High Sheriff of West Sussex, Dr Tim Fooks, learns of the success of Men's Sheds
High Sheriff of West Sussex Dr Tim Fooks, in his weekly briefing, talks to shedders about Men's Sheds and finds out how they are helping both men and women to avoid loneliness.
Being lonely is well recognised to be associated with an increased risk of both ill health and becoming a victim of crime.
Despite the progress we are making with the pandemic, it remains a common experience – in November last year, one in four adults in the UK reported feeling lonely, and higher rates were found among younger people and those who were living alone or acting as carers.
There is no single solution for this complex problem but, fortunately, there are already some examples of best practice at work in our county. One of these is the initiative known as Men’s Sheds and, in order to understand more about the impact of the sheds on loneliness and well-being, I was able to speak to Peter Gumbrell, who helped found the Men’s Shed in Henfield in 2017, and Michelle Martin from the partnerships and communities team at West Sussex County Council.
Men’s Sheds started in Australia in the 1980s as a way of alleviating loneliness among retired men who were living alone. Without the routine of work and regular contact with colleagues, these men found retirement lonely and unfulfilling and the rates of severe depression and suicide became very concerning.
However, with the introduction of Men’s Sheds, a rapid improvement in mental health and well-being was observed and this has been repeated in other countries as the programme has become a global movement.
The first Shed in the UK started about ten years ago and there are currently 16 in West Sussex alone, with about 300 members – both men and women. Many sheds are well established and some are now even expanding, such as in Selsey, where the shed is in the process of developing an additional site.
At Henfield, Peter has established a typical shed based around a workshop in which the members work on a project for themselves or a shared project for the community. They also carry out repairs for local residents on a wide variety of non-electrical items and Peter was pleased to report that the Henfield shed has many satisfied customers.
However, key to the success of the sheds is the very healthy combination of camaraderie, creative work and chat, where concerns can be aired and talked about. Nobody in the shed is usually an expert in mental health or men’s health, but by gentle encouragement to ‘have a look at this site’, or a visit from a specialist on prostate cancer, knowledge is gained, absorbed and, most importantly, discussed.
Peter describes this approach as 'shoulder-to-shoulder', rather than 'face-to-face', and, for men particularly, it seems to work very well.
In response to Covid-19, all the sheds in West Sussex have worked hard to implement social distancing and adapt policies and procedures to provide a safe environment for their members. The essence of a shed has always been bringing people together and, through virtual meetings, or just meeting outside for a coffee, shedders were able to preserve this in even the most challenging of circumstances and provide a valuable social outlet to prevent members from becoming isolated.
Like all charities, our Men’s Sheds face many ongoing challenges such as premises and funding to keep their important work going. However, sheds in West Sussex enjoy the support and backing of a range of organisations from the UK Men’s Shed Association, county, district, borough and parish councils, and voluntary sector infrastructure groups, who all recognise the benefits ‘shedding’ provides.
As community spaces for people to connect, create and converse, Men’s Sheds are very effective at reducing loneliness and isolation but, most importantly, they are fun and always open and welcoming to new members.