The Men’s shed originated in Australia after a men’s health conference in 1995. Originally designed to promote social interaction and reduce depression, the men’s sheds have developed into something much more and are now a valuable community resource, most of them featuring some kind of woodwork.

The first men’s shed was opened in Tongala Victoria in 1998 and there are now in excess of 900 scattered around Australia. Men’s sheds can also be found in all the Countries of the British Isles and in Finland, New Zealand and Greece. A men’s shed can be anything the community wants but is more often than not a woodworking shed. Many retired furniture manufacturers are either members or actively involved in their local men’s shed; passing their knowledge on to other members interested in learning the craft. It has been said that if you make furniture or cabinets, you will one day end up in a men’s shed.

A Men’s Shed is a community-based, non-profit, non-commercial organisation accessible to all men, providing a safe, friendly and healing environment where men are able to work on meaningful projects at their own pace in their own time in the company of other men. It provides a supportive environment for people of all ages to gather; volunteer; work; teach; learn and seek fellowship with other like-minded people. It promotes and stabilises the mental; physical; emotional and economic well-being of people in the community.

But the men’s sheds have become much more than a place catering to men’s health. You may find women’s groups, children’s programs through a local school and other activities being held there. In my local shed there is a bee group that meets once a month to make bee-hives; there’s a carving group and there are programs designed to help handicapped men. Your local men’s shed is probably making a big contribution to your local community.

Your local community shed will either be a member of the Australian Men’s Shed Association (AMSA) or a similar State body or both. The Association collects some money from fees and this covers the insurance needs of the shed. AMSA is the peak body representing more than 1000 Men’s Sheds in Australia by providing practical support, specialised services and assistance. It is recognised as one of Australia’s largest male focussed Community Development organisations and aims to improve the health and wellbeing of members and reduce the number of men who are at risk from preventable health issues that may emanate from isolation.

AMSA recognises that not all sheds are exclusively for men and that some sheds choose to call themselves Community Sheds and these sheds may be open to female members. The decision to have female members is entirely a local one. Men’s Sheds are not just fixing furniture and building toys; they are fixing men and building communities. AMSA has partnered up with many State; National and community health service providers you will recognise including beyondblue; Heart Foundation; Department of Veteran’s Affairs; Quitline; Diabetes Australia and Alzheimer’s Australia. From 100 sheds in 2005; there are now well over 1,000 Men’s sheds operating throughout Australia and many more around the World. It’s a brand name of sorts and really is one of Australia’s best success stories.

Most “shedders” see themselves as having a strong sense of belonging and ownership of their shed. They share fellowship; camaraderie and devote most of their time to worthwhile community projects. Men’s Sheds play important roles in the overall improvement of health and wellbeing and also positively engaging within their community for the benefit of their community. Grants are available to assist with special projects like security systems; equipment and building maintenance and development. Most of the money needed to run a shed is made by the members themselves. Some sheds fix old bicycles; some repair furniture; some cut and sell firewood and engage in sausage sizzles and other casual activities.

In my local shed we run a day for local primary school children. We run a day for mentally handicapped adult males and we run a day specifically set aside for women. Women can attend at any time but there may not be the assistance available outside of their designated day. A bee-keepers group meets once a month and we have associations with other adult clubs in the area who use our facilities. The local council loves a men’s shed because it is a local community resource that they are more than happy to assist.

In our shed we have a woodwork shop with some hobby-type woodworking machinery including a sliding table saw; under-over planer; drop saw; lathe; router and a small CNC router. We also have a metal shop with a lathe, some assorted metal-working equipment including welding gear. Not all sheds are as well-equipped but there is no shortage of people willing to lend a hand and share their skills. These people can be any age and of course, come from industry. You may find cabinet makers; wood machinists; furniture-makers; engineers; electroplaters and the list goes on and on. Most sheds set themselves up to suit the skills of the majority of members.

Every Men’s shed will have its own unique aims and focus. Work sheds are for those who want to remain active and focus heavily on restoration and construction, while helping the local community. Clinical and Communal sheds focus on helping the local male community interact and discuss their health and wellbeing. Educational sheds are aimed at improving skills and qualities. Josie Taylor of the ABC reported that some men have considered suicide and that their local shed “Has changed my life; without the men’s shed I would have been dead.” Men’s sheds are now part of the local community in many parts of Australia, and are becoming part of its culture.

Men’s sheds work as a non-profit organisation and no-one is paid for their efforts; it’s all run by volunteers. Occasionally a work-for-the-dole person could be on-hand but usually the work is all done by the members. As a furniture or cabinet manufacturer you can help with this very worthwhile cause. After all; you may very well find yourself in a position of needing the benefits of a shed one day. Sheds need a supply of materials and this doesn’t have to be full size planks or sheets. Most offcuts and timber species are useful. Old equipment and tools can be refurbished by members and put back to good use. Selling an old machine but expect to get very little for it? Why not donate it to a men’s shed and get some good P-R out of it? You may be surprised how much word of mouth could affect your business. The local council will also be happy to know you’re giving something back to the community.