With Men’s Health Week pushing men’s physical and mental wellbeing into the spotlight, it’s important to acknowledge the positive impact that peer support can have on issues like social isolation and depression.
“Men don’t talk face to face, they talk shoulder to shoulder,” says Gary Green, Community Engagement Manager for the Australian Men’s Shed Association.
This motto is at the heart of the Men’s Shed phenomenon, which encourages men to socialise and talk while working with their hands in a safe and purpose-driven environment.
“Men like the company of other men and for those who have retired from work, are unwell, unemployed, or home with kids, it can sometimes be hard,” says Gary.
(L to R) Carlyle Gardens residents Jim Lydemore, Tony Glasson and Cyril Wreide
Retired men in particular are prone to isolation, which is often linked to the loss of a spouse or to a decrease in the social opportunities afforded by full-time work.
“Women are great at maintaining friendships and need no excuse to organise a social event whereas men often seem to need a reason to gather together and, when they do, they want the situation to be meaningful,” Gary says.
There are oven 950 community-run Men’s Sheds across Australia and many of RetireAustralia’s 28 villages have followed suit and feature fully equipped workshops for residents’ use.
There is no expectation that members have prior knowledge of how to use the tools or equipment and mentoring is a large part of the appeal.
“Lots of blokes who attend have had little or no past experience with tools and they might learn from other blokes or they might choose to sip on a tea or coffee and solve the world’s problems or just help out the others,” Gary explains.
“Men love sharing and teaching skills they have and sheds provide a male-friendly and male-acceptable way of doing this,” he says.
Over the years, the workshops in RetireAustralia’s villages have seen hundreds of residents form lasting bonds and even use their time and skills for the greater good.
For the past 16 years, several of the residents at Carlyle Gardens Retirement Village in Bargara have met weekly in the village workshop to catch up, have a laugh and build toys for charity.
Resident Ernie Nankivell estimates that the group sends out around 600 handcrafted trucks, trains and rocking horses each year and believes that having a strong purpose behind their meet-ups keeps the members coming back back week after
“We all really enjoy it,” he says. “It gives us something to do!”
To find a Men’s Shed in your local area, visit http://mensshed.org/find-a-shed/ or phone 1300 550 009.