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What are Sheds… and how did they start?    Why are they often called Men’s Sheds??

In Australia in the 1990s a number of issues were raised about men's health. In Australian culture, there was little encouragement for men of all ages to socialize and discuss their feelings and well being. This problem was identified at a men's health conference in the mid-1990s and plans were put in place to improve a number of aspects relating to men's health.

The conference in question took place in 1995, and was the first national health conference dedicated to men in Australia. It was suggested that men's sheds could help promote social interaction and reduce depression related illness in elderly men.  After the conference, a number of men's sheds began to form across Australia.

Men's sheds originated from the shed in a backyard scenario, where a man would go and carry out tasks, such as restoring furniture or fixing lawn mowers. The first men's shed (by that name) was opened in Tongala, Victoria, Australia on July 26, 1998. in New South Wales by just a few months, though both likely originated from ideas discussed at the National Rural Health Conference in 1995. Lane Cove Community Shed was opened in December 1998, and was founded for "shedless" men, encouraging social activities and friendships, while providing vital health information to its members. Since then a number of articles supporting men's sheds have been published, stating they help increase the length and quality of life of elderly males.

The Australian Men's Shed Association was established in 2007 by the Australian independent community based men's sheds to represent, support and promote the Men's Shed Movement and to act as a central hub for information exchange. The Australian Men's Shed Association is funded by the federal government to provide initial and ongoing practical support for the development of all men's sheds.

Shed activities typically involve making or mending in wood, such as carpentry, joinery, carving, whittling and furniture renovation, but can also include larger projects such as bike repairs, metalwork, tool renovation, upholstery etc.

Reclamation, reuse and restoration feature strongly in Shed activities – and some say that is true of the men too! Although Sheds mostly attract older men, some have included men of any age, women and young people. Whichever activities are pursued the essence of a Shed is not a building, which some don’t have, but the network of relationships between the members.

One of the early Australian Men’s Sheds, in an old goods yard in Grenfell

Since the emergence of men's sheds in 1996, the number of sheds has grown year on year. The main aims of a men's sheds have also become much more varied since their foundation. Men's sheds are also active in a number of other countries, mainly based throughout Europe and South Asia. This includes over one hundred men's sheds in New Zealand and almost a hundred in Ireland. The United States has set up a national association, the US Men's Sheds Association, and has 3 Sheds in Hawaii, Minnesota and New York, as of May, 2017.

The first country in the Northern Hemisphere to have an association is Ireland, where the Irish Men's Sheds Association was established in 2011 to support the development and sustainability of men's sheds. The member Sheds of the Irish Association are from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. One notable difference between the men's sheds in Australia and Ireland is the age demographic of the participating men; in Ireland men of all ages participate while in Australia it is mostly retired men. In February 2013 Westhill & Districts Men's Shed opened its doors as a constituted charity, to be the first men's shed following the Australian model in Scotland.

The UK has Its own Men’s Shed association - The UK Men’s Sheds Association. The Henfield Shed is proud to be a member.

One Man’s ‘Shed Journey’…

Roger Knill moved to Australia in May 2010. His wife had passed away, and following major surgery he was invited to join his daughter and her family in Melbourne. No sooner had he arrived than the family took to travelling, and he followed in ‘convoy’ with his Toyota and Caravan, becoming what is known in Oz as a ‘Grey Nomad’. After enjoying their travels for a year and more the family ended up in Queensland, in a town called Highfields.

While walking the dog one day Roger was approached by a fellow dog-walker who he he met every morning. “I’ll pick you up tomorrow at 9.30” he was told. He was duly taken to, and introduced to, Highfield Men’s Shed. He’d never heard of the Men’s Shed movement, but joined that day, in March 2012, though the shed was still in its earliest days.  The Highfield Men’s Shed went from strength to strength, moving to ever improving locations several times, attracting significant funding as it progressed, including a 20m x 12m shed! (Since extended!!) Roger ended up on the committee and became the Shed Photographer. The other ‘shedders’ became his best mates, despite nicknaming him ‘The Pommie Bastard’ - an epiphet he wears with pride!

When his family returned to the UK in 2015 Roger returned too. He started looking for a shed, and visited some locally but didn’t quite find what he was looking for. In early 2017 he heard of an initiative in Henfield to form a Shed, and attended the first meeting.  His enthusiasm and experience was invaluable to the team who were steering the new Shed into existence. He helped with the fitting out of the Shed and was one of the very first members to ‘sign up’.

In the meantime the Highfield Men’s Shed must have been missing their Pommie Bastard, because they awarded him complimentary membership in 2017. Although he visited Australia and of course the Highfield Men’s Shed in 2018, his journey brought him back to The Henfield Shed - we need a Pommie Bastard too!