Letterkenny Men’s Shed hosts regional launch of new Irish Men’s Shed handbook

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A new Irish Men’s Shed Association (IMSA) handbook about how to start and run a Men’s Shed had its Northwest regional launch in Letterkenny last month.      About 30 Men’s Shed representatives from throughout the county and beyond attended the launch of the “IMSA Handbook”, which was hosted by the Letterkenny Men’s Shed.      IMSA has a nationwide membership of 339 Men’s Sheds – 13 of them in Donegal – that have been set up in the six years since the popular men’s health and wellbeing programme first arrived here from Australia.      “The handbook is intended to be a useful guide for running a Men’s Shed on a day to day basis,” said IMSA CEO Barry Sheridan, a speaker at the launch. “It’s based on best practice and on what has worked for others. It’s not the be all and end all, as every Shed is different, but it is a resource that members can pick up and refer to easily when needed.”      Chapters in the handbook include “Starting Your Shed”, “Ideas and Activities”, “Running Your Shed”, “Policies and Procedures”, “Health and Safety”, “Communications”, and “Contacts and Resources”.      “The key thing about the Sheds is that the men themselves decide what they want to do and talk to each other about different ideas,” Barry said. “Sheds are becoming more and more a part of the fabric of communities, doing community projects and helping other community groups. It’s about developing a community ethos.”      Speakers at the launch included Lourda Nee of Donegal Local Development Company (DLDC), which offers a range of supports to Men’s Sheds in the county.      “The Men’s Sheds engage with men from a variety of different backgrounds, including unemployed, bereaved and widowed, people with disabilities, and people in disadvantaged community areas that have few social activities,” Lourda said. “Members of the Sheds are offered ongoing supports from DLDC in their set-up, development, organisation of activity programmes, networking with other sheds, and sourcing funding from state agencies. DLDC will be delighted to continue its support for local Men’s Sheds through working with the Irish Men’s Shed Association going forward.”      A community ethos is much in evidence at Letterkenny Men’s Shed, which was formed as a partnership between Letterkenny Community Development Project (CDP) and the HSE in 2013. The Shed is open to men of all ages every Monday to Wednesday at an HSE premises which was formerly the laundry for St. Conal’s Hospital.      “Turning the laundry into a workshop was the Shed’s first project,” said Margaret Toner of Letterkenny CDP, another speaker at the launch. “Since then they’ve done all the props for Letterkenny CDP events, including St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween. They even made us a wooden Christmas tree. They’re very, very supportive of what we’re doing.”      Other community projects that the Shed has undertaken include making flower boxes and a large, intricately-carved wooden map of Ireland for Letterkenny Tidy Towns; building a picnic table and sign for the Letterkenny Community Garden; and creating toys for the Children’s Ward at Letterkenny General Hospital.      “There’s none of us carpenters…we’re just do-it-yourself people,” said John Roe (60+), a founding member of the Shed. “We can always come up with an idea, and there’s enough of us here to get it half decent.”      Members of the public are welcome to make suggestions for community projects that they would like to see the Shed take on, as happened in the case of a current project to construct a gate and plaque for an old Letterkenny cemetery. “A woman who was walking through the area noticed that the cemetery was in very poor condition,” John said. “She asked what we could do about it, and that’s what we agreed to do.”      The Shed also welcomes orders from the public for construction projects and repairs. “We’ve done everything from making wee toy boxes for a child to making picnic benches out of tree trunks,” said Michael McCormack (60+), another founding member, who added that he has gotten a lot of personal benefit from being a “Shedder”. “I find it interesting, frustrating at times, and stimulating,” he said. “It keeps my health good and my head occupied.”      Participants in the Letterkenny Men’s Shed include a group of young men in their late teens to early 20s who are learning woodworking skills as part of a National Learning Network (NLN) educational programme. On a recent Wednesday the workshop was abuzz with the sound of sanders as 20 students applied themselves to filling three orders that the Shed had received for picnic benches.      Other Letterkenny Men’s Shed members include Sean Sheridan, who joined about a year ago. “I find this a good place to be,” said Sean (28), who was working on building a bird box during a recent visit. “You’re able to do things. Me dad does a bit, too. You can always turn around and say, ‘Jeepers, I need a hand here for a second.’”      Sean Rooney (39) also had high praise for the Shed. “They welcomed me with open arms when I came here about a month ago,” he said. “The Men’s Shed is a good place to come to further your skills in carpentry and meet people that want to do something with their lives. Plus, the satisfaction when you get something done is unreal.”

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