Men’s Sheds offer alternative avenue for improving health and wellbeing

Men’s Sheds health initiatives increase men’s confidence, self-worth and sense of wellbeing, new research by a Leeds Beckett University academic has shown.

The study, by Steven Markham, Lecturer and Researcher in the School of Health and Community Studies at Leeds Beckett, aimed to find out how Men’s Sheds work, in what way, and for whom. Steven found that, by being given the resources to help others, men felt more connected to their local communities and a greater sense of purpose. 

Men’s Sheds began in Australia, with the first England-based Shed being established in Hartford in 2009. Their aim is to bring men, often of retirement age, together around practical tasks on a regular basis. They offer men a place to share skills, learn informally, pursue individual and community projects, and achieve a sense of purpose and social interaction. Many Men's Sheds focus on utilitarian activities like woodwork and metalwork, with health and wellbeing being a subsidiary outcome. 

Through in-depth interviews with the director of an organisation which helped to set up a Men’s Shed, the Shed’s co-founder, and four participants of the Shed, Steven found that the Men’s Shed encouraged men to talk and share through offering an environment that posed no threat to their masculinities. Men were able to be themselves and communicate with humour in a non-judgemental environment. 

Steven explained: “Men die an average of 3.7 years younger than women and suffer more chronic conditions, topping the death rates for 15 of the leading causes of death. My research has implications for the development of new Men's Sheds and regarding the way health, social care and wellbeing services can successfully appeal to men and improve health and wellbeing outcomes.” 

Steven will present his new research at the British Sociological Association (BSA) Medical Sociology Group annual conference at Aston University, Birmingham, on Wednesday 7 September.   Steven said: “Evidence exists that Men's Sheds improve health and wellbeing, however less is known about how they achieve these improved health and wellbeing outcomes. 

“The Shed I investigated primarily focuses on wellbeing and has introduced other subsidiary activities, such as volunteering on community projects, foodbanks, and woodwork. They meet two evenings a week and on a Saturday daytime. I asked the men about improvements in their emotional health and mental wellbeing.”

Masculinities can be perceived, particularly by those in the health and social care sectors, as barriers to men reaching out for help and for services being able to reach men. The men in Steven’s study reported that they felt more secure, emotionally connected and more connected to their local communities as a result of their time spent at the Shed. These things led to reduced social isolation and brought a sense of meaning to the men's lives. They enjoyed and wanted to help other people. 

Steven added: “This is a key point because men often do not want to be the recipients of 'services'. Through the Men's Shed, the men were given an avenue, the resources and encouragement to be able to help others. By doing so, this increased their confidence and sense of self-worth and improved their wellbeing.”