Although we have recently launched our latest blog series, ‘A Letter to Future Placemakers’, we are keeping our previous ‘INSPIRED’ blog series open as a space to continue to celebrate community leadership and cross-sector collaboration within design and placemaking. Through this INSPIRED blog series we are on the lookout for stories, ideas and anecdotes about inspired approaches to shaping buildings, open spaces, homes or neighbourhoods, and taking the time to celebrate the connections that continue to make our places special.
In my latest INSPIRED blog, I want to explore a topic which is often quite uncomfortable for people – the negative impact of loneliness and isolation on general health and wellbeing, which (according to research) can be as detrimental to our health as obesity and excessive smoking (1). Millions of us feel lonely on a daily basis, a feeling exasperated by the pandemic and whilst more women than men report feeling lonely, a higher percentage of men report moderate to high level loneliness.
According to Men’s Sheds, “Men typically find it more difficult to build social connections than women, and unlike women of a similar age, less older men have networks of friends and rarely share personal concerns about health and personal worries.”. All of this cumulates into what some are referring to as a ‘pandemic of loneliness’, with half a million people in the UK reportedly not speaking to another person for up to 6 days at a time (2).
An inspired approach to this issue, Men’s Sheds is a collective which uses the typically British idea of a ‘man in a shed’ (although the idea actually originated in Australia in the 1980’s). They are located up and down the country, and are community spaces for men to connect, converse and create. They are often actual sheds, but can also be empty offices, portable cabins, warehouses, garages (and even a disused mortuary in one case). Operating in a bottom-up model, the men who attend the Sheds often also organise and run them, helping to promote greater ownership and engagement with the model and a sense of achievement.
The Sheds are based around the idea of doing and making as a vehicle for friendship and socialisation, and as a place to pursue practical interests at leisure, practice skills and enjoy making and mending in the company of others. At their heart, Sheds are about social connections, sharing skills and friendship building.
Often targeted at older men who are finding the transition from working life to retirement difficult, Men’s Sheds also recognise that feelings of loneliness are not exclusive to one age-range and welcome participants of any age. However, they often operate as purely male spaces to facilitate open (and often difficult) conversations around male issues, and to create a safe space for men to create friendships on their own grounds and in their own time. Some Sheds do invite women into their spaces, but this is on a Shed-by-Shed basis and gives individual groups the flexibility to choose what feels right and comfortable for them..
A truly inspired approach to community-building which has a direct, positive impact on the mental (and physical health) of our male population. Hopefully, as conversations around mental health become more common and less stigmatised, more men will feel comfortable expressing themselves and exploring their mental health. But thank goodness great initiatives like Men’s Sheds exist to patch the gap now. If you have a man in your life, or if you are a man who could benefit from Men’s Sheds, perhaps consider attending your local Men’s Shed (or if there isn’t one near you yet, you can start one!).
If you are interested in exploring related Glass-House projects, you can read about our Creative Makerspaces project, or explore our Spaces for Connection publication. Both are part of the Fostering creative citizens through co-design and public makerspaces action research project, which we have been working on for the last 3 years in collaboration with Brunel University London and Tongji University in Shanghai, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Newton Fund, UK.
You can find out more about Men’s Sheds and find one in your area here, or keep up to date by following their Twitter account, @UKMensSheds.
To explore more of our INSPIRED series click here, we are always on the lookout for inspiring stories and would love for you to contribute! Find out more here.