A nationwide shed movement is encouraging retired men to get busy — and the benefits are quite surprising.
The wooden shed at the bottom of the garden has long been a place for men to potter, mend and saw—or to simply tune in to the test match uninterrupted.
Now, a rapidly expanding network of communal sheds is turning the once solitary retreat into a place to meet local people and to share and learn new skills. For many of the retired men using them, these sheds have delivered a new lease of life.
The idea, which was created by the charity Men’s Sheds, is to provide a local place where men can feel at home while getting involved in projects from woodworking to car mechanics—and everything in between—all accompanied by some good company.
We’re not talking about four guys huddled in a tiny wooden hut — these sheds are spacious workshops created in empty shops or disused warehouses and offer the chance for men (and despite the name, women too) to share tools, learn skills and meet people.
The sheds have been very popular with older men. Recent reports show that men are at a greater risk of becoming lonely in later life, and that they’re also less likely to join a club to seek company.
This movement seeks to turn loneliness and boredom in this demographic around.
“Your day goes much quicker when you have nothing to do,” says one Shedder of his retirement. “My spare time was going to waste. Here you meet new people and you get advice or tuition from others. Now I get up in the morning with something to achieve. I enjoy it when I’m doing something positive.”
Of course, meeting like-minded people isn’t just enjoyable, it’s also essential for good health.
In a national survey of people over 65, ‘having a social role’ and ‘social activities’ were rated higher than ‘having good health’ and ‘no financial worries’. Age Concern also cite ‘participation in meaningful activity’ as key to promoting mental health and wellbeing.
“It gives me a zest for life”
Many of the Shedders—increasingly consist of women and younger people—have reported improved wellbeing and satisfaction with life.
Ian, who visits a shed in London, lives alone, and after being very ill, was feeling isolated.
“As I started getting better, I had no one to turn to,” he says. “My social worker started on about the old people’s centre, where I could go all day, get a dinner and play bingo, but I said that wasn’t me, and anyway I’m only in my sixties. Then he mentioned the Shed where you can go when you want and do wood work alongside whoever else turns up.”
“I really look forward to going,” Ian continues. “It gives me something to get up for, a sense of achievement and I can do what I want to do. It makes me feel I can do more, and there’s company. It gives me a zest for life. I enjoy every minute of it.”
With social interaction, sharing skills and a sense of comradery ticked off the list, you’d be forgiven for wondering what else the humble shed could have to offer. However that’s something only a song written and recorded by the men of Men’s Shed of Steeple Antrim could answer.
As they say in their lyrics: “Come down and join us, make a friend or two, you’ll be more than welcome, the shed’s a place for you.”
Use the shed locator to find your nearest shed.