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  • Men’s Shed patron in Australia amazed by movement’s growth here

    Noel Hickey in the Kilarney Men’s Shed

    An academic researcher who contributed significantly to the growth of the Men’s Shed movement in Australia — where it all began — has admitted to being highly impressed by the growth of the organisation in Ireland.

    The remarkable growth of the movement in Ireland in the past five years has been such that we now have more outlets per head of population than Australia, the country which came up with the idea in the mid-1990s to improve the overall health of its males.

    There are 1,200 sheds Down Under compared to 230 in Ireland, according to George Kelly, chairman of the Irish Men’s Sheds Association.

    Apart from an obvious need for places to which men with time on their hands could go, he said, co-operation between individual sheds was important. “There’s a great support network throughout Ireland,” Mr Kelly said.

    “While each shed is an independent entity, they network with each other, help with problem-solving, and share experiences.”

    Associate professor Barry Golding, patron of the movement in Australia, recently visited Ireland and noted that sheds here differ markedly from others internationally because of their community links.

    Sheds in Ireland are already very well networked in contrast to other countries, said Prof Goulding, who who has dedicated much to the shed movement and is renowned internationally among “shedders”.

    An experienced researcher in adult, vocational and community education, he is the author of a NCVER publication, Men’s Sheds in Australia: Learning through community contexts, which has been one of the most valuable tools and most common references for those initiating a men’s shed project.

    He conceded: “Ireland has a history of community development which we don’t have in Australia. You’ve got community ‘agency’ at grassroots level and it’s beautiful.”

    Finding a suitable premises and then paying rent can, however, create difficulties in some areas.

    Mr Kelly, who heads the Irish movement, said the aim should be for communities to push for rent-free sheds.

    “If shed members have to raise sizeable amounts of money regularly to pay rent, undue pressures can be created and sheds can become unsustainable,” he said.

    Mr Kelly had been instrumental in setting up a shed in Killarney, Co Kerry, in a building given by the Kerry Mental Health Association which is virtually rent-free.

    The South Kerry Development Partnership also granted aid to the project.

    Prof Golding, meanwhile, singled out the Killarney shed — in the former Ross Products factory building — as an example of good practice and a project that ran deep into the community, with upwards of 70 members.

    The popular image of a shed is a place with benches where men go to meet and work with their hands.

    The Killarney shed has metalwork on one side and woodwork on the other, but there’s much more going on there.

    Green-fingered people, for instance, can grow things in a polytunnel; there are music sessions in the “rambling shed’’, and day trips, guided walks, and cycling trips are also organised.

    A shed in neighbouring Killorglin town even has a choir which sings regularly at public events.

    Killarney shed chairman John Quill said they were broadening the concept of the shed and were open to ideas on activities.

    “We’re developing the social side of things all the time. The important thing is how men spend their day and that they’ve a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

    “We set out to make things as varied and as interesting as possible,’’ he explained.

    Mike Myers, an active member with a background in engineering work, makes his own expertise available, as do many other men.

    “We have men from all kinds of backgrounds. Some had high-powered jobs and others have little or no skills, but there’s a place for everyone here. We need new people with new ideas. It’s not a closed shop.”

    Mr Myers admitted to being “dragged” into the movement by his friend Mr Quill, but he is now an enthusiast very much involved in networking between sheds within the movement.

    “I love a challenge and like to do things that challenge me,’’ he said.

    “With the disappearance of the crossroads forge and the creamery, once-valuable social outlets where people met regularly have been lost.

    “In a way, sheds are now helping to fill that vacuum.”

    Meanwhile, Prof Golding, who is conducting further research on the movement, said he was “quite stunned” at the growth of sheds in Kerry — with upwards of a dozen opening within the last three years alone.

    Thanks to all the Participants in the piece and to the Irish Examiner for the Article