Men’s shed - making a difference in our community

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Published in: Seasons Magazine, April 2015

Perhaps like yours, our garage is filled with gardening tools, the lawnmower, weed-eater, and an assortment of other miscellaneous items. I wish we had space for a garden shed in which to keep them all – and occasionally for me to attend to those many odd jobs I seldom have time for!

You may have heard of “Men’s Sheds”, which are a concept based on our love of pottering about in sheds and the considerable satisfaction and benefits that are derived from such activities.

Originating in Australia in the 1990s, when a number of issues were raised about Men’s health, Men’s Sheds are now a significant community initiative enriching many lives on both sides of the Tasman.

Men’s Sheds were inspired by the “shed in a backyard” concept, where a man would go and carry out tasks, such as restoring furniture or fixing lawn mowers. The Shed also encouraged social activities and friendships, while providing vital health information to its members.

There are Men’s Sheds throughout Australia and Ireland, and now there are over 60 Men’s Sheds in New Zealand, including one located at Ward Park Arts Centre, in Ward St, Hamilton, which I have enjoyed visiting on a couple of occasions.

The Hamilton Community Men’s Shed meets on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 10am-2pm, in the shed that was formerly a Hamilton City Council workshop. Since opening in March 2008, they have achieved a broad range of community requests that have involved members constructing and repairing equipment and facilities locally and for other charities. Some of the programmes include classes for home school students (girls and boys) during the week, and a course for new migrants (men and women) assisting them with basic construction skills and confidence in language. I think the benefits of these opportunities are considerable and wide-ranging.

If you looked inside the Hamilton Community Men’s Shed during a session, you might see a number of men restoring furniture, perhaps fixing the letterbox from home for which they don’t have tools, or making a kids’ cubby house for a charity to raffle.
You might see fathers and sons working side by side, or a few young men working with the older men, learning new skills and maybe also learning something about life. You would see tea-bags and coffee cups, and comfy chairs to sit in while talking during a break in activity. This is just as valuable because the Shed is filled with the elders of our community, who possess a wealth of knowledge, life experience and skills that can be passed on practically and by chatting over a cup of tea – and it is so good to see our young people learning from their elders and each enjoying the other’s company.

Men’s Sheds bring men together in one community space to share their skills, have a laugh, and work on practical tasks individually or as a group. They’re a great place for blokes to learn new skills and feel useful by teaching others new ones. Retired builders teach retired engineers some of their skills and visa-versa, while retired accountants can learn a plethora of skills they never had the opportunity to learn in their working life. Perhaps even retired politicians might one day be capable of learning some new skills there – but I’m fully and happily occupied for the time being!

Dr Neil Bruce is Chair of the Hamilton Community Men’s Shed Trust. I hold Neil in high regard and really appreciate not just his strong advocacy and hard work for Men’s Sheds, but also his considerable work for our community in many other fields. Having witnessed the special values of Men’s Sheds in Australia and Great Britain while he travelled on a Winston Churchill Fellowship in 2009, Neil returned to New Zealand inspired to support similar initiatives for men in our country and especially in our region.

Having achieved that goal, and after speaking with other community groups, Neil has further realised there is an opportunity to create something special for Hamilton, such as a Senior Practical Learning Hub. “The Age Concern Centre is fantastic for your Zumba classes or yoga, but there’s nowhere people can learn and practise practical skills,” says Neil.

He would like to see other like-minded community groups come together and pool their resources.

I welcome these further initiatives and commend all who are involved. If you know of someone who might benefit from such an opportunity, I encourage you to visit the website http://menzshed.org.nz for more information.