David Helmers address to the Irish Men’s Shed’s Forum.

David Helmers, Executive Officer, Australian Mens Shed Association

To the Irish Men’s Sheds Forum

Hello Shedders

Firstly I must convey my sincere congratulations to all of you for making it this far in developing your sheds and especially in starting your organisation to support and represent your sheds. When I first started work on the Australian Mens Shed Association never in my wildest dreams would I ever have believed that AMSA would have developed into what we are today? In 2007 AMSA was no more than those four letters in 2010 we have over 500 sheds registered in Australia and we recently received 3 million dollars in federal government assistance to administer the association. Proof that nothing is imposable.

Humans are naturally social, Social networks provide us with emotional, psychological and material support to cope with stress. What happens then, when we become socially isolated? Today, people in Western countries no longer live in extended families they often live thousands of kilometres or even across the world from their relatives, and more and more people are living alone. Loneliness is becoming increasingly common and tends to affect men more than women. Older males are particularly vulnerable to social isolation as they often live on their own, may not have access to transport, and are no longer in the workforce. But men can often find themselves living in a large urban city with absolutely no social connection. This is quite often attributed to unemployment, but can extend to many other contributories other than a poor social network, in today’s society men can spend far too much time at work trying to simply “make ends meet trying to pay the expenses of living” and do not physically have the time for friends and family. Also men often do not socially interact as well as women, all of which can lead to Social Isolation, the true burden of poor health.

A recent study published in the Public Library of Science Medicine indicates that having a poor social network is just as bad for a person’s health as heavy smoking and drinking, and twice as bad for one’s health as being obese. In a shed men are not alone we have friends, to share our skills and knowledge, to share in our laughter and to talk to about those things that we normally would not. The motto of the Australian Mens Shed Association is “Men don’t talk face to face they talk shoulder to shoulder” this has been our simple recipe for the success of the Mens shed.

Australia’s recently released National Male Health Policy recognises the impact of social isolation on health. The Policy encourages a move towards social connectedness with the support of Men’s Sheds, an initiative which is in line with the recommendations of the policy. Health care policies and public health initiatives could benefit from considering social factors in efforts to reduce mortality, because social relationship–based interventions represent a major opportunity to enhance not only the quality of life but also survival. But the Australian Male Health Policy was not the first official government document to mention Mens Sheds; it was actually the Irish Governments Mens Health Policy of 2009 that mentioned the benefits of social health in programs such as Mens Sheds in Australia as an effective way of engaging men.

The Men’s Sheds initiative is effective because it can reach older and isolated men that would not usually be part of men’s health programs. Men from all walks of life, a wide range of backgrounds and varying skill levels, can belong to a shed. Men are often seen as the hardest group to engage with, yet there is little encouragement within our society for men to take an interest in their own health and well being. Men’s Sheds are proving that if we work with their strengths and if we provide ‘men friendly’ environments, then we can effectively engage with men in health service delivery.

It has taken three long years of hard work and perseverance to secure funding for AMSA. But in retrospect it was very quick! Many peak body organisations have contacted me to inquire “How the (blip) did you blokes do that!” The answer is quite simple – because we had many men and their families around Australia who believed in their shed and what they were doing! AMSA just conveyed the message to the government.

The Australian Mens Shed Association was born on the belief of freely sharing information between sheds; I now offer this in the form of an extension to the Irish Mens Shed Forum to share in our knowledge and support in establishing  your organisation and to go forward and seek support from your government for your sheds.

Sometime this year I shall hopefully be able to travel to Ireland and to meet with you all personally in the meantime I would like to invite you to attend our next Conference in Brisbane, August 21st – 23rd Our target is for over 450 delegates to attend the 3 day event with a large number of international delegates expected. Registrations for submissions are open and this year we are requesting sheds submit presentations or posters to highlight their shed. These shall be displayed statically around the venue.

In contemplation over the last three years, AMSA has gone from strength to strength to what is now the largest male focused Association in Australia and the concept is growing! New Zealand, Ireland and the UK have, or are in the process of forming, national associations and affiliations with AMSA. The shed concept has gone global! One thing I do assure shedders everywhere, from one shedder to another is that I feel very proud of what sheds have achieved, I also feel very privileged and honoured to have been a part of this growth and no matter how large an organisation we become, we will ensure that the association always remains true to its origins – of a grass roots organisation that believes in sharing information and ideas and is of the benefit of all men.

In closing I wish you all the best for your endeavors at hand in developing the Irish Mens Shed Forum and you have the full support of myself and that of the Australian Mens Shed Association in surmounting the many challenges that lie ahead. To help you through these tasks I give you a quote that a shedder once said to me “Mens Sheds are not just about building wooden toys and fixing furniture, they are also about building communities and fixing men”

Thank you

David Helmers

Executive Officer

Australian Mens Shed Association