Wednesday, September 12
For years blokes worldwide seeking to escape nagging wifes and life's tribulations have hidden away in the solitary, cobwebbed gloom of their garden sheds. But over in Australia hobby handymen are flocking to take up tools at communal sheds across the country. What a great idea, and one that we should be adopting over here. Instead of pottering alone, men gather in groups, drilling and hammering while setting the world to rights over frequent mugs of tea. More than 200 such community sheds have sprung up over the past decade, and many more are planned. The 10,000-strong "men's shed movement" is one of the fastest-growing interest groups in the country, and officials are sitting up and taking notice. Not only do the sheds provide a practical community support network, they also give their users a potential health boost. The Sheddies, as they are known, are mainly older handymen, most of them retired and some widowed. For the men, tackling a spot of woodwork at a communal shed seems to lift their spirits and provides them with a new group of "mates." Saws, screwdrivers and drills hang along the walls, alongside try squares, trays of nails and an array of power tools. Its regular users make toys for hospitals, games for retirement homes and repair furniture for community groups. "The woodwork and other hobby's are the excuse, not the reason, why men come here," said one of the organisers "They come for companionship, even though they may not admit it. I have seen amazing changes in these blokes"Talking becomes easier." At the frequent brew times tools are downed and the men perch on stools to drink tea and talk. Half an hour later they are hard at work again, the sound of sawing punctuated by laughter. Barry Golding, a professor of education at Ballarat University in Victoria, who has completed the first comprehensive study of men's sheds, described it as the most exciting research he had undertaken. "It's a myth that men don't talk - they do if they are given the right opportunity," he said. "Sheds give men licence to celebrate being men and to be sensitive and supportive about each other. "If you put up a sign that says Men's Health Centre, men won't come. If you put up a sign that says Men's Learning Centre, men won't come. But if the sign says Men's Shed, then people will come. And that's when the magic begins."