%. Turns out making friends, saves lives. If such staggering results were produced by a medical intervention, it would be hailed as a major discovery so it is important that we take enterprises to promote social inclusion seriously. However, male friendships are complicated and creating an environment that is appealing can be challenging. Male camaraderie is often based around mutual activities like sports and activities. In 2006, Age Concern and the Mental Health Foundation released a report on “Promoting Mental Health and Well-being in Later Life”that identified participation in a meaningful activity as one of the five key determinants of health and wellbeing in later life. So the success of Men’s Sheds amongst men is its winning combination of providing “a place where he feels at home and pursues practical interests with a high degree of autonomy”

Indeed, the success of Men’s Sheds has been spectacular, with staggering popularity. UK Shed numbers have doubled from last year to over 300 across the nation. Growing at an average of 3.2 sheds per week. Indeed, it has become so popular that next month there is the first national festival of Men’s Sheds in Birmingham providing an opportunity for so-called ‘Shedders’ across the country to come together in a day full of talks, displays and demonstrations.

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