Constructing Connections: A profile of Menâ€™s Sheds in Tasmania
Acknowledgements The Authors would like to acknowledge the Tasmanian Men’s Sheds Association and all of their members who so generously gave their time to this project. A special thanks must go to Geoff Marsh, Executive Officer of the TMSA, who worked with us tirelessly throughout the project, providing introductions, information and insights in equal abundance (and coffee). Thank you also to the TMSA Committee who tested all our survey instruments and provided wonderful guidance and support throughout the project. We are incredibly grateful to the sheds in which we held our focus groups; Dover Community Workshop, Central Highlands Men’s Shed, Channel Men’s Shed, Central Coast Community Shed, Derwent Valley Men’s Shed and The Shed (Veterans and Community Wood Centre), your contribution to the project was invaluable, and we thank you for your honesty and your willingness to share your stories with us.
This project was supported by Primary Health Tasmania under the Australian Government’s Primary Health Networks Program.
Authors: Dr Lisa Schimanski and Ms Emily Johnston, Tasmanian Council of Social Service.
Executive Summary The Tasmanian Council of Social Service (TasCOSS) was commissioned by Primary Health Tasmania (PHT) to work with the Tasmanian Men’s Shed Association (TMSA) and its member sheds, to undertake a study about Men’s Sheds in Tasmania. The objective was to build a profile of Men’s Sheds in the State, including the demographic characteristics of their members and the operation and governance of the sheds. The study aimed to gain insight into the benefits of Men’s Sheds to their members, particularly to their health and wellbeing. It also explored the benefits of Men’s Sheds to their communities and examined the potential role of Men’s Sheds as community advocates. The scope of the study was limited to the 49 Men’s Sheds which were recorded in the TMSA database. The scope encompassed all members and executive members of these sheds. In order to achieve the project aims, a survey of members was undertaken, in addition to a survey of an executive member of each shed. Focus groups were also conducted in six sheds around the State. The study found that the Tasmanian Men’s Shed member is usually a retired male over 65 years of age, but otherwise fits well within the demographic profile of Tasmanian men. Gender was found to be an integral aspect in many, but not all, Men’s Sheds. According to members, the primary benefits of Men’s Shed attendance were friendship and social connection. The health benefits were increased health and wellbeing associated with being a member, rather than health benefits derived from active health promotion within the sheds. Nevertheless, health promotion is an important and acknowledged component of Men’s Shed activities, when delivered in moderation. For a small but important cohort of Men’s Shed members, the sheds provided a secondary health prevention or early intervention to disrupt the progression of mental health issues. Some research has indicated that Men’s Sheds are well positioned to deliver health promotion to priority subpopulations of males in Australia. In Tasmania, Men’s Sheds do reach the priority population of older men in regional areas; however, more work would be required to determine whether Men’s Sheds are substantially reaching the priority population of men living in socio-economic disadvantage. The benefits of Men’s Sheds to their members cannot be over-stated; however they should not be used in isolation as a health promotion strategy. The Federal and Tasmanian governments need to support a wide range of male health promoting activities and organisations, to ensure they reach a broad spectrum of males, including all the male priority subpopulations. The position of both individual sheds and the TMSA could be strengthened through greater communication and sharing of resources and experiences with one another. Men’s Sheds provide enormous and diverse benefits to their local communities and this contribution warrants greater recognition.
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Contents Acknowledgements ...................................................................................................................................... 1 Executive Summary ...................................................................................................................................... 2 Introduction.................................................................................................................................................. 4 Project Aims ................................................................................................................................................. 5 Background and Context .............................................................................................................................. 6 Methods ..................................................................................................................................................... 11 Results ........................................................................................................................................................ 13 Discussion ................................................................................................................................................... 32 Conclusions................................................................................................................................................. 41 References .................................................................................................................................................. 42
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Introduction The Australian Men’s Shed Association (AMSA) defines a Men’s Shed as ‘any community-based, nonprofit, non-commercial organisation that is accessible to all men and whose primary activity is the provision of a safe and friendly environment where men are able to work on meaningful projects’ (AMSA, 2016). Whilst the Men’s Shed concept is thought to have first emerged in response to the decline of the traditional backyard shed, there has been increasing interest in the potential benefits of Men’s Sheds to the health and wellbeing of their members and their communities. This study arose from the recognition that there was a lack of documented evidence to demonstrate the benefits of Men’s Sheds in the Tasmanian context. The Tasmanian Council of Social Service (TasCOSS) was commissioned by Primary Health Tasmania (PHT) to work with the Tasmanian Men’s Shed Association (TMSA) and its member sheds, in order to better understand the particular characteristics of Tasmanian sheds. The aim was to examine the impact of Men’s Sheds on the health and wellbeing of their membership and their communities, with a focus on the role of Men’s Sheds within the framework of preventative health. This reflects the interest of PHT in the social determinants of health, which embodies aspects such as connection to community, productive participation in meaningful activities, peer-support and training, as well as promotion of health and wellbeing. The study also fits within the broader scope of the TasCOSS Emerging Voices Project. It well known that grassroots organisations such as Neighbourhood Houses, service clubs, school associations and playgroups can play a strong role in community advocacy. TasCOSS’ Emerging Voices Community Advocacy Model encompasses the idea that when people are empowered to change things in their communities, then whole systems can change (TasCOSS, 2016). The focus of this model is to give people the confidence, skills and knowledge to make a difference for their community. This approach recognises that local people know their communities best and care most about their future, yet often do not have the resources to make the changes they want. TasCOSS identified Men’s Sheds as grassroots organisations that may be significant to the Emerging Voices Advocacy Model, particularly in relation to understanding the needs of Men’s Sheds and assisting them to advocate for outcomes related to the social determinants of health. Through this lens, it is important to consider the role that Men’s Sheds play, or could play, in their communities. This includes examining the work undertaken in the sheds which directly benefits the broader community, as well as exploring whether sheds currently act, or could act, as catalysts for community change.
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Project Aims 1. Understand the demographic profile of members of Men’s Sheds in Tasmania: the types and geographic distribution of people that utilise Men’s Sheds. 2. Understand the operation and governance of Men’s Sheds in Tasmania. 3. Better understand the benefits of Men’s Sheds to the community and to members. 4. Identify the needs and issues relevant to Men’s Sheds in Tasmania and how to support them to advocate for outcomes.
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Background and Context The following provides a scan of both peer reviewed and ‘grey’ literature on the recent research that has been undertaken on Men’s Sheds, both in Australia and internationally. The focus of this review is on health and wellbeing and health promotion; however it also encompasses other core aspects of Men’s Sheds including education and learning opportunities; and creative and meaningful engagement. The limitations of the current research and its relevance to the Tasmanian context are also discussed.
Men’s Sheds in Australia and Tasmania The origin of Men’s Sheds in Australia is not entirely clear; however Misan (2008) reports that the first sheds were established in Albury and Broken Hill in 1978. Although Australia is commonly considered as the birthplace of Men’s Sheds, it appears that the Albury Men’s Shed was inspired by a local Rotary club member who had seen a similar model operating in his hometown of Ede, Holland (Misan, 2008). Men’s Sheds have proliferated over the following decades, predominantly in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. The Australian Men’s Shed Association was formed in 2007 and now has a member base of 930 sheds, with many more non-member sheds in existence (AMSA, 2016). In 2015 Tasmania had the highest number of Men’s Sheds per capita of any State; with 37 sheds signifying 7.25/100,000 population (Golding, 2015). Since then, the number of sheds affiliated with the TMSA has risen to 51 (10.1/100,000 population), not accounting for the further 6-8 known sheds in the State which are not members of the TMSA (G. Marsh, personal communication, 2016). The TMSA was established in 2009 and has received funding through the Department of Premier and Cabinet ($550,000 over 3 years from 2015-2017) to support the operation of their sheds.
International Context In recent years the Men’s Shed concept has begun to spread internationally, with sheds being established in New Zealand, Canada and the UK (Wilson and Cordier, 2013). An International Men’s Shed Organisation (2016) has been jointly funded by the Australian Men’s Shed Association and the Irish Men’s Shed Association, with the objective of supporting the development of Men’s Sheds worldwide. Menzshed New Zealand (2016), the association for Men’s Sheds in New Zealand, was established in 2013 (menzshed.org.nz). They currently have 107 member sheds and approximately 3000 individual members nationally (R. Bowman, personal communication, 2016). In England and Ireland, the first sheds appeared in 2009. The Irish Men’s Shed Association was founded in 2011 and now has over 200 member sheds (menssheds.ie). The UK Men’s Shed Association was later established in 2013. They currently have 334 sheds, with 6679 individual members. They have a further 84 sheds under development, with an average of 4 sheds opening each week (menssheds.org.uk).
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In Canada, the first shed appeared in 2011, while the Canadian Men’s Shed Association was formed in 2015 (menssheds.ca). The association aims to have 20 sheds established by the end of 2016 (International Men’s Shed Organisation, 2016). Wilson and Cordier (2013) note that there is anecdotal evidence of Men’s Sheds existing in other countries including Finland, Belgium, Croatia and Uganda; however there is a lack of documented evidence to confirm this.
Men’s Health in Australia In Australia, as in other Western countries, there is a disparity in the morbidity and mortality rates between the sexes, with the levels of health and wellbeing of males generally lower than that of females (AIHW, 2011; ibid, 2012). Whilst this is in part due to the biological distinctions of the different sexes, it is also shaped by the socially constructed roles, expectations and behaviours associated with the male gender and masculinity (AIHW, 2011). As such, Evans et al. (2011) state that gender and masculinity are an important, but under-acknowledged, social determinant of health. Within the Australian context, The Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing (2012) recognises that certain male subpopulations have distinct and special health needs. In particular they identify Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males; males living in regional and remote areas; males experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage; males born overseas; and males aged over 65 years. Flood and Blair (2013) assert that Men’s Sheds membership draws from a number of these high priority subpopulations, aptly placing Men’s Sheds to meet National Health Policy objectives. It is critical to consider, however, the extent to which the sheds may actually reach these subpopulations, before drawing conclusions about the potential scope of their impact. Further, it is important to note that the poorer health of males in Australia and other Western countries does not reflect the broader global context. It has been demonstrated by the World Health Organisation that in many countries women experience poorer health outcomes due to gender biases in political, economic and cultural structures (CSDH, 2008). The Australian Government’s National Male Health Policy acknowledges that many of the health issues experienced by Australian males are preventable, such as smoking related diseases, type 2 diabetes and obesity. The Policy addresses this through its focus on preventative health measures (Department of Health and Ageing, 2010).
Men’s Health in the context of Men’s Sheds Health Prevention The WHO (2001) defines health prevention as ‘approaches and activities aimed at reducing the likelihood that a disease or disorder will affect an individual, interrupting or slowing the progress of the disorder or reducing disability’. ‘Primary Prevention’ refers to actions aimed at reducing the likelihood of developing disease, such education programs; while ‘Secondary Prevention’ is concerned with early Page | 7
intervention to disrupt the development of a disease at an early stage (Department of Health and Ageing, 2010). Within the field of Primary Prevention, the scope is broadened from the traditional medical context, to include community programs, workplaces and other social settings (AIHW, 2011). The National Male Health Policy highlights the importance of shaping male health prevention programs in a way which effectively reaches male populations, which have found to be less likely than females to engage with conventional health prevention activities such as annual health checks and health information sessions (Department of Health and Ageing, 2010). In recognition of the potential of Men’s Sheds to provide a more accessible and effective outlet for preventive health promotion, $350,000 of federal funding was allocated through the National Male Health Policy for health promotion activities in Men’s Sheds (Department of Health and Ageing, 2010). One such activity is ‘Spanner in the Works’, a publication commissioned by the AMSA (2015) that utilises the imagery of an automobile to raise awareness about Men’s Health issues. Morgan et al. (2007) identify Men’s Sheds as well situated to facilitate health promotion activities, as engaging men in safe and well organised groups has been found to have positive health outcomes. Whilst specific health promotion activities do occur in some sheds, Misan et al. (2008) state that most sheds are not set up for this purpose, but rather to address issues of social isolation. Golding (2011b) goes further to suggest that subjecting Men’s Shed members to overt health promotion activities may actually deter some men from attending sheds. It is therefore paramount to consider the way in which health promotion is approached in sheds, and to examine health prevention through the lens of the broader impacts which Men’s Sheds have on the health and wellbeing of their participants. Men’s Health and Wellbeing In 2010, the Australian Government released the National Male Health Policy: Building on the Strength of Australian Males, along with $16.7M in funding to improve male health (Department of Health and Ageing, 2010). The AMSA received $3M over 4 years through this funding. This was in recognition of the role of Men’s Sheds in reducing social isolation. Morgan et al. (2010) assert that through participation in the community of the sheds, not only is social isolation decreased, but men experience a heightened sense of self-esteem and empowerment. Ormsby et al. (2010) maintain that central to an increased sense of purpose is engagement in meaningful activities, whilst Ballinger (2009) demonstrates the importance of a meaningful and regular male-specific place in which to congregate. These findings are consistent with the 2013 study commissioned by AMSA and Beyondblue to determine the extent to which membership of Men’s Sheds had a positive effect on health and wellbeing. This was a comprehensive, Australia-wide study which compared shed members with non-shed members. It found that sheds provide a self-directed space for constructive activity and social connectedness; a place to meet new people and regain a sense of purpose (Flood and Blair, 2013). Whilst Flood and Blair (2013) consider social connection to be an indirect health benefit of Men’s Sheds, the consistent findings surrounding the impact of social connectedness on mental health demonstrate that it is of central importance. Misan et al. (2008) emphasise this idea through their finding that men Page | 8
rate social wellbeing as more important than physical health. The Misan et al (2008) report, which was commissioned by the AMSA, was pivotal in attracting Federal Government funding, highlighting the focus and value placed on the role of social connectedness in preventative health strategies.
Education and Learning Opportunities According to Merriam and Kee (2014), the value of informal learning is often disregarded as it falls outside the domain of traditional educational institutions. Nevertheless, they contend that informal learning environments have the potential to reach socially disadvantaged or isolated groups by overcoming barriers to more traditional and formal modes of learning. Golding (2011a) claims that Men’s Sheds address this need amongst the population of older men, by providing a space for hands on, practical and informal learning, which satisfies a widespread, and often unfulfilled, aspiration to learn (Golding et al., 2007; Golding 2008). As social spaces, Men’s Sheds are an ideal place for collaborative learning, whereby the individual learns through working as a group (Cavanagh et al., 2014). In this way, in addition to learning trade skills, Men’s Sheds can foster a broad spectrum of interpersonal and social skills, such as communication, conflict resolution and problem solving (Morgan et.al, 2007). Although the focus of adult education has traditionally aimed at creating vocational pathways, this is of limited relevance in a space where many men have retired or are unable to work. Nonetheless, the learning which occurs in sheds has the potential to increase both the social capital and quality of life of its members (Golding et. Al, 2007; Merriam and Kee, 2014). From this perspective, Merriam and Kee (2014: 128) assert that continued learning for older adults, such as that which occurs within Men’s Sheds, contributes to overall community wellbeing by fostering ‘an active and engaged lifestyle that helps create and preserve community.’
Creative and Meaningful Engagement In their study of the relationship between recreational arts engagement and mental wellbeing in the general population of Western Australia, Davies et al. (2016) found that spending at least two hours a week engaged in creative activity had a positive impact on mental wellbeing. In the context of Men’s Sheds, it has been noted that the practical activities undertaken in the sheds can facilitate the development of social and emotional connections amongst the men (Hansji et al, 2015). On an individual level, the sense of pride which results from creating and completing projects can develop selfesteem (Fildes et al., 2010). In their qualitative study of the mental health of participants at a woodworking workshop, Mee and Sumison (2001) found that participation in meaningful occupation provides a sense of purpose and fosters intrinsic motivation, autonomy and self-determination. The capacity of meaningful engagement to reduce social isolation can have broader impacts on the community, by enhancing social connectedness and cohesion (VicHealth, 2003). In this way, it can be seen that creative and meaningful engagement in the broad range of practical activities undertaken at Men’s Sheds, can have positive impacts on both individual members and the broader community.
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Limitations of Current Research As the rise in popularity of Men’s Sheds has been a relatively recent phenomenon, there is not a substantial body of research in this area. Further, the vast majority of research has been generated in Australia. Most of this has been commissioned work and largely sits within the ‘grey’ literature, thus it is not peer-reviewed. Wilson and Cordier’s (2013) literature review on the research around Men’s Sheds provided a comprehensive analysis of the work undertaken to that date. One of their primary concerns was that in many of the studies, the methodology of the qualitative analyses conducted was not clearly articulated. Further, there was very limited use of inferential statistics, which would have allowed contextualisation of data and would pinpoint for future researchers the types of associations that need to be further explored. Two recent studies (Cordier and Wilson, 2013; and Flood and Blair, 2013) have gone part way to building a more robust research base around Men’s Sheds. There has been very limited examination of the specific health benefits of Men’s Sheds, particularly the mental health benefits of belonging to Men’s Sheds. Flood and Blair’s (2013) study has provided a comprehensive insight into the mental health and wellbeing benefits associated with Men’s Shed membership. However, this study did not go as far as exploring the directionality of causation. That is: do more health literate and proactive men join Men’s Sheds to ensure they sustain good health and wellbeing, or does membership of Men’s Sheds improve men’s mental health and wellbeing? In all likelihood this type of future research would involve a longitudinal study. Although it has some limitations, the research that has been conducted has clearly articulated some key benefits of Men’s Sheds and posed more questions to further explore in more depth the nature of these benefits. Broadly, this body of research appears to be highly relevant to Tasmanian Men’s Sheds and has informed the planning and implementation of the current project, as well as added context and depth to the findings.
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Methods Scope This study only included Men’s Sheds which were part of the TMSA. This was limited to the 49 sheds which were recorded in the TMSA membership database as of the 4th April 2016. The scope included all members and executive members of these sheds. There are a further 6-8 sheds known in Tasmania which are not affiliated with the TMSA (G. Marsh, personal communication, 2016).
Membership Survey A survey of shed members was undertaken, with the aim of constructing a demographic profile of the participants of Men’s Sheds, as well as gaining insights into the motivations and perceived benefits Men’s Shed attendance. The survey was designed using Survey Monkey and was available in hard copy and online. 500 surveys were sent to the 37 sheds who were willing to participate. In total, 246 responses were received from 28 sheds (57% of sheds).
Governance Survey and Interviews A governance level survey was conducted to ascertain the range of operational and governance models of Men’s Sheds in Tasmania; the connections and influence that Men’s have in their communities; and the willingness of Men’s Sheds to participate in health related activities. A member of the executive (President, vice-president, Treasurer, secretary or public officer) of each of the 49 sheds was contacted to participate. The survey was designed using Survey Monkey and was either conducted individually, online or in hard copy, or over the phone in the form of a structured interview. Responses were received from 44 out of the 49 sheds, a total of 90%.
Focus groups Focus groups were facilitated in 6 sheds, with the objective of developing deeper insights into the data gained through the Membership and Governance Surveys. The Focus groups were held at the following sheds: Central Highlands Men’s Shed; Dover Community Workshop; Central Coast Community Shed; Launceston Veteran’s Shed; Derwent Valley Men’s Shed; and Channel Men’s Shed. These sheds were selected based on fulfilment of criteria including geographic location; SEIFA index of area; and size and age of shed. This was designed to provide a representation of the broad range of sheds in the State.
Research Tool Design The design of the research tools used in this study was informed, to the extent which it was relevant, by the methodology used by Flood and Blair (2013) in their study of the degree to which membership of Men’s Sheds had a positive effect on health and wellbeing. Page | 11
Data Analysis Quantitative Analysis Descriptive analysis was undertaken using Excel spreadsheets created from the data collected through Survey Monkey. Categorisation of data followed the categories used in Survey Monkey. Any answers that were in the ‘other’ category were analysed manually for fit into another existing category or placed in a new category. Where applicable, survey data was compared to ABS data. Data sets used are noted in the results section. Qualitative Analysis Open ended questions in the Member Survey, Governance Survey and Focus groups were analysed using content analysis, whereby the text is broken down into small component units, then coded and sorted into categories. The frequency of occurrence in each category is then tallied in order to produce numerical data (Denscombe, 2010). Each data set was validated by two researchers by testing against each other for similarities and discrepancies (Visser et al., 2000). Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) The SEIFA Index of Relative Socio-economic Advantage and Disadvantage (2011) was used to rank both the Tasmanian LGAs and the specific locations of Men’s Sheds. The Australian Bureau of Statistics generates this data (Source: 2033.0.55.001 - Socio-economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA), Data Cube only, 2011). A definition of this index is included in the relevant results section. Mapping Tool Maps were created using Carto Mapping Software. Geographic data about Tasmanian LGAs was sourced from Land Information System Tasmania (maps.thelist.tas.gov.au).
Due to ethical considerations, direct questioning around mental health was not explored in this project. It was not possible to contact every shed to participate in the study as there was a lack of contact details for three of the sheds and a lack of response from a further two sheds. Convenience Sampling was utilised for the Member Survey. All Men’s Shed members were offered the opportunity to answer the survey either in hardcopy or electronically; however it is likely that it would be the more engaged members of Men’s Sheds that responded. Therefore the results of the survey may not be representative of the broader population of Men’s Shed members. Inferential analysis of data have not been undertaken to date but could be a rich source of further contextualisation and understanding of Men’s Sheds. The study was undertaken by two female project officers, which may have influenced the way in which the men responded in the Focus groups and the Governance Survey Phone Interview. Page | 12
Results Demographic Profile of Men’s Sheds Socio-economic circumstances of Men’s Sheds There is an estimated 60 Men’s Sheds across Tasmania, 49 of which are members of the TMSA: these are located across 23 of the 29 Local Government Areas (LGAs). 14 LGAs had multiple Men’s Sheds (Figure 1). The following LGAs also had Men’s Sheds: Kentish, Waratah/Wynyard, Circular Head and George Town. However they were not affiliated with TMSA at this time.
Figure 1: location of Men’s Sheds across the Local Government Areas, highlighting socioeconomic advantage/disadvantage. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) socio-economic indexes for areas (SEIFA) data was utilised to inform the demographic profile of Men’s Sheds. The Index of Relative Socio-economic Advantage and Disadvantage (IRSAD) is derived from the socio-economic indexes for areas (SEIFA) and summarises information about the economic and social conditions of people and households within an area, including both relative advantage and disadvantage measures. The lower the score, the more Page | 13
disadvantaged the people living in this area. The IRSAD scores for each of the Tasmanian LGAs have been summarized in quintiles.* Figure 1 displays the geographical profile of the relative socio-economic advantage and disadvantage across the state. The number of LGAs which fall within each quintile is listed in Table 1. As expected there is an even spread across the quintiles, as this is a relative measure and nearly all (23 of 29) LGAs have Men’s Sheds. Interestingly, when the number of Men’s Sheds that are located in each quintile are listed, there are a greater number of Men’s Sheds located in relatively more advantaged LGAs than disadvantaged LGAs (Table 1). Table 1: Relative distribution of LGAs and Men’s Sheds within SEIFA Quintiles SEIFA Quintile
Number of LGAs in each SEIFA Quintile
Number of Men’s Sheds in each SEIFA Quintile
Source: 2033.0.55.001 - Socio-economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA), Data Cube only, 2011 Geographic location of Men’s Sheds 69% of Men’s Sheds were located in towns or regions around Tasmania. Regions were defined as being distinct from major urban zones. 18% were in the major urban centres of Hobart, Launceston, Burnie and Devonport and 12% were located on the urban fringe, the outer suburbs of Hobart and Launceston (Table 2). Table 2: Geographic Location of Men’s Sheds Location
Number of Men’s Sheds
% of Men’s Sheds
* A quintile is a statistical value of a data set that represents 20% of a given population. Quintile 1 represents the 20% of LGAs that are most disadvantaged in Tasmania. Conversely quintile 5 represents the 20% of LGAs that are least disadvantaged in Tasmania.
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Organisational Profile of Men’s Sheds Year of Establishment The Tasmanian Men’s Shed movement appears to be a relatively new phenomenon, with all Tasmanian sheds having been established in the past 16 years. 49% of these sheds have been established in the last 6 years (Table 3). Table 3: Year of Establishment of Tasmanian Men’s Sheds Year
Governance Arrangements Tasmanian Men’s Sheds have two main governance arrangements: nearly half (22 sheds) are run as independently incorporated organisations, while the rest (24 sheds) are auspiced by another organisation. The types of organisations that auspice Men’s Sheds are Neighbourhood Houses, other community sector organisations and local councils (Figure 2).
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Governance Arrangements 7%
Aged care Organisation
Figure 2: Governance Arrangements Source of Funding The sheds were asked an open question about how they derived their funding. Figure 3 shows the source of the funds and the relative number of times a shed noted that they used a particular funding source. However, these results do not give an insight into the relative financial reliance of the sheds on each source of funding. Interestingly, 11 of the 24 auspicing organisations provided core funding for the sheds to operate.
Source of Funding
Fundraising and Donations
Work For Dole Host
Figure 3: Source of Funds Page | 16
Activities conducted in Sheds When asked about the types of activities that occurred in each of the sheds, there was an enormous variety of activities listed, with more than 30 individual activities noted. The results in Figure 4 show the activities grouped into broad categories and are represented proportionally by the number of times these activities were listed. There are three activities that were consistently mentioned by sheds: 44 of the 45 sheds that responded to this question listed woodwork as an activity; 28 of the sheds noted metal work; and 33 sheds noted projects for the community. Beyond these three core elements the diversity of activities conducted in the sheds was vast.
Activities conducted in the sheds
Leatherwork and upholstery
Projects for the community
bike and small engine repairs
Art, Craft and Pottery
Figure 4: Activities conducted in Sheds
Membership In total, there are 1561 members of Menâ€™s Sheds around Tasmania. On average there are 26 members per shed that attend on a regular basis (Table 4). The membership of the sheds varied markedly in their size, ranging from some sheds which had a core group of 6 regular members, up to a few sheds which had a regular membership of 180 members (Figure 5).
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Table 4: Membership of Tasmanian Menâ€™s Sheds Membership list
Average number of members per shed
Median number of members per shed
*Regular members attend the shed more than once a month
Figure 5: Regular Members of Tasmanian Menâ€™s Sheds
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Length of Men’s Shed Membership The majority of Men’s Sheds members (78%) had attended Men’s Sheds for more than 1 year, and more than half (59%) had attended Men’s Sheds for more than 2 years (Table 5). Table 5: Length of Men’s Shed Membership Length of Men’s Shed membership
Number of % Members
Less than 1 month
Between 1 and 3 months
Between 4 and 6 months
Between 7 and 12 months
Between 1-2 years
Between 2-5 years
More than 5 years
Demographic Profile of Men’s Sheds Members Gender of Men’s Shed Members As expected, there was a large gender imbalance in the membership of Men’s Sheds, with 95% of the membership being male (Table 6). Table 6: Gender of Men’s Shed Members Gender
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Age Profile of Members Men’s Shed membership in Tasmania is comprised predominantly of older males; 78% of members were older than 60 years (Figure 6).
Age profile of Men’s Shed Members 70.0 57.9
40.0 Total males Australia
20.0 10.0 0.0
Total males Tasmania Total Member survey
>18 18-29 30-44 45-59 60-74 (>20) (20-29)
Figure 6: Age profile of members of Men’s Sheds compared to the Australian and Tasmanian male population. NB: The categorization of age ranges differed slightly in the data collection compared to the ABS data. The age ranges in brackets are the ABS ranges. Source of ABS data: Population by Age and Sex, Regions of Australia, 2014 (cat. no. 3235.0)
The Educational attainment of members of Men’s Sheds The educational attainment of Men’s Shed members broadly reflected the educational attainment of the Tasmanian male population. As a percentage of the population, there were slightly more Tasmanian males that had competed a certificate or diploma than Men’s Shed members, and approximately 5% more of the Men’s Shed members that did not complete beyond year 10 level or equivalent. Interestingly, the Australian male population has higher levels of attainment than both the Tasmanian male population and the Men’s Shed members in Post graduate qualification, Bachelor degrees, and Year 11 and 12 (Figure 7).
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40.0 35.0 30.0 25.0 20.0 15.0 10.0 5.0 0.0
32 17 9
Total males Australia Total males Tasmania Total Members Survey
Figure 7: The Educational attainment of members of Men’s Sheds compared to the Australian and Tasmanian male population. Source of ABS data: 62270DO001_201505 Education and Work, Australia, May 2015
Employment Status of Men’s Shed Members More than 70% of Men’s Shed members were retired, with only 4.5% working full-time (Table 7). Table 7: Employment status of Men’s Shed members Employment Status
Employed, working full-time
Employed, working part-time
Not employed, looking for work
Not employed, NOT looking for work
Disabled, not able to work
Members could answer in more than one category Page | 21
Occupational category of members of Men’s Sheds The occupational profile of Men’s Shed members broadly reflects that of both the Australian and Tasmanian male population. Notably, there were slightly more managers within the Men’s Shed population than either the Australian or Tasmanian population, and more professionals in the Men’s Shed population than the Tasmanian population. There were slightly less labourers in the Men’s Shed population than either the Australian or Tasmanian population (Figure 8).
30 25 20 15 10 5 0
Total Males Australia Total Males Tasmania Total Members Survey
Figure 8: Occupational category of members of Men’s Sheds compared to the Australian and Tasmanian male population. NB: For the Men’s Shed members, this data relates to current occupation if still employed, or previous occupation if not longer working (e.g. retired). Source of ABS data: 2011 Census of Population and Housing, Occupation by sex, employed persons aged 15 years and over.
Relationship status of Men’s Shed members The relationship status of Men’s Shed members was compared to the Tasmanian male population aged over 45 years. The ABS age range was restricted to over 45 years to better reflect the age range of Men’s Sheds members, as 95.4% of Men’s Shed members are over 45. This comparison has its limitations in that the ABS categorisation differs slightly from the categories used in the survey of members. However, it appears that the relationship status of Men’s Shed members is representative of Page | 22
the Tasmanian population, except that the number of Men’s Shed members are slightly underrepresented in the single, never married category. However, this is most likely to be an artefact of the differences in the categorisation between the ABS and the member’s survey (Table 8).
Table 8: Relationship Status Tasmanian Males over 45 Relationship status
Response % %
In a domestic partnership or civil union
Single, but cohabiting with a significant other
Single, never married
Other (please specify)
Tasmanian Males over 65 years data was sourced from ABS Census of 2011 Census of Population and Housing, Registered Marital status by age and sex
Other demographic characteristics of the Men’s Shed members Other demographic characteristics of the Men’s Shed members included:
24.7% of members were born overseas, compared to 16.5% of the male Tasmanian population. 21% of members lived alone compared to 28% of the Tasmanian population. 0.8% of members identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander compared to 0.8% of the Male Tasmanian population. 5.3% of members spoke a language other than English at home compared to 4% of the Male Tasmanian population.
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Membership Motivation This was a categorised question, where members were asked to choose as many reasons for joining a Men’s Shed as were relevant to them. Almost 50% of respondents indicated meeting new friends and giving back to the community as motivations for joining the shed, closely followed by keeping busy (Figure 9). However, all of the motivations listed as categories appeared to be somewhat relevant to the members in their motivation to join. There were 19 responses in the ‘other’ category, which were analysed separately and grouped into the major categories where appropriate. Of the responses in the other category the most common motivation was ‘simply to use the tools in the shed or to do a specific project’. These findings were endorsed by the responses from the Focus groups.
Motivation for joining the Men’s Shed 60% 50% 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% To meet new friends
For my health
To learn To give To keep To share new skills back to the busy my community knowledge and expertise
Figure 9: Motivation for joining a Men’s Shed Please note these add up to more than 100% as respondents could answer in more than one category.
The Perceived benefits of attending Men’s Sheds Members Survey The members were asked an open-ended question about what they saw as the biggest benefit of belonging to a Men’s Shed. 221 members responded, a number of whom identified multiple benefits. The benefits identified were then grouped into 7 categories, as shown in Table 5. The most commonly identified benefit was friendship and social connection, which was highlighted by 72% of members; Page | 24
followed by learning and skills sharing which was mentioned by 28% of members (Table 9). The importance of friendship and social connection was also highlighted throughout the Focus groups.
Table 9: Members’ Perceptions of Benefits of Men’s Shed Attendance Category
Number of responses
% Members which responded (221)
Community Involvement/contribution; helping others
Health and Wellbeing
Keeping busy/something to do/making things
Access to tools and equipment
* Totals are more than 100% as respondents could answer in more than one category
Governance Survey Coordinators of sheds were asked an open-ended question about what they believed was the most important aspect of their shed to their members. 42 sheds responded, a number of which identified more than one aspect. As shown in Table 10, 67 responses were grouped into 7 categories, which mirrored the categorisation of the member’s perceptions of benefits shown in Table 5. Interestingly, friendship and social connection were identified as an important aspect by 39 sheds, accounting for 93% of sheds which responded (Table 10). Page | 25
Table 10: Shed Coordinators Perceptions of Benefits of Menâ€™s Shed Attendance Category
Number of Responses
% of sheds which responded (42)
Availability of tools and equipment
Learning new skills
Meaningful 5 Participation/making things
* Totals are more than 100% as respondents could answer in more than one category
Mateship and Male Space In the member survey, 160 respondents identified friendship and social connection as a benefit of Menâ€™s Shed membership. Of these, 33 (15% of total respondents) referred specifically to male company, including men, males, blokes or mateship. This was reflected in the findings of the governance survey, in which 14% of sheds that responded specifically referred to the importance of male company and space, when asked about the most important aspect of the shed to their members. The value of having a male specific space was also addressed in the Focus groups; however its relevance varied based on whether the shed was male only or had both male and female members.
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Proportion of members’ friends which are from their shed 70% of members indicated that up to 40% of their friends were from their shed. Almost half (44%) reported that 20% or less of their friends were from their shed (Table 11). Table 11: Proportion of Members’ friends which are from their shed
Percentage of friendships
Number of % Members
Members’ Perceptions of Benefits to their Health and Wellbeing Members were asked an open-ended question about whether there was anything they would like to mention about their health and wellbeing in relation to their Men’s Shed. 41 responses (16% of total survey responses) were categorized into 3 main categories. Significantly, 76% of these responses mentioned mental health and wellbeing or support as benefits of attending the Men’s Shed (Table 12).
Table 12: Members’ Perceptions of Benefits to their Health and Wellbeing Category
Number of responses
Percentage of total responses
Learning/awareness about health
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Health Promotion Health Promotion Activities in Sheds Shed coordinators were asked an open question about the types of health promotion activities which are currently undertaken in sheds. Of the 41 sheds which responded, a number identified multiple activities. Of the total responses, 27% had no formal health promotion, while 60% were engaged in some type of activity and 13% hoped to engage in promotion activities in the future (Table 13). 4 sheds noted that while they did not have specific health and wellbeing activities, the social connection and mentoring provided by the sheds were already providing health benefits. The relationship between social connection and membersâ€™ health and wellbeing was also highlighted by the Focus groups. It was also noted that each of the sheds where the Focus groups were conducted had health promotion materials available to its members. Table 13: Health and Wellbeing Related Activities in Sheds Type of Activity
Number of Responses
% Total Responses
No formal activities
Organised Talks and Tests
Information Available (E.g. pamphlets)
Future health promotion activities planned
Men's Health Week
Mental Health Programs
First Aid Training
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Potential for Further Health promotion activities in Sheds Shed coordinators were asked if they thought their members would be interested in having more health and wellbeing related activities in their shed. The responses were grouped into 3 categories, as shown in Table 14. Of the 40 sheds which responded, 40% said no, either their members were not interested or they were happy with the current activities that were provided. 35% said they would like more activities and 25% were unsure. Some respondents stated that their members were not actively seeking to be involved in more health and wellbeing related activities; however, if the opportunity presented they would be involved. This sentiment was echoed in the focus groups. Table 14: Would your members be interested in more health and wellbeing related activities? Category
% Total responses
Community Benefits Interactions with other organisations The sheds were asked to list up to five other organisations that they interact with and the nature of this interaction. There were 39 sheds that responded and they listed a total of 140 different organisations with which they interacted. These were categorised into 12 groups. The diversity of the organisations is compelling and indicates a deep connection between Menâ€™s Sheds and their local communities. The numbers on the graph (Figure 10) indicate the number of times an organisation was mentioned by a Menâ€™s Shed. The most common organisations that Menâ€™s Sheds interacted with were other community groups; service clubs; community service organisations/Government department; Non-Government Agencies (NGOs) and health services.
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Men’s Sheds interactions with other organisations 17
14 7 29
Aged care home
Health/Mental Health/disability Services
Community Service organisaiton/Govt/NGO
Figure 10: Men’s Sheds interactions with other organisations
The nature of the interactions Men’s Sheds had with these organisations was also categorised into 6 groups (Fig 11). There were 36 sheds that answered this question. The dominant interaction between Men’s Sheds and other organisations was provision of a community service or community projects. However, the other categories were also very well represented. The graph shows the relative number of times a shed mentioned an activity; sheds could mention multiple types of interactions.
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Types of Interactions that Men’s Sheds have with other organsiations 11% 16% 11%
Figure 11: Types of Interactions that Men’s Sheds have with other organisations
Community Voice Sheds coordinators were asked an open-ended question about whether they thought their shed had a voice in their communities. Although the data was qualitatively analysed, it was not possible to categorise the responses beyond the three categories below. 42 sheds answered the question and of these, almost half (48%) said that they did have a voice in the community; 19% felt they had a limited voice or did not actively seek to have a voice; while 33% said they either did not have a voice or did not want to have a voice. The Focus groups also produced a variety of responses to this question, highlighting the complexity of the topic. Table 15: Do you think that your Men’s Shed has a voice in relevant community issues? count
Yes Active Community Voice
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Discussion The Typical Tassie Bloke - Demographics of Men’s Sheds The defining characteristics of Tasmanian Men’s Sheds members are that they are generally older, retired males; aside from these factors they are broadly representative of the Tasmanian male population. Tasmanian Men’s Shed members are generally male, predominantly over 45 years of age and usually over 65 years of age. Most Men’s Shed members are retired or not in paid employment. Their educational attainment and occupation tends to broadly match the profile of the Tasmanian male population; in fact, there may be a slightly greater tendency of Men’s Shed members to have had managerial or professional roles than the general population. There appears to be no difference in the relationship status of Men’s Shed members and the Tasmanian male population over 45 years. Interestingly, the proportion of Men’s Shed members identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is representative of the Tasmanian male population over 45 years. However, there is a slightly greater likelihood that Men’s Shed members will have been born overseas and speak a language other than English at home than in the broader Tasmanian Male population.
Operation and Governance of Men’s Sheds Approximately half of the Men’s Sheds in Tasmanian have only been operating for around five years, with many still establishing activities and doing capital works. However, some have indicated they have already reached capacity and cannot take on any more activities due to space constraints. Membership numbers varied greatly between the sheds and ranged from 6 – 180 regular members (visited the shed more than once per month). Many sheds had many more official members than those that regularly attended; this aspect was not explored in detail, however in the Focus groups there were indications that this predominantly consisted of members’ wives who were social members, or men who came for social occasions or to use large equipment as needed. Most members have only been involved in Men’s Sheds for 5 years or less; this can in part be explained by the relatively recent rise in shed numbers in Tasmania. Auspicing is when one organisation agrees to support the administration and governance of another entity. Usually, but not always, this can involve financial administration, employment of staff where required, and provision of managerial support. About 50% of the Men’s Sheds were auspiced by another organisation, while the other 50% were independent incorporated associations. The financial circumstances of the Men’s Sheds were not examined; however, indications from the question around funding sources and comments within the governance surveys, suggest that those Men’s Sheds that were auspiced were more financially stable (or in less financial need) than independent Men’s Sheds. A number of respondents noted that their auspicing organisation provided core funding for the operation of the shed. This is a prima facie finding and would require a more targeted examination of the financial resources of the sheds to draw conclusions. Page | 32
A number of sheds interviewed through the focus groups listed future funding as their biggest challenge. Many had received large grants from local and federal funding bodies for capital works and smaller grants for equipment; however, the operating costs of many sheds appeared to be supported primarily through membership fees, which are generally a nominal amount (less $50 per year); the sale of products made by members; or services delivered to the community by members (small repairs, gardening etc.). Fundraising was also a primary source of income and included barbeques, member functions and attendance at markets and fairs. Some sheds showed great entrepreneurship in their fundraising, whilst others had strong relationships with their local council, service providers or local businesses, and could offset the running costs of the shed through in-kind support. However, other sheds appeared to be in marked financial difficulty. There was a strong indication through the focus groups that financial difficulty was related to the relative socio-economic status of the surrounding area. There may be scope for greater sharing of ideas, resources and skills between sheds, to assist sheds that are struggling financially. There was enormous variety in the activities conducted in sheds. It appears that most centered around woodwork of some description (with a few notable exceptions e.g. Hobart Hackerspace). However, a common theme within the focus groups was that the activities undertaken in the sheds were limited only to the interests of the members and the physical carrying capacity of the sheds. Many sheds interviewed stated that they were simply physically out of room to accommodate any more activities. In most sheds, new activities were driven by the membership rather than the executive. If a member was interested in something new and prepared to gather the support required to organize the activity, it went ahead. There was a very egalitarian approach to workspaces, resources and activities in many of the sheds interviewed, but also a recognition by most that some activities had to occur to generate funds for the operation of the shed. Many members spent the vast majority of their time on this activity.
Geography of Tasmanian Men’s Sheds Men’s Sheds that were members of the TMSA were located in 23 of the 29 LGAs. Kentish, Waratah/Wynyard, Circular Head and George Town also had Men’s Sheds but these were not currently members of the TMSA. Many LGAs had multiple sheds; therefore, there is a widespread geographical reach across Tasmania. Although a number of sheds noted local councils as either funding partners, auspicing organisations or a key stakeholder, the figures may not have been as high as expected given that there are Men’s Sheds in 23 LGAs in Tasmania. Further work may need to be conducted to elucidate the role local government does or could play in Men’s Sheds. Around 70% of the Men’s Sheds were located in towns or regional areas. This is not surprising given the dispersed nature of the Tasmanian population, but does indicate a propensity of Men’s Sheds to be frequented more by the regional population-base than by people living in major urban centres (this is discussed further in the Social Determinants of Health Section).
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SEIFA rankings and LGAs The index of relative socio-economic advantage and disadvantage (IRSAD) is a useful measure of the broad socio-economic circumstances of an area; the levels of disadvantage in an LGA are offset by the levels of advantage and vice versa. This appears to be a relevant measure when assessing whether any patterns can be seen in relation to Men’s Sheds locations and socio-economic circumstances. It is compelling that there are more sheds in the more advantaged LGAs, which may have implications for the social determinants of health (discussed below). This finding could also reflect the relative number of resources available in different LGAs. Potentially, relatively advantaged municipalities have more resources to support multiple Men’s Sheds, this includes the local council itself but also the surrounding community and business. Care needs to be taken in this proposition, however, as the proportion of support provided by local councils (and business/community) was not fully explored in this project. An important factor that needs to be noted is that the relative disadvantage within an LGA can be quite variable from one suburb/town to the next. Some Men’s Sheds are located within relatively disadvantaged suburbs within their LGA. For example the Men and Community Shed is located in the suburb of Ravenswood within the Launceston LGA. Ravenswood falls within the most disadvantaged quintile of suburbs in Tasmania, however Launceston as an LGA is markedly more advantaged. Although this is a factor to consider, the decision was made to analyse the relative disadvantage of geographical areas at the level of the LGA, to acknowledge that most Men’s Sheds have a catchment area much greater than the suburb in which the Shed is actually located.
Motivation for joining a shed Social Connection and community participation were overwhelmingly the dominant motivations for initially joining Men’s Shed. Compellingly, only 20% of the respondents indicated that they joined a shed for their health. ‘I didn’t know what to expect, but looked forward to meeting new people, having a chat. I try to be selfsufficient and supportive.’ Flood and Blair (2013) denote that significant life events often led to joining a shed. Throughout the focus groups it was expressed that a change of circumstance, including retirement or relocation, had lead many members to seek new social networks and regain a sense of purpose. The question was posed in the focus group whether the members were originally from the local area or if they had moved into the area. There was a significant cohort of Men’s Shed members that retired to a new community and used the local Men’s Shed as an effective way to connect with the community and make new friends. ‘I had an invitation from a neighbour and joined to get to know people and contribute to the community, relatively new to the town and wanted acceptance and to ‘not just be a passenger.’ Page | 34
Benefits of Men’s Shed Membership Social Connection In both the member survey and the governance survey most respondents identified friendship and social connection as a benefit of attending Men’s Sheds. This reflects Flood and Blair’s (2013) finding that social interaction was a major motivation for joining a shed, as sheds provide a space for social connectedness and reduce social isolation. Members were asked to nominate the percentage of their friendship group that were other members of their Men’s Shed. A high percentage of friendships from within the Men’s Shed could indicate that a member had a lack of social connection outside the Men’s Shed environment. Interestingly, around half of the members said that less than 20% of their friends were from their Men’s Shed, only 4% nominated that other men from the Men’s Shed made up more than 80% of their friendships. This finding suggests that although many members nominated social connection and friendship as primary benefits of the Men’s Shed, it appears to be more a case of broadening their social networks and participation than to reduce their social isolation. This issue of social connection versus social isolation would merit further investigation. Within the category of friendship and social connection, a number of specific aspects were identified. Some respondents highlighted the role of their shed in providing support to its members. This corresponded to the findings of the member survey, in which 4% of the members who identified friendship as a benefit of sheds, specified support. Male only space Another theme which emerged in relation to social connection was the value of having a male-only space (Ballinger, 2009). Approximately 20% of the responses related to friendship and social connection referred specifically to male company. This question of gendered environments was posed directly in the focus groups. The gender mix was interesting in these sheds. In one shed there were as many females as male members and a high proportion of couples; this appeared to be atypical of the sheds. Of the five other sheds involved in the focus groups, three had a strong male-only membership; although in all cases women used the rooms, and in some cases the equipment, on non-Men’s Shed days, often with the mentoring of some of the Men’s Shed members. The other two sheds did not have a strict ruling around gender and would welcome women, but had not actively sought their attendance at the shed. When questioned about why a male environment was important the answers were varied but followed a few themes, including the perception that men could relax more and behave more freely in a maleonly environment: ‘The language gets a bit blue; women are welcome but they would need to be deaf.’ Page | 35
This also related to comments that many of the men had worked in male-only environments and felt more comfortable with males, finding it harder to relate to women. Further, they commented that retirement often signified the loss of social networks, and particularly male relationships: ‘Coming from a male dominated workshop I can now continue and renew those male friendships I once had.’ There were other observations that women had a number of other outlets for female company but men had very few opportunities to have male-only company: ‘When they let us into the CWA, we’ll let them into the Men’s Shed.’ Within both the survey and focus groups a small number of respondents stated that their Men’s Shed provided an alternative to the pub as a place for men to congregate. The focus groups highlighted that the pub had traditionally been the place for men to meet in their community. Gender appears to be an important feature of many (but not all) of the sheds and is a factor that appears to define many Men’s Sheds as much as the tools. Learning and Skills Sharing Learning and skills sharing were identified by members as the second biggest benefit of Men’s Shed attendance. This reflected Golding’s (2007) claim that Men’s Sheds are valuable as a space for informal learning in older male populations. The responses from the focus groups and the member survey confirmed Merriam and Kee’s (2014) assertion that continued learning in older adults increased the quality of life of participants through keeping them active and engaged: ‘It keeps me mentally stimulated as I tend to think outside the square on a lot of issues.’ Meaningful Engagement When questioned about what was so good about ‘making stuff’, participants in the focus groups highlighted the sense of achievement, pride and purpose which it gave them. This demonstrates the idea that engagement in meaningful occupation provides a sense of purpose and builds self-esteem (Fildes et al., 2010; Mee and Sumison, 2001). In this light, it is seen that meaningful participation forms part of the positive impacts which Men’s Sheds have on the mental wellbeing of their members. It was also noted that the practical activities played an important role in facilitating the development of social and emotional connections, as found by (Hansji et al, 2015): ‘Men are generally socially inept compared to women and they need an excuse to get together and to open up.’
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It is important to note, however, that a number of shed coordinators emphasised the importance of having a place for men to talk, noting that sometimes their members simply talked rather than working on projects. It was also mentioned that some of their members were unable to work due to disabilities and attended the shed solely for the social interaction.
Health Whilst health was referred to as a benefit of Men’s Shed attendance by 15% members, it was overwhelmingly (76%) in relation to the mental health benefits of social connection. ‘I feel since joining the Men’s Shed my mental health has improved. As we know rural areas can have an isolating effect so the Men’s Shed is great for social and mental support.’ Overall, 13% of survey respondents mentioned their mental health in relation to the shed, while only 2% noted increased awareness of health issues through health promotion. These findings give strong indications that the perceived health benefits of Men’s Sheds are those directly related to increased health and wellbeing associated with being a member, rather than health benefits derived from active health promotion within the sheds.
Health Promotion There appear to be two very distinct aspects of health and wellbeing in Men’s Sheds. The first is the act of belonging to a Men’s Shed, with the associated benefits of belonging, community, friendship, connection and activity. The second is the use of the Men’s Shed as an active vehicle for health promoting activities. When discussing the role of Men’s Sheds in the community and the role of funding, it is important to make these distinctions. In contrast to Golding’s (2011b) assertion that health in Men’s Sheds must be approached covertly, the findings of this study indicate a cohort that are very aware of the role of Men’s Sheds in their lives and the self-reported benefits linked with membership. They are also very mindful that one of the roles of Men’s Sheds is to promote health and wellbeing. Many of the sheds had health days and sporadic information sessions about health and wellbeing, predominantly conducted by Community Health Centre nurses, GP’s, and allied health workers. In some cases this was opportunistic and was predominantly at the instigation of the health professional, but there were a few sheds that proactively sought out health promotion activities for their sheds. The findings of this study would not support the need for a ‘health by stealth’ approach (Golding, 2011b). In contrast, they would indicate a readiness and willingness of members of Men’s Sheds to engage in health promotion activities. As indicated by the governance survey and focus group responses, care should be taken not to bombard members with health messages; however, as one of many activities conducted in a shed, it sits comfortably.
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Social Determinants of Health The Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing (2012) highlights five subcategories of the male population which have particular health considerations. These are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males; males living in regional and remote areas; males born overseas; males experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage; and older males. Of these five identified sub-groups, three are reported to have poorer health outcomes than the general population: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) males, males living in socio-economic disadvantage and males living in regional and remote areas. Males born overseas have better health than the general population apart from in certain areas. Older men also have fewer health risk factors than young males, with the exception of dementia, injury from falls, inadequate vegetable intake, physical exercise and some types of cancer. Flood and Blair (2013) assert that Men’s Sheds are well placed to reach these priority populations as a large proportion of shed members draw from these groups. Nevertheless, the findings from this study indicate that this is not entirely accurate in the Tasmanian context. Members of Tasmanian Men’s Sheds clearly fall into the cohort of older men and men living in regional areas of Tasmania. The proportion of ATSI males that are Men’s Shed members is representative of the general population of Tasmanian ATSI males over 45 years of age. The proportion of Men’s Shed members that were born overseas is slightly higher than the general population. However, Men’s Sheds are more likely to be located in more advantaged LGAs than less advantaged LGAs. Therefore it is not at all certain that Men’s Sheds are reaching socio-economically disadvantaged males. In fact, if educational attainment and previous occupation can be taken as proxies for socioeconomic status, then members of Men’s Sheds are broadly representative of the population in educational attainment and slightly over-represented in managerial and professional occupations. This suggests that Men’s Sheds may not currently be particularly well placed to reach the subpopulation of socio-economic disadvantage.
Health Policy It is difficult to overstate the benefits of Men’s Shed to their members, who are generally older males from regional areas. Men’s Sheds are highly relevant organisations for this specific section of the male population and should be recognised as such. However, Men’s Sheds should not be used in isolation as a health promotion strategy. Although Men’s Sheds are undoubtedly vital to Men’s health, both the Federal and Tasmanian governments need to support a wide range of male health prevention and promotion initiatives, to ensure they reach a broad spectrum of males, including all of the male priority subpopulations.
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Benefits to the community and stakeholders Men’s Sheds have a diverse range of interactions with numerous types of organisations within their communities, highlighting a deep connection within their local communities. Given that more than 60% of the interactions that Men’s Sheds have with other organisations is through community services and projects, supporting other organisation’s events, sharing activities and giving advice to other organisations, it is reasonable to conclude that Men’s Sheds provide enormous benefits to others in their community. This benefit to community is a theme that needs further exploration to be fully quantified, potentially through a social return on investment analysis or similar.
Community Advocacy A third of sheds either did not feel they had a voice in their community or did not want a voice in their community. However, not enough detail was given in most of the responses to delineate this subject any further. A number of sheds felt that they had a limited voice in the community; either they would give a view opportunistically when their opinion was sought by another agency, or they felt they had limited ability to voice their concerns: ‘We haven't put ourselves out there that much - council are aware of us and wouldn't want to upset us. It's a small community so everyone know everyone, we have a good relationship with the local member of the Council who visits us and gives us advice.’ Almost half of the sheds felt they had a very active voice in the community. While some described advocacy, the majority described community engagement rather than advocacy activities. The responses from the focus groups were also quite varied. Many of the sheds indicated that they had local councilors as members and had an avenue to local council through them, or that they had strong relationships with the local council. When this topic was raised in the focus groups, there was general consensus across the sheds that the members talked about local community issues, but whether they took action on these issues or not varied. Some who did take action on issues, such as voice concerns over speed limits near a boat ramp that had a number of children in the vicinity, felt that they had done so as a collective of individuals, not necessarily under the banner of the Men’s Shed.
Issues and challenges for Men’s Sheds In the focus groups, members were asked about what they thought were the greatest challenges for their shed. Without exception, the response was a need for funding. Another challenge that many sheds faced was a lack of physical capacity to include any more activities, or any new members, within their shed. An observation made by the project team was that many of the sheds faced similar challenges; however, there was very limited communication between the sheds, including those located close to one another.
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To assist the sheds to address some of their challenges, there appears to be a role for both formal and informal actions. Although TasCOSSâ€™ Emerging Voices model is based around the principle of community advocacy, it could provide a very useful tool to address the challenges faced by Menâ€™s Sheds, by assisting with how to get effective strategic advice, provision of practical solutions to issues, pitching to potential funders (government, philanthropic, business) and stakeholders, and the development of business plans. In addition to this, the sheds have an enormous depth of skills and experience within the membership of the various sheds. There is a strong case for pooling their human resources to find solutions to some of their challenges and sharing their ideas and capabilities in a formal or semi-formal network or relationship. The TMSA would be in the ideal position to broker this type of activity, and is taking active steps in this direction already with its newsletter and the organisation of events for members. The next step in this networking may be to set up mentoring between sheds, or running workshops on relevant topics.
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The Tasmanian Men’s Sheds member is usually a retired male over 65 years of age. Apart from these characteristics he fits well within the demographic profile of Tasmanian men. For members, the primary benefits of Men’s Sheds were friendship and social connection; however, there is no indication that this was due to a previous state of social isolation. Gender appears to be an important feature of many (but not all) of the sheds and is a factor that appears to define many Men’s Sheds as much as the tools. The health benefits of Men’s Sheds are those directly related to increased health and wellbeing associated with being a member, rather than health benefits derived from active health promotion within the sheds. Men’s Sheds do reach the priority population of older men in regional areas; however more work would be required to determine whether Men’s Sheds are substantially reaching the priority population of men living in socio-economic disadvantage. Men’s Sheds should not be used in isolation as a health promotion strategy. Although Men’s Sheds are undoubtedly vital to men’s health, both the Federal and Tasmanian governments need to support a wide range of male health promoting activities and organisations, to ensure they reach a broad spectrum of males, including all of the male priority subpopulations. The directionality of the benefits of Men’s Sheds requires consideration. Do Men’s Sheds improve men’s mental health, or do more health literate and self-efficacious men seek out Men’s Sheds proactively as a primary preventative measure, to ensure they stay in good mental health? This enquiry in no way diminishes the benefits of Men’s Sheds as a preventative health measure, but has important implications for policy and funding direction for Men’s Sheds. For a small but important cohort of Men’s Shed members, the sheds provide a secondary health prevention or early intervention to disrupt the progression of mental health issues. Health promotion is an important and acknowledged component of Men’s Shed activities. There is no need for a ‘health by stealth’ approach. However, care should be taken not to overburden sheds with health promotion activities. Men’s Sheds provide enormous and diverse benefits to their local communities and this contribution needs to be more fully quantified through a mechanism such as social return on investment analysis or similar. Some sheds were much more entrepreneurial and connected with both the local business community and influential community members. These sheds appeared to be in a stronger financial position than other sheds. The position of both individual sheds and the TMSA could be strengthened through greater communication and sharing of resources and experiences with one another. The TasCOSS Emerging Voices Model for Community Advocacy would be a powerful tool for individual sheds or the TMSA to utilise.
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