Sunday, 19 January 2014

Men’s Sheds – A welcome in for fellas

 
LBS Men's Shed members Noel Blake, Jay McLean and Shane Connolly-O'Brien

 THERE ARE NOW more than 150 Men’s Sheds associations across Ireland with an estimated 3,000 members using ‘the Sheds’ each week. First appearing in Australia, the community-based associations have spread to many countries, with the Irish Men’s Sheds Association starting in Ireland in 2011.

An Phoblacht’s MARK MOLONEY visisted  Loughlinstown, Ballybrack and Shanganagh (LBS) Men’s Shed to see what it’s all about.

IT’S A BITTERLY COLD winter evening outside. Inside the small premises of LBS Men’s Shed in south Dublin, Shane Connolly-O’Brien, Chairperson of the Shed, is just putting on the kettle while PRO Jay McClean is taking on founder-member Noel Blake in a game of pool. The table was donated by a loal publican. On a shelf above a  radiator are a number of framed merit awards in recognition of the Shed’s local community work and another award for ‘Best Men’s Shed’ from the Sunday World.

As the kettle boils, Shane is busy sorting through a full box of books which has been donated and adding them to the library.  Dominating the back wall is an impressive mural featuring James Connolly and Jim Larkin, unveiled by Connolly’s great-grandson to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 1913 Lockout. Recently, the group also held a commemoration for 1913 Lockout martyr James Byrne in Deansgrange Cemetery.

The group began four years ago when Noel decided to set up a Men’s Group while working at the local community centre. “I looked at the agenda for the year and there was everything from groups for kids from two-years-old up to teenagers, and there was a few women’s groups, but there wasn’t a single thing for men in the area. That’s where it began.”

Since moving into its premises two years ago, the LBS Men’s Shed has become a vital part of the Loughlinstown community and an important place for local men to meet up and work on projects, charity work, engage in Vocational Education Committee courses or just chat and catch up.

Shane shows me a picture of a local project which the Shed, with the support of the local council, undertook. They created a Remembrance Garden for anybody who lost somebody in the area.

“We try to do a lot of community work,” says Shane. “We help with graffiti removal and the clean-up days, and we help out with the community days – including dressing up as Santa for the kids at the community centre,” he laughs.

They also run mental health awareness courses, Irish-language classes, healthy eating courses and computer training. Noel says many of the men just like to come in for a chat. “They tell you that if it wasn’t for here, they don’t know what they’d do. People feel comfortable here and that allows you to talk about problems you’re having.

“It’s a pub with no beer. You can come here, have a bit of craic or a game of pool and not spend any money,” says Jay McClean.

The group is looking forward to expanding their premises next year to allow them set-up a woodcraft workshop in an unused building next door.

Despite being part of the rather wealthy Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown Council area, Loughlinstown is an unemployment blackspot and is part of the Government’s Revitalising Areas by Planning, Investment and Development (RAPID) programme for disadvantaged communities.

“You’ve got Bono living five minutes away,” says Jay, “but the reality is there are two Dún Laoghaires.”

Many of those who drop into the centre are out of work with the age range for members stretching from 18 all the way up to men in their 70s.

“Obviously going to the pub every night isn’t going to help your mental health, or your wallet,” says Shane, “so the Shed provides a healthy alternative.”

A study by Dundalk Institute of Technology published in March 2013 found that men who regularly attend their local Men’s Shed show a big improvement in health and well-being. It’s something the Irish Men’s Sheds Association aren’t surprised by. They say it is rare that men will sit down and talk about their problems, feelings or health issues – but when there is a project to be working on, men will often chat about these things while getting a job done. A motto of the movement is: “Men often talk shoulder-to-shoulder and not face-to-face.”

To find a Men’s Shed in your area, visit www.menssheds.ie

This article first appeared in the January 2014 edition of An Phoblacht

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