People like to joke about men retreating to the shed to escape a nagging wife or household chores. But there’s a positive side to this too. A shed can become a refuge, a haven, a space away – to enjoy solitude or gardening or woodwork maybe. It’s an outdoor shelter. And it’s spawned an entire movement. All over Britain there are now men shed groups in all different locations and communities. Many are allied to Men’s Shed UK, a network organisation. Age UK runs various Men In Sheds premises, and sometimes man sheds become part of care farming initiatives.
The growth of men sheds as a movement illustrates the importance of nature, of creativity and of community alike in wellbeing. Participants might never think about “nature connectedness” or “mindfulness in nature”, but working in the sheds – and gardens and allotments which usually surround the sheds – can be elemental, connecting with the soil, the weather, fresh air and cycles of growth. Participants might also be doubtful about “creativity”. I myself have seen how far fewer men than women take part in arts for wellbeing. But using tools to do whittling or wood carving or wood turning or repairing just is creative. Just as I find painting and drawing absorbs, focuses, stimulates and calms my mind, so too will these other creative pastimes. Occupying the hands can occupy the mind as well.
And clearly, if men attend a shed, they gain “community”. Some might prefer to spend time in their own shed, alone, but for many sharing time and tasks with others will be more motivating. Men sheds can create a natural and low-key environment for men in particular to gather and be productive. This can combat loneliness & isolation, and create opportunities to express and share issues or concerns just as part of chatting and being together.
Early on in the Covid pandemic, many counsellors and therapists met clients outdoors, and some found this actually more helpful. Talking and listening while walking proved more natural and spontaneous, and less intimidating, for some people. I think this mirrors the impact of men sheds. While many men will attend simply to work or to chat, for some this will be an opportunity to share their feelings – for people who might never think to ask to see a counsellor. It could make a real difference.
One shed I’ve come across is to be found at the Don’t Lose Hope community garden in Bourne, near Peterborough. Linked to Men’s Shed Uk, it is nonetheless open to all. I’ve seen pictures of the shed and garden and this looks like a really productive and cooperative space, indoors and out. Different groups meet in the shed through the week, such as a young men’s group, a whittling group, a tool group and one for military personnel. Don’t Lose Hope is primarily a counselling and mental health initiative, and recognises that the garden and shed can open up a space for participants to share and talk while they work.
Have you or people you know attended or run a men shed? It would be great if you would like to share any experiences or other ideas in Medley’s Facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/359291215486002