Improving men's health through “Sheds for Life” .
The Sheds for Life (SFL) project is run by the Irish Men’s Sheds Association. Irish Research Council PhD scholar at the Centre for Health Behaviour Research at WIT, Aisling McGrath is assessing the impact of the SFL project which aims to promote men’s engagement with health and well-being and address the gender disparities that exist in community-based health promotion.
Understanding what works best for men in the Sheds setting is critical to the research and success of SFL and for this reason Men’s Shed members (or “Shedders” as they are fondly known) are active participants in the research and design of SFL so that they can take ownership over what works best for them to promote their physical, mental and social wellbeing.
It is widely accepted that men are not as forthcoming to engage with health and wellbeing compared to their female counterparts. McGrath’s research has found that the SFL programme, alongside other impactful programmes, are contributing to a societal shift in the resigned acceptance that men do not like to talk about their physical or mental health. “My time spent evaluating Sheds for Life has shown that in the right environment men will and, quite rightly, want to talk about their wellbeing,” says McGrath. “This is evident in the enhancements in physical, mental and social health outcomes demonstrated by the SFL research to date. The Men’s Sheds are health enhancing for men because they are informal, non-clinical safe spaces where health and wellbeing is not always directly addressed but, where the friendship, cameraderie and sense of purpose and belonging offer inherent health-promoting benefits.”
Another aspect highlighted by the research is the importance of human connection and how vital it is to our wellbeing. “Shedders” themselves testify to the importance of connection and sense of community. The Men’s Sheds movement has been so successful in Ireland due to the sense of comradery found within for members. It is poignant now that this lifeline has been lost to many having been cut off from their Sheds and wider community during COVID-19 and is evident in increased subjective feelings of loneliness reported by “Shedders” during this time. Compounded by the fact that in the COVID-19 era we rely upon virtual connection more than ever and yet many of our older adults do not have the skills or access to connect online, widening the void to social connection. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic means that important spaces that encourage connection and community such as the Men’s Sheds will be needed more than ever.