Men’s Shed practical startup approaches

A men'shed can be an important link to health professionals.

A Men’s Sheds in a ‘Double Garage’ is not sustainable

Men’s sheds in ‘Double Garage’ type facilities are inappropriate and not sustainable. Be absolutely sure that the buildings you choose align with the activities the men want. You may not be able to start with a shed as big as this one, but size will be critical.

Fortunately gone are the days of the when people would start a men’s shed in unsuitable buildings like a ‘double garage’ and expect to attract fifty or more members. They simply cannot handle the conflicting activities at the same time. Many men have better facilities at their home than the local men’s shed. These issues must be addressed.

Knowing where to start may be the biggest problem for people without knowledge of men’s health and well-being issues, They should also have the practical experience of how businesses and organisation actually work. It is important that a men’s shed also has experience with modern information technology and marketing in order to meet expectations.

There are many ways in which communities can commence a men’s shed, most notably:

1. Guidance of practical and experienced people

  • This is a way to fast-track the starting of a men’s shed and building it with good foundations and structure to a position of sustainability.
  • Entrepreneurship can add value to the commencement and operation of any approach you might choose to take.
  • With the use of modern technology, all you need to start a men’s shed can be obtained online
  • Be sure the people involved are reliable, practical, useful and helpful. 

2. Sponsorship of another local community organisation

  • This can also be a way to fast-track the starting of a men’s sheds.
  • The organisation will have the capacity to provide the physical shed either free or at a nominal charge.
  • Sharing facilities can be a great way to save time, cut costs and get started.
  • The set-up costs are minimal, often shared, subsidised or donated by the organisation.
  • Men’s shed joining fees may be donated by the organisation, or subsidised to help in the initial attraction of members.
  • The identity and integrity of the men’s shed need to be separated from the organisation. Cultural differences can create problems once you are operational.
  • The men’s shed board or management team may include representatives of the organisation, whose experience could be invaluable.
  • Sponsoring organisation should be open to the men’s shed leadership learning new skills that may surpass those of its sponsoring organisation.

3. Auspice of a government body, often part of the health system

  • This can be another way of fast-tracking the development of a men’s shed. However, it has the additional risk of the turnover problems of government people and dealing with micro-management.
  • The government department or local council may have the capacity to provide the physical ‘shed’, and equipment.
  • Set-up costs may be requisitioned from the department’s available resources or provided by a new grant.
  • The affiliation fees for the men’s shed may be paid or subsidised by the organisation under one of its programs.
  • Identity and integrity of the men’s shed may be difficult to separate from the government mentality.
  • The organisation may be more intent on following its government processes than in allowing the men’s shed to develop its own identity.
  • The men’s shed management may include a representative of the organisation to help with start-up and funding arrangements.

4. Influence of a like-minded group of local movers and shakers to help start the men’s shed

  • Starting a men’s shed from scratch may well be the way but could have the longest lead time and development time.
  • It could be the fastest and best approach.
  • Provision of a physical shed is often a major accomplishment. The movers and shakers will know what is available and do the negotiations.
  • The set-up costs may be the result of a major community drive or provided by the philanthropy of an individual or group of movers and shakers.
  • The identity and integrity of the men’s shed are only maintained while ever there is harmony among the sponsoring group.
  • Selection of the men’s shed management must be democratic and the movers and shakers will help identify the most suitable people to be involved.
  • The men’s shed will have more liberty to develop its purpose and character in line with the original intention of its founders.
  • It is sometimes difficult to replace the founders with new people who can develop the men’s shed as the members and community would like.

5. Sponsorship of an existing business (acquisition)

  • This is the fastest way to start and to develop a sustainable men’s shed.
  • Often the businesses will have facilities and resources that they can make available.
  • The business may provide the physical shed, fit it out and supply it with resources.
  • Set-up costs should be minimal, met by the business, or heavily subsidised as their contribution to the community.
  • In some situations, they can advise groups on how to purchase an existing business and run it commercially
  • They may also provide a partnership to operate the men’s shed.
  • In some cases, this can allow older skilled tradesmen to continue to be involved in “their business” while contributing to others.
  • It may also relieve them from the increasing stress of managing it.
  • In other situations, they can advise how to ‘adopt’ a business and have it deliver benefits to the men’s sheds while continuing to trade commercially.
  • The affiliation fees for the men’s shed may be paid or subsidised by the business.
  • Men’s shed management may include a representative(s) of the old business or the sponsoring business(s).
  • The business owners may readily see the relationship with the men’s shed contributing skills, training, materials
  • They may also provide some products and services they wish to outsource to the men’s shed.

6. Sponsorship of another men’s shed

  • This approach can give a new men’s shed a level of comfort, as they usually know the sponsoring men’s shed.
  • It can be a problem when the new men’ shed tries to emulate the sponsoring men’s shed
  • It doesn’t pay enough attention to its own special requirements for the men and community.
  • There are traps if the new shed takes on old baggage, or practices that are no longer relevant, or safe from the sponsoring men’s shed.
  • It can be a faster start using the combination of the sponsoring men’s shed and their expertise.
  • A sponsoring men’s shed or other organisation may not have the necessary expertise to start a men’s shed appropriate to another community
  • This can lead to a group of low-level ineffective men’s sheds.

Regardless of how the men’s shed is commenced, it must have:

  • A clear purpose and vision that is a good fit with the community.
  • Strong leadership.
  • Ongoing commitment from the community.
  • Appropriate building for the planned activities.
  • Be well funded, and
  • A good men’s health and well-being program and outcomes.

Always be on the alert for new approaches for starting a men’s shed. It is very easy to see where the value is added as ‘old baggage’ is replaced by comprehensive plans, skills, training, mentoring and professional coaching.

Whichever way you decide to start a men’s shed be sure you have a sound business model, business plan, value chain and budget.

Why not use a One-Page Plan to build a better men’s shed.

Peter Sergeant’s personal experiences with men’s sheds

Having been responsible for the initial impetus of the first 300 men’s sheds in Australia and other countries. It is interesting to reflect on the emerging thinking of many of the men’s shed managers I talk with. My approach of treating the average men’s shed as a business, even though it is a non-profit organisation, has now taken root. Many of the original men’s sheds with their ‘double garage’ approach have disappeared or have become dysfunctional.

Arguably one of the biggest things missing in the development of men’s shed is entrepreneurial activity. You know the old saying, “A leopard can’t change its spots”, and they don’t without entrepreneurial characteristics being applied.  The so-called ‘gurus’ continue to tell us that our behaviours don’t change without years of painful effort.

The office which supported all the men’s sheds.

After working with men and their men’s shed over many years I know that extraordinary outcome can be achieved. This is particularly so where there are business people involved with practical experience in starting businesses. In fact, I know (because I’ve seen it first-hand) that change can happen in the blink of an eye.

Funding is always an issue with men’sheds but there are ways and means of overcoming these and other difficulties with the right approaches. In fact, starting a men’s shed can be exhilarating and a lot of fun.

When it comes to actually achieving the outcomes and making progress in the areas important to you, your systems are a much better way to do things. It can come down to the difference between aspirational goals and systems.

You may be petrified about starting something, as are many people I have met, but it really doesn’t matter, if you are able to secure the right type of support.

Quotable Quotes

“Be absolutely sure that the buildings you choose align with the activities the men want and need, that is if you want a happy and sustainable men’s shed”. Peter Sergeant

“Men’s Sheds are in a unique position in their ability to reach several priority populations for health intervention in Australia and result in proven improvements to their health and wellbeing”. Jeff Kennett

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