For the past three years, the Okanagan Men’s Shed has been bringing men in the Kelowna area together for coffee, friendship, and woodworking. In addition to pursuing their own projects, the men have constructed frames for local fairs, built shelves for a seniors centre, and held workshops in the library. There are seven sheds in Canada with more in development and when I’m being interviewed about retirement strategies, the men’s sheds movement really captures people’s interest. For good reason. When men have a place to hang out and tackle fun community-minded projects, research shows benefits all round. For the men, the camaraderie improves mental and physical well-being. “Health by stealth” they call it. Communities gain from the useful projects. And the peer counseling the men provide each other takes a load off service providers and reduces demands on government programs.
Art Post is the founder and President of the Okanagan Men’s Shed. He was inspired to investigate the concept when his son told him about the Australian men’s sheds movement, which began in the mid-90’s. There are now about one thousand sheds in Australia and they receive significant government funding in recognition of their contribution to personal and community well-being.
The Okanagan Men’s Shed has made great strides in educating people about the concept and recruiting members. They currently have 25-30 members, of which about 15 are active. Art is particularly pleased they’ve been able to recruit people with the organizational skills needed to keep the group running. Their current challenge is to find an affordable work space that could accommodate larger scale projects. OKMSA has deliberately kept its membership fees low ($20/year) to ensure broad participation, so large expenditures such as space rental would require external funding.
OKMSA has focused on building relationships with other community organizations, including tapping into the resources of the UBC Okanagan campus. Business students developed their business plan, and engineering students brain-stormed strategies for member recruitment. One outcome was a brochure targeting the partners of retired men, positioning OKMSA as a “cure for the underfoot spouse.”
Last year the sheds movement in Canada got a big boost with the establishment of the Canadian Men’s Sheds Association. CMSA aims to connect existing sheds, help start new ones, and raise awareness of the social, physical, and emotional health benefits. You can find a “Shed Startup Toolkit” on their website. Two webinars hosted by UBC Okanagan provide additional insights - one offered in January 2016 and another in January 2015.