Sunday, June 23, 2024

Ireland is growing fast, but what about the US?

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Last summer, while cycling along Ireland’s Waterford Greenway, I came across a metal sculpture and its accompanying story about metal workers in the Dungarvan area.

Art and descriptions were placed there by Dungarvan Gentlemen’s Cottage.

Men’s shed? A quick internet search introduced me to the wonderful world of Men’s Sheds.

The beginning of the men’s cottage

Originating in Australia, Men’s Sheds are usually, but not exclusively, places for older men to come together to work on projects.

Originally a hobby shed, the range of projects undertaken has expanded. Staying true to the origins of the hobby, some of the cabins are equipped with woodworking equipment for making furniture and holiday decorations. Other sheds focus on repairing bicycles and donating them to the local community. Some huts work on community projects such as park clean-ups, literacy education, and fundraising. And by “hut” I might mean a meeting room in a community center where men just gather and talk.

The focus of each hut is determined by its members (huts), so in addition to the aforementioned examples, beekeeping, lectures, choirs, health initiatives, walking clubs, model trains, and as I discovered public Projects such as works of art can also be considered.

There are now more Men’s Sheds in Australia (over 1200) than McDonald’s restaurants (1034).

Dubbed the George Washington of men’s sheds, David Helmer was the driving force behind the Australian Men’s Sheds Association (AMSA), which began establishing sheds across Australia in 2008, particularly in rural and remote areas.

The Shed’s original focus was as a hobby club, but it became a place where men felt supported. Helmer said Australian professor John McDonald “connected the dots” between huts, mental health and social isolation. When Dr. Barry Golding published his 2015 book The Men’s Shed Movement: The Company of Men, his work shed further light on this movement and its health benefits.

The collegial spirit of the hut reflected the tenets of the AMSA spirit, where men learned shoulder to shoulder while working. Another tenet of AMSA was that the sheds would be autonomous and self-funded, creating a franchise model. All hut members were equal and decisions were made democratically. The movement’s motto, Helmer explains, is that breakers “leave their egos and their pasts at the door.”

With support from the Australian Government through the Mental Health Authority, AMSA quickly expanded its movement across the country. Currently, he has more than 1,200 huts in Australia, a country with a population of 25 million people.

Ireland’s rapid growth

There are over 400 huts in Ireland, which is quite impressive for a population of 5 million people. The Irish Men’s Sheds Association (IMSA) he launched in 2012. By 2013, new sheds were opening every week across Ireland.

When shed construction began in Australia (2008), Ireland experienced the Celtic Tiger crash and unemployment rose, particularly in the construction industry. There were many men who had nothing to do.

According to IMSA founder John Evoy, Ireland’s explosive growth was due to a combination of factors: timing, footfall on the road and where are our sheds?

By 2012, the economy had not yet recovered, but Irish community organizers were organizing. At the time, IMSA was funded by the Irish Government through the Department of Rural and Regional Development.

Evoy visited Australia, adopted a highly successful franchise model there, and returned to Ireland with a good understanding of how to roll out a program. IMSA began supporting community organizers on the streets, especially in rural and remote areas where social isolation was more prevalent. Word of mouth and success spread quickly.

Ireland is a small country, so as soon as a hut is built in an area, the next town will be asking, “Where are our huts?” Evoy recalls that the steering committee recommended for a new hut was always in the car on the way home after a group of men visited the hut next door. Therefore, the competitiveness of the community and her IMSA drove the growth of the Republic and Northern Ireland as a whole.

All Ireland currently has the highest number of huts per capita of any country with a hut campaign. (See International Adoption.)

In the map below, blue stars represent multiple huts in the area. For example, below are huts in the Cork City area.

Irish Men’s Shed Association – Locations in Ireland.

Health through stealth

Although social isolation was an important element and advantage of the men’s shed, it was not the first selling point for men. Friendship and camaraderie were always the first attraction.

However, the Irish program incorporated a range of physical and mental health structures available to shedders. “Sheds for Life” and “Healthy Ireland” to name two.

Evoy described the messaging effort as “health through stealth.” The flyers in the shed about available programs always disappeared.

What about America?

So Men’s Sheds has very impressive coverage in Ireland and other English-speaking countries. I went to the USSMSA site and searched for cabins in New York City.

Clearly, the Men’s Shed movement hasn’t jumped the pond. still.

Locations of Men’s Sheds in the United States.

The hut movement grew in Australia and Ireland with recognition and support for the movement from their respective governments.

In 2010, the Australian Government’s National Men’s Health Policy, with support from AMSA, recognized the need and benefit of men’s sheds.

In 2012, the Irish Men’s Sheds Association (IMSA) received funding from the Irish Government through the Department of Rural and Regional Development.

In both cases, positive health outcomes were considered for government support. Men’s sheds were an effective way to reduce social isolation. “Social isolation is a tipping point for other (health) problems,” said Australia’s Dr. Helmer.

There is an American association working to promote this movement. However, according to Mark Winston, co-director of the United States Men’s Shed Association (USSMSA), there are two challenges: “volunteer awareness and volunteer identification.”

As part of the Shed initiative, the association’s directors are actively collaborating with the American Society on Aging, Men’s Health Network, Men’s Health Caucus, and Evolve 2023 – Senior Living Foresight. Their activities are showing signs of increasing awareness. Concerns about social isolation are steadily growing within the U.S. government.

Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy writes about social isolation and loneliness in the Harvard Business Review article “Reducing workplace isolation is good for business” (September 26, 2017). I am. (Both Australia’s Helmer and Ireland’s Evoy say Dr. Murthy’s research on social isolation is inspiring.)

Most recently, the Surgeon General classified the problem as an epidemic in his 2023 report, “Our Loneliness and Isolation Epidemic.” According to the recommendations, “social isolation and loneliness increase the risk of heart disease by 29 percent, stroke by 32 percent, and dementia in older adults by 50 percent.”

Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy recently introduced the National Strategy for Social Connectedness Act to create a national strategy to address America’s loneliness epidemic and promote social connectedness in our communities. proposed a bill.

New Jersey Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. proposed HR 5986, a bill that would create an Office of Men’s Health as part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

All of these efforts have resulted in increased awareness that the USMSA hopes will position the Men’s Shed as a relief solution, leaving behind the issue of voluntary volunteering.

When it comes to leadership, Steve Werner, co-director of USMSA, explains what it takes to run a successful shed. “It really depends on the motivation of the person doing this… it takes a lot of energy. … because it’s very difficult to find people with the stamina and courage to start a shed. … You really need a team.” In addition to a leader, there needs to be a steering committee advised by USSMSA. If you don’t, Werner laments, “you’re set for failure.”

That leadership can come from organizations that provide social services while expanding their leadership ranks.

Women play an important role in the creation and management of men’s sheds. US women account for her 25% of shed starters. Internationally, her 20% of shed starters are female. Given the democratic nature of the huts, women are welcome to move into the huts. Unsurprisingly, the recent bright spots for the American movement have come from women, as they are well-represented in social service organizations.

“I heard about the Men’s Shed concept while attending the American Society of Geriatrics in the spring of 2023. The idea for Men’s Shed is to focus on older men’s need for social connection, support and purpose. It was interesting to learn how these community spaces provide opportunities for men to come together, share skills, and participate in meaningful activities. ” explained Yvette Gosline, Chief Operating Officer, CMSW, Brunswick Senior Resources, North Carolina.

That thought was translated into action. Tammy Sutherland, also from Brunswick Senior Resources (BSR), was tasked with launching the Men’s Shed out of his five locations at BSR. Community research quickly drew attention to three of his facilities: one for model railroad enthusiasts, one to pursue his services to the community, and one to host discussions and storytelling. These three locations are currently home to Men’s Sheds.

Mr Sutherland said: “The beauty of the Men’s Shed is that it’s really men who decide what they want to do with the talents and skills they’ve developed over decades. It gives them extra purpose. …and they realize that they have a lot to contribute.” So part of the beauty is that (the shed) is self-directed and self-organized. ”

Therefore, with growing concerns within government and social care organizations about social isolation and loneliness, men’s sheds could be a viable solution. If the United States followed the successful steps taken by Australia and Ireland, providing government support and reaching out to existing social service organizations such as Brunswick Senior Resources, we would have leaders willing to work side by side with men. There may be more. Together we are stronger.

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