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Shedding isolation

Men build all kinds of useful, lasting things in sheds, and one of 
them can be friendship in this peer-run grassroots group for guys

It’s not complicated.

Tuesdays they play cribbage. Wednesdays they carve. They talk, share a few laughs, take a walk. Occasionally they’ll organize a day trip. They host a cooking club to try new recipes. Once in a while, they’ll take their tools and paintbrushes and help out another organization.

‘They’ are the 30 or so guys who form the ‘Woodhaven Menshed’ a small grassroots group of men, meeting at the Winnipeg-based community club of the same name, this past five years.

“My daughter said, ‘You should start one of these,’ so I did,” said Doug Mackie, a get ’er done guy, who co-founded the Woodhaven group with David Friesen.

The idea of an informal men’s group, organized as a shared version of a shed, where men get together to build stuff, has its origins in Australia, where men there saw a need for more places for men to get together and socialize.

Today there are more than 900 such groups across Ireland, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand.

In Canada, there are less than a dozen of these groups, and all had their genesis from the Woodhaven group.

They call theirs a “tabletop men’s shed,” bringing in their carving tools and cribbage boards for the weekly afternoon gatherings. They also invite in speakers for ‘Tuesday Talks’ on topics of interest to their group, including health information.

Mackie added any group that forms can decide for themselves what they might like to focus on.

“People often ask us, ‘What do you do?’ says Mackie. “But the real question is, ‘Why is there a need for this?’”

It’s because men don’t socialize with other men to the extent women get together, he said.

“But they still have a need to form friendships,” said Mackie. “They don’t want to be isolated. This is for men’s well-being.”

Friesen, originally from Thornhill but now living in Winnipeg, said he’d been retired all of two weeks when he saw a small ad about a men’s shed starting up.

“I thought it would be good for someone else,” he says. “I found out it was good for me too.”

Woodhaven regular Joel Segal joined the group a couple of years ago.

“I was just looking for a group of guys to carve with,” he said, adding a former teacher told him about the Woodhaven Men’s Shed.

“I like the camaraderie,” he said. “I can talk to all these guys and hear how they’re doing.”

Segal agrees men don’t have so many opportunities to socialize with other guys. And when you retire without a plan for how you’ll spend your days, you can easily start to feel “underfoot” at home, bored, even depressed, he said. It’s a predicament he thinks a lot of men find themselves in nowadays.

“The other thing is people move into a condo or apartment and then the shop in their basement is gone,” he said. You’ve lost even that space to spend your time.

“So what do you do?”

Evidently, a lot of people are asking the same question. Mackie said there’s been tremendous interest shown in the men’s shed concept outside Winnipeg. They plan to take idea on the road to the rest of Manitoba, under the Mensheds Manitoba banner.

“We want to go out and tell our story and hopefully encourage men to start groups in rural areas,” he said, adding this spring they’ve received two grants from New Horizons and Healthy Living to help fund some of their travel expenses.

“We attended a seniors’ fair in Brandon last spring and put on a presentation and many people gave me their email addresses so I’ve been sending out our newsletter,” he said.

People in Reston, Brandon, Neepawa and St. Anne’s have all shown interest.

“Dave and I went out to Minnedosa last fall and we had about six or seven men out for it.”

A website also offers more information on how to start a men’s shed.

Florent Legault is trying to start one in his hometown of Elie. He got a few guys together earlier this month to talk over the idea and they’re interested, he said.

Rural communities need this too, because men just don’t seem to gather at the local garage or coffee shop like they once did, he said.

Farming keeps you busy and the nature of the business keeps people apart more than ever, said Legault, a former PMU farmer and truck driver.

He became intrigued by this kind of group, after realizing he’d sort of lost contact with people too, he adds.

“I found out I needed some community. And to have that community it’s like I have to make that community.”

To learn more about mensheds and see a video on the Woodhaven group log on to: menssheds.ca.

For more information you can also contact Mensheds Manitoba Inc. at 204-804-5165 or email Doug Mackie at [email protected].

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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