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Keywords:

  • disability;
  • masculinity;
  • meaningful occupation;
  • mentoring;
  • men’s health and well-being;
  • social inclusion

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. What is known about this topic
  4. What this paper adds
  5. Background
  6. Men’s Sheds
  7. Literature review method
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. References

Men’s Sheds are community-based organisations that typically provide a space for older men to participate in meaningful occupation such as woodwork. Men’s Sheds are considered an exemplar for the promotion of men’s health and well-being by health and social policy-makers. The objective of this literature review was to determine the state of the science about the potential for Men’s Sheds to promote male health and well-being. Between October 2011 and February 2012, we conducted searches of databases, the grey literature and manual searches of websites and reference lists. In total, we found 5 reports and 19 articles about Men’s Sheds. The majority of the literature has emanated from Australian academics and is about older men’s learning in community contexts. There is a limited body of research literature about Men’s Sheds; the literature consists of either descriptive surveys or small qualitative studies. The range of variables that might contribute towards best practice in Men’s Sheds has not yet been adequately conceptualised, measured, tested or understood. Future research should be focussed on the health and well-being benefits of Men’s Sheds; it needs to incorporate social determinants of health and well-being within the study designs to enable comparison against other health promotion research. Without this research focus, there is a danger that the potential health and well-being benefits of Men’s Sheds as supportive and socially inclusive environments for health will not be incorporated into future male health policy and practice.


What is known about this topic

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. What is known about this topic
  4. What this paper adds
  5. Background
  6. Men’s Sheds
  7. Literature review method
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. References
  •  Men’s Sheds are grassroots organisations mentioned in health and social policy as part of the solution to improving male health and well-being.
  •  Participation at Men’s Sheds is reported to enhance one’s health and well-being.
  •  Men report enjoyment from participation, camaraderie, socialisation and skill development at Men’s Sheds.

What this paper adds

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. What is known about this topic
  4. What this paper adds
  5. Background
  6. Men’s Sheds
  7. Literature review method
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. References
  •  This literature review highlights the limited amount and quality of research to date.
  •  Future research needs to include social determinants of health and well-being.
  •  A clear Men’s Shed research agenda must be formulated to better inform male health policy and practice.

Background

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. What is known about this topic
  4. What this paper adds
  5. Background
  6. Men’s Sheds
  7. Literature review method
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. References

The health and well-being of men and boys have gained increasing attention from researchers, policy-makers and health professionals over the last two decades. Disparities between gendered morbidity and mortality rates indicate that in western countries, men and boys experience poorer health and well-being than women and girls (Salzman & Wender 2006, White & Holmes 2006). Specific groups of men are at greater risk; these include, men from rural and remote areas, men with chronic disabilities, unemployed men, men with limited education, men from cultural minorities, men from the lower end of the social gradient and First Nation (Aboriginal) men (Scott et al. 2010, Evans et al. 2011). A range of reasons have been posited in an attempt to explain these disparities; these include, males’ perceived poor help-seeking behaviours, masculine traits, a disinterest in their own health, limited health literacy in marginalised groups of men, and disengagement with traditional models of health service delivery (Macdonald 2005, Smith 2007).

Although some western countries are starting to focus specifically on male health needs, Ireland and Australia are the first countries to have formal policies on the health and well-being of men and boys (Robertson et al. 2009, Smith et al. 2009). Within the Australian male health policy framework, Men’s Sheds are couched as a male-friendly place to counter social isolation and better engage men about their health and well-being, outside traditional health service settings (Department of Health and Ageing 2010). The Irish policy refers to Men’s Sheds as an Australian example of men’s health promotion in a community context (Department of Health and Children, 2008). While other western countries may have no formal male health policy, the recent report on the State of Public Health in Canada, Growing Older – Adding life to years (The Chief Public Health Officer 2010) demonstrates how supportive social environments, such as Men’s Sheds, remain integral to address social health inequities. Furthermore, tackling social and health inequities, such as the gendered health inequities affecting males (Men’s Health Forum 2006), and creating a more integrated and research-driven health service are central to the Health and Social Care Bill currently being debated in the UK parliament.

It is clear that supportive social and gendered environments, such as Men’s Sheds, are considered by policy-makers as an important part of a wider range of responses to enhance the health and well-being of all males. The potential of Men’s Sheds as part of a wider suite of men’s health initiatives is aligned with the international focus on solving the gendered health inequities that become apparent when the social determinants of health are exposed (World Health Organization Commission on Social Determinants of Health 2008). Indeed, gender and masculinity are often referred to as an important, but under-acknowledged, social determinant of health (Evans et al. 2011).

Men’s Sheds

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. What is known about this topic
  4. What this paper adds
  5. Background
  6. Men’s Sheds
  7. Literature review method
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. References

Men’s Sheds are community-based male-friendly places where men can connect with other members of their communities, while simultaneously providing opportunities to learn practical skills and develop new interests (Australian Mens Shed Association 2011a,b, Mensheds Australia 2011). Their rise to prominence is viewed as a response to the gradual loss of the traditional backyard shed that, in previous generations, was central to some men’s social, familial, cultural, occupational, and masculine role. While not for all males, each Shed differs in the range of activities available; central to every Men’s Shed is the creation of a space for social and occupational engagement.

Activities at Men’s Sheds typically involve carpentry and small construction work, but can also include gardening, pottery, social outings and art. Some sheds also incorporate into their range of activities visits from health professionals, access to men’s health literature and men’s health screening activities. We are also aware through other research activities of a deliberate attempt by some Australian health and social practitioners to support the social integration of men with lifelong disabilities through their local sheds. Misan et al. (2008) suggest that Men’s Sheds have the potential to ‘...achieve positive health, happiness and wellbeing outcomes for the men who participate, as well as for their partners, families and communities’ (p. 13).

The Australian context

The very first community Men’s Shed was reportedly set up in Albury, NSW by the local Rotary Club in 1978 (Misan et al. 2008). In Australia, Mensheds Australia (MSA) and The Australian Men’s Shed Association (AMSA) are the two peak bodies for Men’s Sheds; importantly both are registered in Australia as a Health Promotion Charity. Best estimates by MSA and AMSA suggest that over 600 Men’s Sheds are either developed, or are in process of opening in Australia, by the beginning of 2012. The National Male Health Policy: Building on the strength of Australian males (Department of Health and Ageing, 2010) states that Men’s Sheds are important to men’s health and well-being as they alleviate social isolation which has a significant impact on health and well-being. Furthermore, that Men’s Sheds serve as an important conduit for raising awareness of men’s health issues and services. One example of this policy in practice is the recent AMSA-published Spanner in the Works (2011). This document deliberately uses imagery of the automobile (e.g. penis = drive shaft; blood pressure = oil pressure; testicles = spark plugs) to raise awareness of men’s health issues; these documents have been distributed to all registered Men’s Sheds in Australia.

The Australian Department of Health has allocated over A$3 million to AMSA to secure the sustainability of Men’s Sheds and to fund the distribution of health promotion resources through Men’s Sheds (Department of Health and Ageing, 2010). This substantial investment of heath dollars sets Men’s Sheds apart from any other male-specific community-based groups. The National Male Health Policy also states that since 2008, government departments have allocated A$760 000 to support Men’s Sheds, in addition to the amount allocated by the Department of Health. Across Australia, Rotary Clubs, local health authorities, community service organisations, local councils, Returned Servicemen League clubs and church groups continue to provide financial support, usually through grants or infrastructure, to local Men’s Sheds. This is a substantial investment of health and social monies.

The international context

Compared with Australia, the Men’s Shed movement remains at an embryonic stage internationally. In New Zealand, there are approximately 36 sheds that have been started through local grassroots initiatives (Bruce 2011, August). Bruce also reports that there are currently no government grants for the development of Men’s Sheds in New Zealand, but the second New Zealand conference in July, 2012 has signalled the consolidation of the movement in New Zealand. Notwithstanding this start, there is not yet a national association or group that is organising the shed movement in New Zealand. The Irish Men’s Shed Association website reports that over 60 sheds either exist or are at the start-up phase in Ireland (Irish Men’s Shed Association, 2012). Furthermore, that small start-up grants from The Ireland Funds are available to new Men’s Sheds in rural areas with a population of less than 3000. The current situation is less clear in England; while there has been a national conference titled Discovering Men’s Sheds held at The University of Leicester in September 2011, there is currently no formally recognised national association. However, Age Concern UK has awarded over £400 000 in 2010 under its Men In Sheds programme; the Age Concern website lists the limited location of these first sheds to the North West of England. A recently completed study by a Canadian postgraduate student focussed on a Men’s Shed at Winnipeg, Canada (Reynolds 2010). There is anecdotal evidence that a Men’s Shed, or the intention to start a shed, exists in countries such as Uganda, Finland, Belgium and Croatia; we currently have no documented evidence to support these reports.

Australia is at the vanguard of Men’s Sheds development and their embodiment into a funded health policy framework as a means to promote male health and well-being. The rationale for this injection of funds in Australia is centred in engaging with otherwise socially isolated men through meaningful participation at Men’s Sheds. With the grassroots growth in Men’s Sheds underway, now is an apt time to review the research literature and ascertain if and how Men’s Sheds can contribute to wider health and social policy in an international context. Anecdotal evidence reported by proponents of Men’s Sheds suggests that there is health and well-being benefits from participation at a Men’s Shed. However, the question remains if there is any empirical evidence to support this claim. This review of the Men’s Shed research literature presents a summary of what the literature tells us about the health promotion potential of Men’s Sheds in both the Australian and international context. The aim of this review was to consolidate where research on Men’s Sheds is currently situated, and to offer some perspective on the challenges Men’s Sheds face to be embedded into future policy, practice, theory and research in men’s health.

Literature review method

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. What is known about this topic
  4. What this paper adds
  5. Background
  6. Men’s Sheds
  7. Literature review method
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. References

A review of titles, keywords and abstracts was conducted between October 2011 and February 2012 to identify papers relating to community-based Men’s Sheds; no publication date limitations were placed on the review as Men’s Sheds are a recent phenomenon. A computerised search of ERIC, PsychINFO, SCOPUS, Summon, Google Scholar and Web of Knowledge using different combinations of the terms ‘shed’‘men’, ‘male’, ‘human male’ and ‘men health’. A vast number of abstracts were excluded as they referred simply to findings that ‘shed light’ on a particular issue relating to men. Furthermore, abstracts relating to the weight loss programme SHED were also excluded. This search yielded five papers, and one report. The second search involved manually reviewing reference lists of the identified articles, a search of the grey literature and also a database held by AMSA on their website. This second search yielded 16 additional papers/reports all from non-ISI listed journals; there were 22 papers/reports in total. There were a small number of non-refereed conference abstracts or papers available through Google Scholar that, due to their non-refereed status, we have elected to exclude from this review. This final selection of papers was made by the first author and then checked by the second author.

While the literature about men’s sheds is relatively new and research is limited to the Australian context, we wanted to subject the literature to a rigorous assessment for quality. The risk of this approach is that the researches of this new and exploratory area of study may be somewhat unfairly judged; however, in the context of the new Australian Male Health Policy (Department of Health and Ageing 2010) it is important to ensure that the evidence base that will inform this policy into the future is of the utmost quality. To accurately reflect the findings and the methods used, standard practices for extracting data from papers into the table were employed (Britten et al. 2002), including retaining exact wording from papers where necessary. Data extraction was undertaken by the first author and then checked by the second author. The validity of qualitative studies was evaluated using the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) (Public Health Resource Unit, 2006). The CASP is a 10-question methodological checklist of key criteria for qualitative studies; it addresses rigour, methods, credibility and relevance. Mixed methods studies were evaluated using the criteria described by Long et al. (2002) in their Evaluation Tool for Mixed Methods Studies. This tool is applicable for studies where the qualitative component is designed to draw out participants’ perceptions. There were no purely quantitative studies, and the quality of viewpoints was not assessed.

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. What is known about this topic
  4. What this paper adds
  5. Background
  6. Men’s Sheds
  7. Literature review method
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. References

In conducting a narrative review, we were acutely aware of the emergent nature of the research topic. With this in mind, we were interested in what topics were covered in Men’s sheds research and to identify key themes arising from the reviewed research. We categorised the literature into five groups based on either the authors stated, or our interpretation, of each paper’s topic of foci. Discussion of the literature will be presented based on these five key groups: (i) adult learning, (ii) health and well-being, (iii) meaningful participation, (iv) mentoring and (v) conceptual frameworks. Publications included in this review are listed and described in Table 1; this table is grouped according to the five key groups and is structured to provide a snapshot of research methods and findings.

Table 1. Men’s Sheds Literature
PublicationPublication typeMethodsFindings
  1. Note: *25 sheds stated, however NCVER research on which this is based only states 24 sheds; N/A = not applicable.

Adult Learning
 Golding and Harvey (2006). Final report on a Survey of Men’s Sheds Participants in Victoria: Report to Adult, Community and Further Education Board.Report to the Adult, Community and Further Education Board of Victoria. Not ISI listed.Descriptive survey: 154 surveys returned; 22 out of 27 sheds participated; 62% response rate. Descriptive statistics are presented as raw percentages. No copy of the survey is presented or referred to. No inferential analyses were reported.Survey about men who attend Men’s Sheds. Most significant results suggest that 49% of the men had very limited formal school education; 68% did not enjoy learning at school; and 32% have either a trade background or no formal education post school. Interestingly 61% of sheds are auspiced by a health authority; a health worker referred 37% of survey respondents to the shed; and 25% of survey respondents had some form of disability. The survey respondents overwhelmingly reported that they enjoyed the shed, felt better about themselves, gained a sense of ‘belonging’, and gained access to health information.
 Golding (2006). Shedding light on new spACEs for older men in Australia.Research article. Not ISI listed.See previous paper. The article had no methods section and no discussion about analysis of survey data; limited descriptive data were reported. Findings from this survey of 22 sheds were published in advance of the wider survey of 24 sheds published in 2007 by Golding, Brown, Foley, Harvey, and Gleeson (see next study).Findings discussed are from Golding and Harvey’s 2006 survey (see above) and showed that many participants were retired, unable to find recent work, had a disability, had recently experienced a health crisis, and one third had separated from their partner. The author proposes that although Men’s Sheds can and do offer health and wellbeing benefits, that shed should not be fore-grounded for this purpose.
 Golding et al. (2007a). Men’s Sheds in Australia: learning through community contexts.Report to the National Centre for Vocational and Educational Research (NCVER). Not ISI listed.Descriptive survey was sent to 150 different sheds; 211 completed surveys from 299 effectively distributed surveys were returned (70.3% response rate stated). Focus group interviews were conducted at 24 of those 150 sheds; participant numbers and focus group interview structures are not stated. Reported survey data are descriptive only; no inferential analyses were reported.The survey sought to identify characteristics of men attending Men’s Sheds, what they gain from going, and whether sheds are useful learning spaces. One third of men were referred to the shed by a health or welfare worker. Many men reported learning new skills; the knowledge transfer of those skills was generally to the home. The Men’s Shed was a preferred informal learning site for most men. Ninety percent of men felt that the shed was a good place to meet new friends.
 Golding et al. (2007b) The international potential for men’s shed-based learning.Research article. Not ISI listed.Descriptive survey plus focus group interviews; 24 sheds. Publication of NCVER 2007 research findings (see previous paper).Brief report with limited research findings presented. Some contextualisation about the tension between Men’s Sheds as grassroots organisations and the ongoing need to respond to the demands of funding bodies. They highlight the need for more research into the health and wellbeing benefits of sheds.
 Brown et al. (2008). Out the back: Men’s Sheds and informal learning.Research article. Not ISI listed.*Descriptive survey plus focus group interviews; 25 sheds. Publication of NCVER 2007 research findings (see previous paper). Very limited data presented; brief and vague description of methodology.Men cited the lack of compulsion as important for learning. They preferred doing projects and developing peer mentoring and coaching relationships with others, rather than having a teacher/learner relationship. Even though 25% experienced some form of learning difficulties, 75% were interested in further learning through the shed. Most men had limited education success, yet enjoyed the opportunity to learn in informal ways at the shed.
 Golding (2008). Researching Men’s Sheds in community contexts in Australia: what does it suggest about adult education for older men?Research article. Not ISI listed.Descriptive survey plus focus group interviews; 24 sheds. Publication of NCVER 2007 research findings (see previous paper). Very limited data presented; some broad descriptive findings from survey and no focus group interview findings presented.The paper reiterates previous findings that participation in communities of practice is more conducive to the learning of older men than engagement in formal vocational or adult education courses.
 Golding et al. (2008). Houses and sheds in Australia: an exploration of the genesis and growth of neighbourhood houses and Men’s Sheds in community settings.Research article. ISI listed.This paper reports on previously published research and literature from various authors. A large section of this paper is dedicated to Community Houses for women; these sections were not reviewed.A wider discussion about gendered places in Australian local communities; suggestion that gendered places can cater to the different learning needs of men and women. In the discussion about Men’s Sheds it is noted that women do contribute to Men’s Sheds as both partners of men who go to the shed and, in some cases, as the key co-ordinator of the shed. This article also includes some brief discussion about masculinity/ies.
 Golding et al. (2010). Senior men’s learning and wellbeing through community participation in Australia.Report to the National Seniors Productive Ageing Centre (NSPAC). Not ISI listed.Mixed methods: 219 surveys; 150 interview; 3 sheds. This research included a range of community groups of which only 3 were Men’s Sheds. The survey and semi-structured interview schedule were included. Some cross tabulations are presented from survey results, however the bulk of the results are descriptive data presented as raw percentages. Although the authors suggest that a thematic analysis was performed, there is limited evidence of the development of major themes through any rigorous qualitative methodology. As it relates to Men’s Sheds, the authors conclude that while Men’s Sheds are important for some particularly vulnerable men, they are clearly not for all older men. Men’s Sheds are posited as a neutral setting for learning, where older men become co-participants in a shared activity, and thus avoiding the problematisation and patronising of senior men as students or clients from a skills deficit or ageist model.
 Golding (2011a). Older men’s wellbeing through community participation in Australia.Research article. Not ISI listed.See previous paper. Research paper based on NSPAC research. Golding states tests for significance were carried out by community group type; these results are however not fully reported. Golding also states that qualitative data were analysed for key themes and by groups. However, there are no presentations of themes in the findings, nor any description of the development of these themes using a particular qualitative method. Golding does use the social determinants of health topics to categorise data, however these are not themes developed through any in-depth qualitative analysis.Men’s Sheds allow men to develop identities independent of paid work. Men found the participation in shed activities as therapeutic and likely contributed to their subjective experience of wellbeing. However, there remains insufficient evidence about the factors that contribute to the self-reported health and wellbeing benefits.
 Golding (2011b). Thinking inside the box: what can we learn from the Men’s Shed movement?Viewpoint. Not ISI listed.N/AAn opinion piece based on Golding and colleagues’ research where he seeks to demonstrate that it is possible for older men to create new grassroots organisations that become learning environments.
 Golding (2011c). Social, local, and situated: recent findings about the effectiveness of older men’s informal learning in community contexts.Research article. ISI listed.This paper reports on previously published research and literature; number of sheds drawn from all studies.A research summary where Golding draws on his earlier research activities and asserts that informal learning for older men is possible after traditional workforce learning has ended. Golding states that the body of research suggests this informal learning works best when it is local, social and situated in the ‘shed’ environment.
 Golding (2011d). Shedding ideas about older men’s learning.Viewpoint. Not ISI listed.N/AAn opinion piece by Golding where he proposes that the Men’s Shed environment, currently a grassroots phenomenon, is one of the few known places that have engaged older men in informal learning beyond work.
Health and Wellbeing
 Misan et al. (2008). Men’s Sheds: A strategy to improve men’s health.Report to MensSheds Australia. Not ISI listed.Qualitative individual and focus group interviews involving 50 men and one woman; 8 sheds. This report was commissioned by MensSheds Australia and is a most substantial and methodologically rigorous report.Interview data suggested that mental and social wellbeing were more important to the men than physical health. The authors concluded that ways in which Men’s Sheds engage with primary health services should be explored.
 Ballinger et al. (2009). More than a place to do woodwork: a case study of a community-based Men’s Shed.Research article. ISI listed.Qualitative semi-structured interviews with 8 men; 1 shed. Research design and methods are clear and well described.Study considered how meaningful participation in a Men’s Shed can influence health and wellbeing. Thematic analysis of interview data yielded 5 interrelated themes that suggest men’s subjective wellbeing is enhanced through meaningful participation at the shed.
 Fildes et al. (2010). Shedding light on men: the Building Healthy Men project.Research article. ISI listed.Qualitative pre-, mid- and post-project semi-structured interviews and journals with 9 men and some relatives/partners of these men; 1 shed. Data were also collected from journals completed by the project facilitators. Some quantitative data were collected using 8 domains that purport to measure “community capacity”; who and how these data were collected are not stated. Further, it is unclear precisely how and by which methods both quantitative and qualitative data were analysed. Results suggest that the men experienced an increase in social contacts, developed new skills, and they self-reported improved health and wellbeing.
 Morgan (2010). A room of their own: Men’s Sheds build communities of support and purpose.Viewpoint. Not ISI listed.N/AA discussion about the potential role of Men’s Sheds to reduce isolation and depression in men. Some examples of the interaction of mental health workers with men at Men’s Sheds are given.
Meaningful Participation
 Thomson (2008). Talking about shed culture.Viewpoint. Not ISI listed.N/ADiscussion about the historical role of sheds in Australia and how community-based Men’s Sheds are starting to fill the void left by the demise of many men’s backyard sheds. Using a photo-essay, the author describes activities at a range of Men’s Sheds.
 Martin et al. (2008). Meaningful occupation at the Berry men’s shed.Viewpoint. Not ISI listed.N/ADiscussion about two occupational therapy students’ experiences during a 6-week placement at a Men’s Shed. The students’ key observation was that mentoring between members and learning by “doing” were characteristic of the shed environment and of the socialisation process.
 Ormsby et al. (2010). Older men’s participation in community-based Men’s Sheds programmes.Research article. ISI listed.Qualitative semi-structured interviews involving 5 men and 2 sheds about why they joined the shed, what they do at the shed, and how they experienced the shed. A rigorous thematic analysis yielded 6 descriptive themes. Research design and methods are clear and well described.The authors found that the Men’s Sheds provided the men with a place to adjust to the losses in retirement and an important place for socialising and mixing with other men.
Mentoring
 Bullman and Hayes (2011). Mibbinbah and spirit healing: fostering safe, friendly spaces for Indigenous males in Australia.Research article. Not ISI listed.This paper purports to describe an action research project with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men in Australia; unknown number of sheds. It is difficult to evaluate the scientific merit of this paper, as the description of the research design and methods is unclear.The authors suggest that older male mentors are important to younger Aboriginal men.
Conceptual Frameworks
 Hayes and Williamson (2007). Men’s Sheds: Exploring the evidence base for best practice.Independent report with financial assistance from Department for Victorian Communities (DVC). Not ISI listed.Mixed methods involving 30 men in one focus group at a Men’s Shed conference; 20 sheds.The authors have taken their data and developed a typology of shed types. This typology is a very useful starting point to conceptualise the phenomenon of Men’s Sheds.
 Morgan et al. (2007). Men’s Sheds: A community approach to promoting mental health and well-being. Research article. Not ISI listed.Mixed methods; 20 sheds. A brief description of Hayes & Williamson’s research (see previous paper). This paper touches on data that was collected, but only offers a limited summary of methods.Essentially this paper presents the typology of sheds conceptualised in the original report.

Quality assessment

We are somewhat guarded in our appraisal of the body of literature given that this is a relatively new field of study and there are few rigorous papers that present research findings. Research designs are catered to exploratory research and consist of either descriptive surveys or small qualitative studies. It is quite clear that the papers published in ISI-listed journals that are peer-reviewed report more methodologically rigorous research designs. This is as it should be, as sound study design and creditable scientific rigour are central to the advancement of knowledge. One significant omission from every article was a consideration of the researchers’ role, or the relationship between the researchers and the participants. Indeed, given that any research about men’s sheds is particularly gendered, at the very least the researchers’ gender should have been discussed in the context of data collection and, particularly, qualitative data analysis (Broom et al. 2009).

Each author first individually reviewed every article; comparisons were made with 100% agreement reached. The high agreement rate was likely due to the limited amount of research literature available to review and the authors’ shared background as male health researchers. Of the qualitative papers, Bulman and Hayes (2011) was the only paper that did not pass the CASP screening questions which suggests that the research aims and methods were not adequately described. Of the purely qualitative studies, those by Ormsby et al. (2010), Misan et al. (2008) and Ballinger et al. (2009) demonstrated scientific rigour in each of the 10 CASP domains. We concluded that not only do these three studies describe a rigorous methodology but they also presented a strong case for their value to the field.

It is notable that in the mixed methods studies that used qualitative components, the authors often refer to thematic analyses, but then fail to offer any insight into these themes, how they evolved, the triangulation used, or, in some cases, even what the themes are (e.g. Golding et al. 2010). Moreover, these studies often failed to use quotes from research participants or field notes by the author to illustrate their conceptual themes; use of such data provides an irrefutable record for qualitative researchers to claim scientific rigour (Walford 2001). Such data also provides part of the audit trail by illustrating the researcher’s journey through codes, clusters, sub-themes, narratives and the eventual core variable, or major theme that gives data its explanatory power. These trails need to be ‘... clear enough to be readily, if only partially, operationalized for testing in quantitative research’ (Glaser 1969, p. 218). This is poor practice and leaves the authors and, in turn, the wider body of research open to valid critique from the positivist paradigm.

The mixed methods studies that were centred on descriptive surveys consisted of large data sets. While each of these mixed methods studies rated well against Long et al.’s (2002) selected criteria for purpose, sample, setting and ethics, they fared less favourably against the criteria for data analysis and research implications. While these studies reported straightforward descriptive statistics, we found that the major limitations of these studies are the lack of inferential analyses. Such analyses would allow for a contextualisation of data and would pinpoint for future researchers the types of associations that need to be further explored; that is, the generation and testing of hypotheses. Such research would, in turn, enhance the creation of a more robust conceptual framework that could underpin future policy and practice.

Adult learning

The adult learning theme comprises papers that have focussed on the learning potential, vocational or otherwise, of Men’s Sheds. The bulk of these publications are authored by the one group of Australians led by Golding of the University of Ballarat with emphasis on adult and vocational learning. During 2006 and 2007, Golding and colleagues were commissioned to conduct three separate descriptive surveys and to compile reports about adult learning in the context of the Men’s Shed (Golding & Harvey 2006, Golding et al. 2007a,b, 2010). They were commissioned by the: (i) Adult, Community and Further Education Board of Victoria, (ii) The National Seniors Productive Ageing Centre of Australia, and (iii) The National Centre for Vocational Education Research. The first two reports were specifically about adult learning at community-based Men’s Sheds, whereas the third report was about adult learning at a range of different community group types that also included three Men’s Sheds.

Various findings from these three descriptive surveys have been published in a number of different locations, but chiefly in journals that specifically target adult, vocational learning (Golding 2006, 2008, 2011a,b,c,d, Golding et al. 2007b, 2008, Brown et al. 2008). Importantly, these publications are mostly grounded in presentations of straightforward descriptive data; there are very limited inferential analyses. Where inferential analyses were conducted, it is unclear precisely what statistical tests were carried out and what these say about the data. This is a major limitation of three large bodies of descriptive data. Furthermore, where qualitative analyses have been conducted, the methods are either unstated or, when they are stated the researchers’ pathway towards the development of stated themes is somewhat vague.

Notwithstanding these limitations, this body of work suggests that Men’s Sheds offer an informal learning environment that is better suited to men than more traditional learning centres. That is, older men are not interested in ‘formal’ learning environments, yet the desire to develop new skills remains and the informal shed environment facilitates such learning. Golding and colleagues’ work also states that Men’s Sheds provide a unique social location for older men and a place where they can ‘belong’ once they retire. Furthermore, they associate learning with greater well-being, yet this association appears untested and therefore cannot be substantiated.

Golding’s (2011b) most recent publication sums up their work and describes how, in their view, learning at Men’s Sheds should be approached:

...while older men have much that they need to learn in order to maintain their health and wellbeing and cope with radical changes as they age, they are much less likely to participate or be engaged in education, learning, health or wellbeing are fore-grounded and named as the activity or within the name of the programme or the organization. (p. 122)

This is an important point for pause and reflection as the learning and ‘health by stealth’ approach advocated suggests that any overt focus on learning and health makes it harder to access men. This creates a conceptual problem as health initiatives and funding bodies are unlikely to accede to such a covert approach. That is, how can policy-makers and researchers measure or evaluate such initiatives using such an indirect approach?

Health and well-being

The health and well-being theme takes a broadly biopsychosocial perspective to health and includes papers that specifically considered health and well-being outcomes. Consisting of three papers and one report, this is a far smaller body of work than that listed under adult learning, but is nonetheless just as insightful. Ballinger et al. (2009) considered how meaningful participation at a Men’s Sheds that was funded by the local health authority can affect men’s health and well-being. Their findings suggest that a meaningful and regular male-specific place to congregate enhanced the subjective sense of well-being of most men, in particular for those with mental health problems and substance addictions. In Morgan’s (2010) viewpoint paper, he proposes that Men’s Sheds are of benefit to men with mental health problems.

Fildes et al. (2010) report findings from a 2-year Men’s Shed programme specific to men from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. Reporting on baseline, midpoint and follow-up interviews, only some men reported an improvement in their subjective health status. In contrast, all men reported enhanced social contacts, a sense of camaraderie, and in turn an enhanced sense of well-being, developed through community participation and meaningful engagement in shared activities at the shed.

Likewise, the MSA commissioned report by Misan et al. (2008) also found that greater social inclusion led to enhanced well-being. This report’s aim was to better understand the phenomena of Men’s Sheds and to explore whether Men’s Sheds offer health promotion opportunities. In terms of the extensively reported literature review, sample size and use of different qualitative methods, it is the most substantial piece of research conducted about the potential health benefits of Men’s Sheds to date. Significantly, Misan et al. reported that the men rated mental and social well-being as being far more important to them than their physical health. These findings suggest that the feelings of enhanced social and mental well-being were thought to arise from decreased social isolation and enhanced self-esteem.

Meaningful participation

This theme centres on the types of meaningful occupational activities that are available at Men’s Sheds and what these activities can offer men. The range of activities that are available to men is vast. For example, a published photo-essay (Martin et al. 2008) describes the benefits derived from meaningful participation in woodwork at one particular shed. Thomson (2008) describes other meaningful activities such as boat making, model aeroplane building and creating wheelchairs out of old bikes and seats. Central to these activities are the reported benefits derived from participating in something that is not only meaningful to the men and their communities but is also enjoyable and fun.

Ormsby et al. (2010) interviewed five men from two different Men’s Sheds about their experiences participating in the sheds activities. The men reported a sense of mutual support, camaraderie and enhanced social connections gained through participation in the sheds’ activities. Importantly, they stress that the shed environment, the activities that are pursued and the sense of meaning derived from participation in the sheds’ activities can positively enhance the men’s health and well-being. This sense of enhanced health and well-being is, however, based on self-report or interpretation by researchers. This paper is, by far, the most significant paper in this theme as it is methodologically rigorous and, most importantly, the authors describe in detail how qualitative themes were developed. In contrast, the other two papers, while an interesting read, offer little to the body of empirical evidence.

Mentoring

This theme is about men mentoring other men or boys in the environment of a Men’s Shed. There was only one paper in this theme which was surprising given that we are aware of a number of sheds across Australia that participate in a range of mentoring activities, particularly intergenerational mentoring. Bulman and Hayes (2011) report on a descriptive action research project with Australian Aboriginal men. They collected stories from the men about the development of safe and well-facilitated camping trips that involved older men mentoring younger Aboriginal men. Of note is the absence of a shed-like structure; this important feature acknowledges the fact that a Men’s Shed does not necessarily requires a shed-like building. One of the most important reported features of these camps seemed to be the presence of positive older male mentors as they participated in a range of traditional activities. The environment and access to mentors proved a catalyst for the creation of positive lifestyles with reported reductions in unemployment, domestic violence, alcohol addiction and drug dependence. Notably this study is not written in the usual style of a research article. For this reason, it is difficult to report on the methodological rigour as it is not reported how findings were measured or determined. Notwithstanding this limitation, the creation of safe ‘spaces’ for young Aboriginal men and the presence of older mentors, appears to promote spiritual healing and more positive lifestyle choices in younger Aboriginal men.

Conceptual frameworks

This theme is about attempts to theorise, or conceptualise, Men’s Sheds, the activities at sheds and the purported outcomes of participation. Hayes & Williamson (2007) were commissioned to conduct research and report on the inherent characteristics of Men’s Sheds across Victoria, Australia. This report culminated in a series of local and government policy recommendations about frameworks for the future growth and development of Men’s Sheds across Victoria. Findings from this report have also been published in the research literature (Morgan et al. 2007). Perhaps most importantly, Hayes and Williamson developed an emergent Men’s Shed typology based on philosophy, model, two function categories and type of support. The two function categories, utility and social, are a useful starting point to classify shed types, by function; this typology has not since been advanced by any other researcher.

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. What is known about this topic
  4. What this paper adds
  5. Background
  6. Men’s Sheds
  7. Literature review method
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. References

There is a very limited body of research about Men’s Sheds and the health and well-being benefits they may offer to the men who attend them. Golding and colleagues are by far the most well-known authors of the topic; however, their focus has been on adult learning and the opportunities for learning that Men’s Sheds offer older men. Notwithstanding this ontological slant, Golding’s descriptive work has been important in capturing the inherent features of the rise of the Men’s Shed phenomenon in Australia and how learning opportunities at Men’s Sheds may potentially have health and well-being benefits. The most comprehensive research to date was conducted by Misan et al. (2008) in their report to MSA. The National Male Health Policy: Building on the strength of Australian males (Department of Health and Ageing, 2010) suggests that Men’s Sheds represent an exemplar for the promotion of better men’s health outcomes. Yet, most of the evidence on health and well-being outcomes is either self-report or anecdotal; what research has been conducted is either small scale or focussed on men’s learning.

The small scale studies that have sought to uncover the health and well-being benefits of Men’s Sheds report promising, albeit limited, results. Absent from the current body of research on Men’s Sheds are any reliable standardised health and well-being outcome measures. Health and well-being has been primarily described through self-report and from small samples. Without standardised baseline measures, there is no opportunity for longitudinal follow-up to investigate the maintenance of treatment effects. These variables include, but are not limited to, quality of life, friendship, loneliness, subjective well-being, social function and mental health.

Misan et al. (2008) summarise the Australian Men’s Shed research landscape quite succinctly and we concur with their concluding viewpoint:

There is little or no information on the impact of men’s sheds on mental health, social and emotional wellbeing, health literacy, physical function, or executive function of individuals or the economic and other benefits sheds bring to the communities. (p. 15)

To this we would add that a significant gap exists in determining if meaningful participation at Men’s Sheds has an impact on the health and well-being of men who attend Men’s Sheds. For example, we know that some sheds offer very few traditional activities often associated with sheds such as woodwork or metalwork. Some sheds may just offer social opportunities while others may not even have a physical shed-like building and may be more focussed on spiritual and cultural well-being. Whether meaningful participation in such male-specific environments enhances well-being deserves closer scrutiny.

Bulman & Hayes (2011) was the only study to directly discuss mentoring at Men’s Sheds. Across Australia there are mentoring programmes for younger boys with learning and behavioural difficulties, or men with disabilities or mental health problems. Surprisingly, these mentoring interventions have yielded no formal research to date. Given the importance that Men’s Sheds purport to offer in terms of reducing social exclusion and promoting well-being through learning, this represents a major gap in the research.

The range of variables that might contribute towards best practice in Men’s Sheds has not yet been adequately conceptualised, measured, tested or understood. These include variables already mentioned plus a focus on the domains noted in the national male health policy such as: burden of disease, self-efficacy and health literacy. In addition, one important omission is the lack of a conceptual health and well-being framework against which social and health determinants can be measured; this needs to be developed to ground future research. Misan et al. (2008) state that Men’s Sheds should be developed as a legitimate primary healthcare strategy for men’s health and well-being; we concur with this view. How this can be enacted, however, remains open to conjecture.

Conclusion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. What is known about this topic
  4. What this paper adds
  5. Background
  6. Men’s Sheds
  7. Literature review method
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. References

There is a limited body of research on Men’s Sheds. We are of the opinion that the Men’s Sheds movement is at a crossroads in terms of their wider male health role. Proponents of the ‘health by stealth’ approach (e.g. Golding 2011b) argue that any programme where health promotion is overtly stated as an outcome would reduce the chances of males engaging in such services. However, if there is overt resistance to foreground Men’s Sheds as an agent for male health initiatives as a central part of the movement’s ethos, then the Men’s Shed movement is unlikely to be guaranteed longer term funding from health departments. Confronting this conundrum is vital to ensuring the growing international focus on men’s health promotion includes the untapped potential role of Men’s Sheds. For example, a recent report about European men’s health refers to Men’s Sheds as one excellent example where health services can be brought to men who might otherwise avoid traditional health services (White et al. 2011). The Men’s Shed movement, men, practitioners and researchers need to consider how to pool their efforts to shape future men’s health promotion and practice through targeting the types of Men’s Sheds that want to be part of the future male health picture. That is, an acknowledgement that some sheds, and shed memberships, may only want to do woodwork and offer no health promotion initiatives.

There are a significant number of opportunities for health and social researchers and the Men’s Shed movement to work together and build the evidence base and give more credence to the body of anecdotal evidence often cited by the Men’s Shed movement. The benefits to such research collaborations can be very productive; successful partnership frameworks for research are well documented in the literature (e.g. Larkin et al. 2012). Importantly, research findings need to be published in ISI-listed journals; while such journals have high rejection rates, the advantages of a more rigorous body of evidence makes the additional effort worthwhile. As a starting point, we suggest that small, but methodologically rigorous, pilot studies based on existing grassroots initiatives are developed in partnership with local sheds, health providers and researchers. One excellent example of this is Reynolds (2010) unpublished dissertation on the benefits of participation in a Canadian Men’s Shed. Such a strategy will uncover the characteristics and programme types that do promote better male health and well-being; this evidence will inform future men’s health policy and practice. Future research needs to incorporate social determinants of health and well-being within the study designs to enable comparison against other health promotion research. Moreover, such research needs to assess the psycho-social and physical functioning, self-efficacy and health literacy of men participating in Men’s Sheds longitudinally to ultimately determine the efficacy of Men’s Sheds as an agent of promoting health and reducing social isolation.

References

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  2. Abstract
  3. What is known about this topic
  4. What this paper adds
  5. Background
  6. Men’s Sheds
  7. Literature review method
  8. Results
  9. Discussion
  10. Conclusion
  11. References
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