Men gathering in sheds a growing phenomenon

Bill Burrows, Ben Hopkins and Billy McCord with co-ordinator Geraldine Nelson at the North Belfast's Men's Shed.

Bill Burrows, Ben Hopkins and Billy McCord with co-ordinator Geraldine Nelson at the North Belfast's Men's Shed.

Women everywhere are well used to their male counterparts spending excessive amounts of leisure time in their sheds.

And now a rapidly-growing men’s network has harnessed the spirit of the shed and created an environment where men can chat, share skills and work together on projects.

Members of North Belfast's Men Shed with Geraldine Nelson, project co-ordinator.

Members of North Belfast's Men Shed with Geraldine Nelson, project co-ordinator.

However, given the large amount of people participating in these groups, they do not take place in actual sheds.

Founded just five years ago, the Irish Men’s Shed Association represents groups both in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

A shed is the name for a community of like-minded males who gather to enjoy a friendly and inclusive space.

In five years the organisation has grown to 350 sheds, with 10,000 men attending weekly. In Northern Ireland, shed numbers are growing and there are now 44 sheds with approximately 1,000 weekly shed members.

Jim Thompson, a member of a 50-strong North Belfast Shed, said: “When you finish work and retire there’s an awful period where you’re not contributing. There’s only so much gardening you can do.

“Being part of the shed gives you a good feeling you’re being worthwhile.”

Mr Thompson added: “My wife is still at work and the children are grown up and doing their own thing. If I wasn’t going to the shed I’d be watching TV all day and taking my frustration out on the old dog.”

He added: “Being part of the shed really helps your head. Many of the men here have found it helps in getting through bereavement.”

Of the cross community element, he said: “We’ve got people from New Lodge and Tiger’s Bay. There’s no politics or religion talked, but there is some ribbing about football.”

Geraldine Nelson, who co-ordinates the North Belfast Shed, said: “When men are feeling lonely they don’t tend to reach out for help. Sheds like this are a vital resource.

“There isn’t much out there for men, especially older men to get together. Our shed is open five days a week from 10am to 4pm.”

Not only are the sheds a means of socialising, the projects undertaken are often put to use benefitting schools and nursing homes.

Barry Sheridan, CEO of the Irish Men’s Shed Association, said: “Our primary objective is to advance the health and well-being of the participating men, through supporting the development and sustainability of men’s sheds. The Public Health Agency and Groundworks play a valuable role in supporting men’s sheds across Northern Ireland.”

Irish Men’s Sheds Association will be holding an event at City Hall today and over 400 men are expected to attend. The event is the biggest gathering of shed members in the world this year.