Men’s Sheds and lifelong learning
Someone once observed that talk about social enterprise is never very far from a Gandhi quote. Here’s one on learning…
curiosity and acquiring new skills at any age is a great way to sustain mental wellbeing. For older learners, it may also stave off the onset of degenerate diseases associated with ageing.
The University of the Third Age (U3A) recognises this, providing opportunities for retired and semi-retired people to come together to learn, in their words ‘not for qualifications but for its own reward: the sheer joy of discovery’. Another important element in the U3A model is the idea of everyone being able to share the life lessons that come with age. Members share specific skills, alongside professional and personal experiences: the learners teach and the teachers learn, with no distinction between them.
In the ‘lifelong learning’ sector, men are recognised as a ‘hard to reach’ group; the thirst for learning in later life is recognised as being more prevalent amongst women than men. This is reflected in Dacorum, south west Herts, where the U3A group have an impressive 1300 members, but with women in the majority.
Publicity for The Repair Shed* in the U3A Dacorum bulletin generated a response from four people. Interestingly, two were women keen to learn the sort of home maintenance skills – fixing fuses and dripping taps etc – that their husbands had always sorted when they were alive. One of the women and one of the men are due to join The Repair Shed in early 2015.
The Repair Shed, and Men’s Sheds more generally, aim to involve older men in informal learning with skill-sharing being a common strand in most programmes of activity, alongside making, mending and general ‘tinkering’.
Food for the body and brain
Within The Repair Shed, extended skill-sharing is promoted through a time banking facility which records and rewards the input of members (one hour earns one time-credit). Members can then use their time-credits to ‘buy support’ from other members of the time bank.
Cooking is a good example of how this can work. Older men living on their own tend to need to support when it comes to healthy eating. A Repair Shed member wanting to learn how to cook a favourite dish or gain other basic culinary skills can ‘buy cooking lessons’ from other members with relevant skills. In Australia – the home of the Men’s Shed movement, ‘learning by doing’ is a feature of cooking where meals are the outcome of experimentation rather than slavishly following recipes. The same, incidentally, goes for health education; peer-to-peer encouragement to get professional advice about things like prostate problems being far more effective than bringing in a health professional.
Back in The Repair Shed the plan is to share skills within the group (learning about metal work is a common interest…) before going public to embrace the wider community – with workshops for all ages and abilities in DIY, repair and re-use. Exciting times and lots to learn!
Thanks to Chris Lee @leeinroyston for this article.