Walking into the North Belfast Men’s Shed on a Monday morning there is a real sense of belonging. The kettle was on, conversation flowed about the weekend, and everyone seemed comfortable in this familiar setting. Those attending say it’s about meeting like-minded people and gaining a renewed sense of purpose in addition to the ever-present craic and banter. The cluttered notice board displayed a list of upcoming events ranging from Ukulele, calligraphy, and cooking classes to walking groups, health checks, furniture restoration and a planned trip to the Jewish synagogue. Equipped with a full workshop the men had recently spent time making buddy benches for local primary schools, crafting Christmas logs and miniature mahogany Christmas trees which will be sold to raise money for the group. It is clear that there is no limit to what you can experience once you take that first step in becoming involved.

As I was leaving a donation of wooden pallets arrived and it was all hands on deck to disassemble them, a renewed sense of busyness filled the room with each man stepping forward to do his bit. This particular shed has been operating from 2012 and has over 40 regular attendees. The eldest man, who drives to the shed every day, was 92 and the baby of the group was only 47. Previously, sheds were only available to men over 50 but this has been relaxed and this particular shed is open to those over 18. As we all know, there is no age restriction on wanting, or needing, company.

Statistically men find it more difficult than women to build and keep social connections. Men tend to have fewer friends who they would feel comfortable sharing personal concerns with and later in life, many men find they have very little friends at all. For some men, retirement or bereavement can result in feeling lost- both in regard to their personal identity and their purpose. In direct response to this there has been the creation of Men’s Shed, a local place for men to go to have regular social interactions, participate in a variety of activities, and learn new skills. Men’s Shed have seen a rapid growth in start-ups and popularity in recent years. There are approximately 350 sheds and 10,000 ‘Shedders’ in Ireland, North and South.

No two sheds are the same in terms of the building’s structure or the activities they engage in. However, the essence of the shed, irrespective of where it is based, is that they reduce isolation and feelings of loneliness. They allow men to deal with mental health challenges more easily, remain independent, and engage with their peers in active community life. It is all about making connections and building friendships between members.

Are you involved in a local Men’s Shed? Share your experiences, tell us why your Shed is so successful, encourage other men to become involved. Join or start the conversation below.

If you want to find out where the closest shed is to you, email us at hello@malemenu.co.uk  and we will be delighted to direct you to your local shed.