A Song for Occupations*

*Walt Whitman (in Leaves of Grass (1881-82) ).

Mike Jenn launched the UK Men’s Sheds Association on 6th November, 2013. He had first heard of them from his son in Australia, where the movement started in 2006. “Six months before I was due to retire in April 2011 he asked me what will I do, and sowed the seed by telling me about the groups.” Mike visited sheds in Hertfordshire, Cheshire and Ireland to see how they worked. He said:

“…in your own shed you are on your own with limited resources and equipment. In a big shed you could find new mates with whom you could share skills and experience, more and probably better tools, and tasks that require more hands. Such places are being established, called “men’s sheds”.

Men are social beings, and if your children have flown and maybe your wife too, it could save your life to join a shed, or at least relieve the life shortening stress of relative isolation.”.

In October 2014, Emma Howard reported for The Guardian that there were now more than 1,200 shed groups in Australia. She visited Mike Jenn‘s Camden Town Shed Group, where he told her:

“At the beginning, when we needed tools, all it took was four lines in the Camden New Journal. We received six car loads – almost all of it from widows, who wanted their husband’s tools to ‘go to a good home’.”

Howard reported:

“According to a 2014 survey by Age UK, more than one million people over 65 in the UK are often or always lonely, an increase of 38% on the previous year. Two-fifths of respondents said that their main form of company is the television.”

She asks Jenn about the community sector’s provision for men:

“The offer is wrong and made in the wrong way,” he says. “Men are programmed to believe they can look after themselves. They don’t directly see that their life could be enriched by being with others so they end up hiding away watching TV.”

The article summarises:

“The UK is among the most socially isolated countries in Europe, according to research published in June 2014 by the Office for National Statistics. Asked whether they feel close to people in their local area, 42% said they did not – the highest proportion after Germany…

The Campaign to End Loneliness, a national network set up in 2011, believes the issue is a “public health disaster” waiting to happen. Scientific researchshows that for older people, loneliness is twice as unhealthy as obesity, as it is linked to high blood pressure, strokes and a weakened immune system.

Laura Ferguson, the director of the campaign, says: “This needs to be a top priority for every local health and care service. We need national leadership and investment on this issue or we may end up pushing already stretched services to breaking point.” “.

*”Leaves are not more shed from the trees, or trees from the earth, 
than they are shed out of you.