“Men’s Sheds,” a movement founded in Australia to promote social interaction and community service among retired men, is coming to the United States! Seventeen Men’s Sheds have been established so far, several others are in the planning stage, and an organization—the U.S. Men’s Shed Association—has been formed to promote the movement and help new Men’s Sheds get started.
A Men’s Shed is a gathering place for older men typically organized around a theme and a purpose. A Men’s Shed might feature a woodshop where men work together on community service projects like building handicap-access ramps for people who otherwise couldn’t afford one, or a kitchen where men learn cooking skills and share the food they’ve prepared. There are nearly 1,000 Men’s Sheds in Australia, several hundred in both the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland and 20 or more in Canada. Membership in individual Men’s Sheds ranges from 20 to 100 members. The motto of the Men’s Sheds movement is “Shoulder to Shoulder,” shortened from a longer phrase explaining how men prefer to communicate: “Men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder.” Some Sheds have opened membership to both men and women and to people of all ages.
Mark Winston, a 61-year-old businessman and a founding board member of the U.S. Men’s Sheds Association, first became aware of the Men’s Sheds movement seven years ago. Four years ago, he helped start Canada’s second Men’s Shed in Vanderhoof, British Columbia. When he learned that a Men’s Shed had been founded in Hawaii and another in Minnesota, he began networking with the founders of those Sheds and with leadership from the International Men’s Sheds Organization, and founded the U.S. Men’s Sheds Association in early 2017.
Winston has seen firsthand how participating in a Men’s Shed improves the lives of men in retirement. “At the Vanderhoof Shed, we were able to persuade a couple of guys to participate who were so depressed they didn’t want to leave their apartments,” says Winston. “One day I was at the Shed and one of them took me by surprise by walking up and giving me a hug. He told me: ‘Thanks for giving me my life back.’ Now these two guys have keys to the Shed and are opening and closing it five days a week.” Winston says that Glenn Sears, the founder of the first U.S. Men’s Shed in Hawaii, moved there from Colorado with no friends. He now has more than 50.
Sears and Phil Johnson, the founder of Minnesota’s first Men’s Shed, joined Winston on the association’s board of directors. Johnson, 70, who played a pivotal role in establishing women’s pole vaulting as an NCAA-sanctioned event, saw the Men’s Sheds movement as another opportunity to do “exactly what I like to do” —lead a national movement. Participating in Men’s Sheds has also made a difference in Johnson’s own life. A friend of his recently told him that he seemed much happier since becoming involved in the movement.
Winston and Johnson have been proactively reaching out to civic, community and senior centers across the U.S. to generate interest in starting Men’s Sheds under the wing of existing organizations. Johnson describes this approach as akin to a “franchise” model. They’re approaching national organizations like the Educational Development Center and suicide prevention and veterans’ organizations to build a coalition and spread the word. The association has also applied for foundation grants to fund the growth of the movement.
Winston says complaints about gender bias have been few. In fact, wives have been supportive because Men’s Sheds “give them a break and their husbands something to do.” And the movement isn’t entirely man-focused. Internationally, Winston says, one in five Men’s Sheds includes female members. In the United States, a Men’s Shed in Florida formed under the leadership of a female airman who sees the movement as an important resource for veterans facing mental health challenges.
While still in its infancy, the U.S. Men’s Sheds Association is laying a strong foundation for future growth in the United States. The organization hopes to expand to 50 Sheds by the end of 2020. While they welcome the significant number of inquiries from men interested in joining an existing Shed, Winston says the biggest growth challenge is “trying to find people who will become Shed leaders.” For those individuals, the association is prepared to provide detailed advice and guidance.
To learn more about Men’s Sheds in the United States, find out if there is a Shed near you, or learn how you can get involved in the movement by starting a Shed in your community, visit the U.S. Men’s Sheds Association website or call Mark Winston at (307) 920-8710.
“Build” connections and make new friends in retirement while woodworking, blacksmithing and more on a Road Scholar learning adventure.
About the Author
Peter Spiers is the Senior Vice President of Strategic Outreach at Road Scholar. He is the author of “Master Class: Living Longer, Strong, and Happier,” recently selected by The Washington Post as one of the best books to read at every age, 1 to 100 (Peter’s book was selected for age 70). Spiers holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard University, an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College and a master of science from the London School of Economics and Political Science.
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