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Men In Sheds | The Community Crafting Phenomenon

Men In Sheds | The Community Crafting Phenomenon

Sheds around the world have gone from being the location of a modest, solitary past time to a community crafting phenomenon. Through both creating community and giving people purpose through crafting, Men In Sheds initiatives are both changing lives and providing a safe space for men to discuss mental health. 

On a walk in Caldbeck, The Lake District, I came across a big shed-like structure next to the village green. I peaked inside and could see tables covered in woodworking equipment. No-one was working then but it was clearly a well-used and highly creative space. The sign on the door read ‘Men In Sheds.’

What I didn’t realise at the time was both the impact that this relatively inconspicuous workspace, and others like it, are having on both a personal level and global scale.

The Men in Sheds concept began in Australia in 1999 and today there are a total of 2000 sheds registered worldwide. Anyone can set up a shed but The UK Mens Sheds Association was set up to support these groups. These grassroots community sheds came about to meet a need, creating a communal space for for men to “access tools, workbenches, skills and opportunities to make and mend in the company of others” the association shares.

One participant of the Gosling Sike Men’s Shed in Cumbria, joined the shed after he retired.

Bruce was ‘at a bit of a loose end’ so a program where he could meet new people and learn new things, ’like how to make different bird boxes dependent on the type of bird, or how to use a wood turning lathe,’ seemed ideal.

“It’s great to get home afterwards knowing I’ve achieved something and been productive. I get real sense of satisfaction knowing something I’ve made or fixed is helping out someone else or going to a good cause. It feels good being able to go somewhere every week, being part of a group and helping each other out. There’s a real sense of community, even if that’s sometimes just having a coffee and chat together."

Many of these Men’s Sheds are not just benefitting their attendees, but also often serve another purpose in the local community.

The Houghton Men’s Shed was set up in September 2023 by Adam McGinley from The Cumbria Wildlife Trust with the aim of 'offering a chance for Men to learn practical skills, build friendships and boost wellbeing.' Aside from creating new friendships and socialising, the group take part in nature-themed activities such as creating bird nesting boxes, Hedgehog Houses and raised planting beds. Some of these bird boxes make up the 200 swift nest boxes installed by Penrith Swift Group in the local area.

A growing number of mental health charities, including the Mental Health Foundation, highlight that both community and helping others ‘promotes physiological changes in the brain linked with happiness’ so in fact, making bird boxes actually serves the original purpose of the group too.

Members of the Cumbria Wildlife Trust Shed with handcrafted bird boxes.

“It's been a pleasure to set up and run the Men’s Shed and personally it’s helped with my wellbeing too” shares Adam. He also speaks of the impact he has witnessed the group have first hand.

“One of the highlights for me has been seeing people come together and make new friendships as well as hearing positive feedback from them about how it’s helping their wellbeing, whether that’s a sense of achievement from the activities we do together or just being able to chat to a fellow shedder about their week. I’ve been taken aback at how popular its been which also shows the need for more opportunities for Men to get be able to get together to help with their wellbeing.”

Another such opportunity can be found at a shed in Grassmoor, Chesterfeild, which has seen a similarly positive response since opening. Rob Whitehead shared that a member of his group had been suffering from mental health issues and hadn't left his house much in 2 years before he joined the group. The positive change for those who have joined a group has been widespread and profound.

The UK Men’s Sheds Association are passionate about promoting the wellbeing benefits that the shed groups provide. Their research has shown than 76 percent of people felt less anxious and a huge 96 percent of participants reported a reduction in loneliness after joining a Shed.

In fact, on the 4th of March this year, Charlie Bethel (The Chief Officer of the UK Men’s Sheds Association) gave evidence to the Health & Social Care Committee. “Men will talk shoulder to shoulder, but they won’t share face to face” Charlie observed, pointing out the unique benefits that a safe and practical space like Men’s Shed can provide. 

Charlie explained that it was the presence of an activity, giving participant focus and purpose, that allowed for people to feel safe and open up more.

“That is the environment that we see that men will talk and open up a lot more…it also happens in the workplace…it doesn’t just have to happen in sheds, it can happen in other environments too which I think is important.”

If not crafting or a local shed group, perhaps joining a walking group, sports or book club could have a similar effect. Essentially the key components of the success of these groups is community, connection and purpose. Craft just happens to be an excellent facilitator for all of these things.

If you run or attend a shed (or maybe you would like to join one) and would like to lead a leather craft workshop for your group with Artisans craft kits, get in touch for an exclusive Men In Sheds discount code.

Also read 'The Men Reimagining Craft' | Artisans Stories