Father’s Day Feature: Cayman work shed brings men ‘shoulder to shoulder’

For older men, opening up about mental health can be particularly difficult. Problems such as social isolation and depression are often compounded with age, and with that comes an elevated risk of alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide.

In 2017, men aged 45-49 accounted for the highest suicide rate in the United Kingdom and overall, men were three times as likely as women to take their own lives, according to the UK Office for National Statistics.

For men who struggle to put their feelings into words, an international movement hopes to help them build social connections – and improve their quality of life – in a more hands-on way.

Men’s sheds began as an initiative in Australia, to bring men together in a collaborative, community setting where they could roll their sleeves up, work with their hands and, hopefully, build new friendships.

The movement has now spread across Europe, North America, and now the Cayman Islands.

The island’s first men’s shed, housed in the Cayman Catboat Club on North Church Street, is slowly gaining steam. A small woodworking shop has been set up with donated tools, tables and most importantly, time.

Mark Nicoll, one of the shed’s founders, said the concept is simple: while men often do not do well face-to-face, they do well shoulder to shoulder.

He envisions men coming together to build personal projects, mentor each other and inadvertently, connect with like-minded people.

“Sheds are a way to get men away from the television, out of the house, to come in, have a cup of tea, [and] saw,” Nicoll said.

Mark Nicoll demonstrates one of the saws inside the Cayman Men’s Shed. – Photo: Taneos Ramsay

He and other founding members are now working to get the word out about the shed and drive membership. The organisation will host its first open house over Father’s Day weekend on Saturday, 15 June, from 9am to noon. The event is an opportunity for men – and women – to explore the facility and start sharing ideas.

Kevin Ashworth described the end goal of the shed as “health by stealth”.

“The people who engage in this facility won’t realise the potential and full benefit it will have to them. They’ll just feel better. Studies have shown over the years now that men particularly who use a shed, over 99% have said it has had a positive effect on their lives,” Ashworth said.

It may seem that 99% is an impossible figure, but the statistic is backed up by research.

A study of men’s shed in Australia, released in 2007, found the benefits of such programmes to be immense for participants.

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Men surveyed by the study, commissioned by the Australian government, expressed a strong sense of belonging, well-being and health associated with the shed, with 97% of them saying they “felt at home in the shed”, and 99% saying they had “made good friends in the shed”.

“Men’s sheds are particularly successful in attracting older men that have proved difficult to engage through conventional health, employment, education and training initiatives. Many of these older men are facing issues associated with significant change, including ageing, health, retirement, isolation, unemployment, disability and separation,” the study states.

“[Sheds] provide mateship and a sense of belonging through positive and therapeutic informal activities and experiences with other men. Men’s sheds achieve positive health, happiness and well-being outcomes for men who participate, as well as for their partners, families and communities.”

The opportunity to make friends is one aspect that attracted Ivan Jones to the shed. He stumbled across the building recently and out of curiosity, he decided to explore.

He discovered a space to pursue his long-time interest in woodwork and to learn alongside other men. As a recent transplant to the island, the social aspect appealed to him.

“Personally speaking, when you arrive to an island and you don’t know anybody, it is quite a process to meet new people. I’m not a particularly outgoing person naturally, so it’s nice to be in a space where you’re able to speak to people if you want to but you don’t necessarily have to. So you can be social without being forced into an unnaturally social situation,” he said.

In the future, he hopes the shed will provide mentorship opportunities that will allow participants to build greater projects than they are individually capable of. From there, he sees the men expanding to community projects beyond the shed.

But first, the initiative needs to build membership.

“We want people to get involved. We want men to get involved and generate interest in the project. We want local men to get involved, Caymanians particularly. It doesn’t have to be older men,” Ashworth said. “One of the benefits I can see from this is multi-generational assistance, that effectively the older men can act as mentors to the younger age groups.”
To learn more, visit Men’s Shed – Cayman Islands on Facebook or check out Saturday’s open house from 9am to noon in the Cayman Catboat Club on North Church Street.

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