Men's Sheds can bring to mind a group of blokes busy building and fixing things in a room surrounded by tools and high-powered equipment. Or the opposite - guys simply kicking back with a cuppa or something stronger as they chat about the footy.
This isn't necessarily an inaccurate picture, but Men's Sheds are much more than that. All kinds of interactions and activities take place in them, and with Men's Sheds all across Australia, no two are the same - each reflecting the community they are in and the men (known as 'shedders') who make the shed what it is.
What these operations have in common is that they sit under the umbrella of the Australian Men's Shed Association. They function as non-profit organisations that bring men together to feel connected to each other and their community, and to keep active. The slogan of the AMSA is 'Shoulder To Shoulder', a reference to the idea that men prefer to talk shoulder to shoulder rather than face to face. Declining health and increased feelings of isolation among men (especially in rural settings) was what prompted Men's Sheds to be started.
The first Men's Shed is believed to have been in Albury NSW in the late 1970s, although some sources credit the one in Broken Hill NSW in the 1980s as being the first, while others say it wasn't until 1998 (in Tongala VIC) that the first was opened!
While communal men's sheds in some form clearly existed before the early 00s, it wasn't until 2002 that Mensheds Australia was established and it all became official. There are now a whopping 985 Men's Sheds all across the country, and the concept has spread to New Zealand, England and Ireland, to name just a few of the international locations.
So what happens inside a Men's Shed? No two are the same, but generally there's some fixing, learning and chatting going on. Men might be repairing and building things (perhaps making play equipment or doing up bicycles for a local school), planting in the garden, using computers -a number of different activities take place depending on what the men want to do. Some of the sheds are categorised as 'work sheds'and are geared towards men who want to stay active, while 'educational sheds'are focused on teaching valuable life skills such as cooking or using e-mail.
A big part of the program is skill-sharing, with men teaching and helping each other to learn something new or hone a skill. Mateship underlies it all, with men from all ages and walks of life taking the time to connect with each other.
Keen to get involved? Check out https://mensshed.org/find-a-shed/ to locate a Men's Shed near you.