Food for Thought – The Potential of the Men’s Shed Movement


The following article is extracted from the JMS Chairman’s recent talk to the Rotary Club of Hillarys. It is included in this news segment with the intention of provoking discussion among the men’s shed movement.

While you may think some of the questions posed are a bit “out there,” I am of the opinion that it’s time for the shed movement (via AMSA and WAMSA) to seriously ponder whether it has a broader responsibility to society in general.

Two and a half years ago, when the Joondalup Men’s Shed was little more than a dream, there were approximately 300 sheds and 30,000 shedders across Australia. Although the movement was (and still is) the largest men’s support group in Australia, few people would have heard about men’s sheds. Those few who had would probably have possessed a vague notion that men’s sheds were just somewhere a bunch of old codgers go to play with tools.
That’s no longer the case largely due to a concerted promotional campaign, resulting in phenomenal growth of men’s sheds, not only across Australia but world-wide. The general public are now much more enlightened and now know that mucking around with tools is only a small part of what we do.

These days few people would dispute the obvious need for a body dealing exclusively with men’s issues but nobody envisaged the men’s shed movement becoming so popular that by June of 2012 it would expand to well over 700 men’s sheds boasting a nationwide membership of over 100,000 members.

The Future Demand
Such is the demand for places where men can go to relax, make friends, seek and provide support, learn new skills and share theirs, and more importantly, re-build their sense of worth by helping others and being valuable members of the community, that there is no sign of this growth slowing.

The Contribution to Society
The contribution men’s sheds make to society is difficult to quantify but there is little doubt among those who experience their unique camaraderie that men’s sheds not only change the lives of thousands of men and their families for the better, they literally save lives every day. (Remember, there are approximately 2,000 suicides in Australia annually. That equates to one death every four-and-half minutes, with men making up 80% of the victims!)

If you doubt that men’s sheds save lives and improve the situation for many, I invite you to go and speak with the coordinator of any men’s shed. He’ll provide you with practical examples from his shed to back that up.

Whenever I have the privilege of speaking to interested groups, I make the point that my greatest reward for all the hard work in establishing the Joondalup Men’s Shed comes from seeing the spark return to the eyes of blokes who have been beaten down by life. The second most rewarding thing is to witness the formation of new friendships among men who have become lonely or marginalized. And the third most rewarding thing is to see men pitching in to help not only other shedders but the less fortunate members of our broader community.

What does the men’s shed movement stand for?

Without going into the well documented research work of people such as Associate Professor Barry Golding, the men’s shed movement has become a major player in tackling issues surrounding men’s health. It also a tremendously powerful lobby group which governments and politicians ignore at their peril. Happily, there is no longer much need to argue our case. The movement now has almost unequivocal support from the three tiers of government, as well as most sectors of the community.

Those who are enlightened have come to regard their local shed as a community resource. They know within the shed they will find an unrivalled pool of knowledge, wisdom, expertise and a willingness to help those less fortunate. They know too, that sheds stand for friendship and provide support in time of illness, tragedy, or need. They also recognise that the shed movement is forefront in preserving vanishing skills, exchanging information and ideas and in tackling a wide range of uniquely male issues.

Recognising a greater potential
So, having established the need for and the worth of men’s sheds, I invite you to ponder three important questions, because many don’t yet recognize the true potential our organisation has to remould and shape society.

  1. Does the movement have a responsibility to tackle broader issues in a society which appears to be losing its way in so many areas?
  2. What are those issues?
  3. If you agree with me that our society is becoming increasingly dysfunctional, how could the men’s shed movement go about restoring some of the good old-fashioned standards of yesteryear?

Here are some possibilities that I’d like to share with you. Perhaps service clubs such as Rotary or other leading community groups could form partnerships with men’s sheds in tackling some of these issues:

1. Changing Perceptions
What a tragedy it is that schools now find it difficult to entice males into teaching careers while previously significant mentoring organizations (such as the Scouts, Cubs and Girl Guides) have become almost extinct because of the stigma and suspicion surrounding seemingly rampant pedophilia.

What is even more disturbing is the massive gulf between generations. Unlike many Asian countries where senior citizens are respected, in Australia (and most of the western world) older people often feel discarded by the younger sectors of society who regard them as a nuisance and a burden on the health care system, when in fact they should be revered and respected and their expertise used to mentor and guide the young.

I believe the men’s shed movement should examine and implement strategies to change these perceptions. It could do this by introducing a nationwide and uniform program of youth and business mentoring and intergenerational activities.
Such programmes could bring about a change in current perceptions and make for a happier, better adjusted society across all generations. This would have the effect of lessening antisocial behavior, criminal activity, graffiti, and vandalism and avoid the tragedy of so many lives being wasted through the failure of folk to recognize their true potential.

2. Minimising Poverty
Surely too, we could mitigate the poverty experienced by many of our generation who barely subsist on inadequate pensions. We might achieve this by:

  • Leveraging the bulk buying power a large group such as ours has for commodities such as insurance, food (through establishing local food banks & brokering insurance for seniors).
  • We could also barter our skills in exchange for daily necessities and provide certain home help services at reduced rates.

The Joondalup Men’s Shed has endeavoured to address this last issue by providing handyman services via its mobile workshop. While it has run into a few obstacles which were discussed in last month’s issue, it will get back on track.

Another area we could target is the predicament faced by many shift workers and those on FIFO contracts.
Having worked on remote mine sites and been a shift worker I have seen and experienced the loneliness and social isolation of people working outside the mainstream. Blokes returning to their home towns during R&R only to find wives and friends at work and kids at school often gravitate to pubs and gambling as an antidote to loneliness and boredom.
Recent inquiries with the CFMEU showed considerable support for promoting the concept of men’s sheds amongst mineworkers as a way of reducing alcoholism, risk taking behaviour, depression, suicide and marriage break up.
Perhaps sheds should consider an awareness campaign among mining company executives so they understand the negative impact such behaviour has on work safety and ultimately, the company’s bottom line. Such a campaign may engender not just financial support for sheds, but also impact favourably upon the less tangible cost to society. Lastly, having a younger demographic in sheds would also inject the movement with new energy and bolster our numbers.

4. Inclusivity
Many men’s sheds need to become more inclusive.
I am concerned that folk suffering the terrible restrictions imposed by living life from a wheelchair are excluded from involvement in men’s sheds. So too are those folk who are no longer able to drive a motor vehicle. Their exclusion comes about because of the difficulty in simply getting to their nearest shed. If those in wheelchairs do manage to get to our shed they will find it is not set up to enable their full participation, particularly in workshop activities.

This is something that I would very much like to pursue and remedy. However, as with most things, it requires funding (that we don’t have) to enable better access through the widening of doorways, the construction of ramps and purpose built work benches.

We also need funding to provide a suitable vehicle enabling us to transport not only men in wheelchairs but those folk who are no longer able to drive. This vehicle could also tow our mobile workshop and negate the need for members to use private vehicles for this purpose.

While many readers and shedders may view the above ideas as being far too ambitious, I am of the opinion that any nationally affiliated organisation with such a huge membership has an inherent responsibility to repay its supporters by showing leadership on fundamentally important issues affecting us all.

I hope readers agree and support me in attempts to promote these issues through the Western Australian Men’s Shed Association (WAMSA) and the Australian Men’ Shed Association (AMSA). On that note, I would love to receive your views and publish them in the next issue of the BP. Please email: