August 22, 2018
When the Scottish Men’s Shed Association was formed in 2015, no one could have predicted the speed with which the idea would take off. There are now 78 fully operational sheds around the country with another 47 in the process of being set up. Demand on SMSA’s small development team has grown exponentially – the concept ticks so many boxes it’s easy to see why. That said, it’s not all been plain sailing – some have questioned whether Men’s Sheds should only be for men. Jason Shroeder of SMSA is unequivocal in his response.
These conversations are being had due to the widespread growth in Men’s Sheds. It is my aim here to bring some clarity and direction to these conversations.
Are Men’s Sheds for men only ?
Men’s Sheds are a 100% male health initiative started in Australia in the 1990’s to create a different place in our society for all men to socialise with a purpose besides the pub and the betting shop. The whole Men’s Shed ethos is designed to fit the needs of the male psyche and body. This is why the Men’s Shed voluntary grass roots movement is so successful compared to existing places which offer sessions often run in community centres and outside agencies. As there is no ownership of sessional experiences which the male psyche often doesn’t like, many men do not find the concept engaging or challenging enough to get a continued buy in.
Men’s Sheds by their definition are what it says on the label, are for men. In Scotland unlike Australia where it’s designed primarily for retired men we are championing it for any man over the age of eighteen who has time on his hands, wants to socialise and do something productive with his time.
Men’s Sheds are now helping reduce health inequalities across the population. Presently there is an increasing awareness and concern regarding the burden of illness experienced by men. In our opinion
Men’s Sheds are about social male inclusion and should remain true to its new roots. If the Sheds become mixed gender, then this new ‘successful recipe’ of healthy male engagement is lost. Both genders benefit from having their own place to be together for some of the time.
We are therefore also seeing the emergence in Scotland of what some people are calling, She Sheds – women only Sheds. Some of the inherited stories of our society which still continues today are the Victorian attitudes and behaviours like men must be tough, boys and men don’t cry, offensive male banter, it’s a dog eat dog world, trust nobody especially men and survive for yourself in your own Kingdom. I see this in the western world work model which most of our over 45 year old Shedders have been a part of. How can we change this unless we have a new place for men to experience a different way of interacting and as the saying goes, if you can see it, you can be it.
We need a new place to ‘see it’ and that new male environment is the Scottish Men’s Shed which works on kindness, fun, trust, making new friends, and self-generated projects. A welcoming place for all men where they can relax in male company, not have their guard up all the time and be a part of something bigger than their own self.
Is it legal in Scotland and the U.K. to have single sex associations?
The answer is yes. Why do we have them and are they beneficial in the 21st Century? In my opinion and over seventeen thousand women’s opinions (Scottish Women’s Institute’s female only membership) we see a big value in spending time with our own genders. We speak and share about things which we don’t when we are in mixed company. Often by our male nature of not looking after ourselves very well, more prone to risky behaviours and not speaking up for ourselves health wise we haven’t had a centralising voice or the inclination to channel our male concerns and issues. For example we are witnessing Men’s Shed groups not knowing their rights and don’t know how to counter the conversation when some funders and members of their community say they must become mixed gender and be a type of workshop community hub. It is easy to get confused and fearful about equality and inequality issues from the work place environment and the wider world through social media. The SMSA is now providing that clarity and conversation (like this article) and we are encouraged by having these conversations with our members. By giving it a voice there is the opportunity of positive change.
Health professionals, MSP’s, Community Engagement Officers, our loved ones and men themselves have been looking for many decades for a such a place. Now we have it and it is steadily growing but also struggling through confusion, fake news and old fears. The SMSA’s work is to support and educate by being at the forefront of male health needs and support the independent Scottish Men’s Sheds movement thrive well beyond the 21st Century.
Men’s Sheds are for men to also be able to spend valuable time apart from their loved ones and not having to live in each other’s pockets all the time. Many women in Scotland have been enjoying this experience and continue to do so for the past 100 years by being members of the Scottish Women’s Institute. The Scottish Men’s Shed is the 21st Century equivalent for Scottish men. I hope that has given some deeper understanding of what we are working on achieving. It’s a complex social ‘inherited’ knot, but together we can unravel it and create better life experiences for ourselves, our loved ones and our communities.