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Your Later Life 2020

The role of The Shed in social isolation

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Charlie Bethel

Chief Officer, UK Men’s Sheds Association

Before COVID-19 there was a pandemic in the UK of loneliness and social isolation. Men’s Sheds are a very simple concept that have seen a massive impact on the lives of thousands across the UK.

In a country of over 65 million people, we have loneliness. Around 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month and GPs are seeing up to five people a day on loneliness related issues1.

Social isolation can lead to obesity, can reduce physical activity, and can increase mortality in older people by 30%; it is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day2.  And men are at an increased risk of suicide – it is the biggest single killer of men under the age of 463.

Nobody chooses to be lonely. Many of us do not recognise that we are lonely, let alone seek help or find a solution.

Men’s Sheds are so hands off that you don’t realise the level of support they are providing – but just maybe, they are the future?

The Shed has an incredible impact on men’s health, particularly by providing a safe space where men can – and certainly do – talk.

What is a Shed?

A Shed is generally a space for people to come together and make things for themselves, their family, friends or their community.

This simple act of tinkering in a shed brings joy to the recipient and, more importantly, gives them a focus and sense purpose for whatever it is they are making, repairing or repurposing.

There are over 580 open Sheds across the UK and many can be found in community centres, industrial units, repurposed buildings, such as railway stations, and some may even be found in physical sheds! 

Health by stealth

Men’s Sheds have been called the ‘therapy that dare not speak its name’. The Shed has an incredible impact on men’s health, particularly by providing a safe space where men can – and certainly do – talk.

Men may talk to friends standing shoulder to shoulder about things that bother them, where they would not discuss them face-to-face.

To use an anecdote to explain this: ‘If you put 12 men in a room and ask them to talk about themselves, six will leave and the other six will try to find the corners of the room.  However, if you put a lawnmower in the room and ask the 12 men to fix it, after two hours the 12 men will know each other very well, their ailments, how many children they have and how they take their tea. They may also have a fixed lawnmower.’ 

The Shed effect

Just focussing on the men and women who attend the Shed, the UK Men’s Sheds Association asked ‘Shedders’ for their insight. Incredibly, the Shed has an overwhelmingly positive impact4:

  • 97% of Shedders said they had made new friends
  • 96% of those who had identified as lonely before joining a Shed, reported a reduction in loneliness
  • 89% felt a reduction in depression
  • And 75% reported a reduction in anxiety. 

Helping yourself through making

It would seem that, through the activity of making, recycling or repurposing, we can reboot our systems and make new connections whatever our age.

For more information on Sheds or where to find your local Shed visit www.menssheds.org.uk

1 www.gov.uk | 2 Combating loneliness, A guide for local authorities | 3 Zero Suicide Alliance | 4 United Kingdom Men’s Sheds Insight Survey, 500 responders

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