Originating from Australia, the Men’s Shed initiative gives older men a place where they can make, build and engage in crafts, hobbies and business ventures in a communal space and supportive community.
In March 2014, Chris Lee – a committee member of the wider Men’s Shed movement in the UK – took ten older men and one woman on a shed ‘crawl’ with help of a UnLtd Santander Spark Award with a view to developing a Men’s Shed of their own in Hemel Hempstead, UK. The crawl involved visiting two existing sheds in Milton Keynes and Aylesbury to learn from how they operated and were set up.
Chris explains: “I’m a great believer that if you want to communicate and inspire people to do something or adopt an idea you’ve got to more than just tell them about it – you have to show it, which is what we decided to do with the shed crawl. Whilst every shed is different, common to all sheds is that they revolve around the interests, skills and needs of the men themselves.”
Continuing he said, “The first thing we learnt was that getting a project like this off the ground involves having one or two very committed people – you need that drive at the beginning. We also found that whilst the men want to be part of a community they also want their own working space – and that’s something we want to aim for. We also learnt that a mix of skills at a range of levels is important within the group.”
Whilst men often come to the Sheds with very hands-on, practical skills, some of the men are also able to offer and share more ‘theoretical’ skills such as IT or marketing – should the men wish to sell the items they produce.
“As a result of the Shed Crawl we now have a core group of about six men who I hope are going to be the founding members of the Hemel Hempstead Repair Shed. Our first project is going to be to equip the shed itself but after that, we might look at bicycle restoration and maintenance as the initial focus for our work as a couple of the men have an interest in that area. We’re going to be situated on a canal too so we might even open our doors to cyclists passing on the towpath so they can see what’s going on,” said Chris.
Do you want to apply to Spark to do something similar? You’ll find our simple application at www.unltd.org.uk/spark