Retired blokes around Aotearoa are helping our birdlife, while building friendships. Words & Photos Gretchen Carroll
Men’s Shed Auckland East is passionate about conversation and conservation. It is part of the wider MenzShed organisation, which has 124 Sheds throughout New Zealand. They are all based on the idea that men relate best to each other when working shoulder to shoulder. The Sheds provide a focus on something to do while creating connections, helping members overcome social isolation from city living and being retired. Some may have lost their own workshop when downsizing homes. And while there are many positives for the members, the Sheds in turn benefit the local community through their hands-on work.
The sort of projects a Shed might tackle is up to the branch concerned, however most around Aotearoa take on some community work. At Auckland East, community projects are 90 per cent of what the members work on and many have a strong environmental emphasis.
Chair of Men’s Shed Auckland East, Alan Minson, says the Shed enhances and sustains the mental health and wellbeing of local seniors, for which there is a real need. This is achieved by providing camaraderie and fellowship through the opportunity to use and enhance knowledge and skills, primarily through working on community projects.
He puts it plainly: “Men want to build something.”
Alan joined the Shed in its early days and drives the conservation aspect.
“I’m passionate about not polluting our planet – our land, waters and air. Pests and predators are a form of pollution and we can do a lot to help. As a country we can get rid of pests, litter, prevent sewerage overflows into streams and spread a different attitude to the environment.”
Alan says about half the country’s Sheds have environmental projects as their cornerstone, and Auckland East does the most out of all the Sheds around the country, with one of their two workshop barns dedicated to conservation work. Items such as rat traps need to be made to precise measurements to work properly, and they share their skills with other Sheds who also want to make these items.
Auckland East’s main environmental projects include making 9000 rat traps for backyard trapping since 2018; 1500 DOC200 mustelid traps for weasels, stoats and possums; special products for the Department of Conservation to deal with Hauraki Gulf pest incursions; and 150 wētā condominiums. These wētā condos are small wooden structures with a door and window, giving wētā shelter while allowing any residents to be observed.
The various traps all benefit birdlife by reducing predator numbers, and the Shed also makes ruru nesting boxes and tūī feeders. The members also assemble seedling racks as part of the Trees for Survival initiative, which involves young people in growing and planting native trees, with many schools having the seedling racks onsite. They also work with schools and preschools, making ‘mud kitchens’ and ‘busy boards’.
The Shed doesn’t compete with commercial businesses and it’s entirely voluntary with no paid staff. Any profits, from sales of projects such as the condos or traps, are sunk back into the Shed.
The MenzShed model originally came from Australia. Alan says New Zealand is lightly served by Sheds in comparison, particularly in Auckland, which has a quarter of the Shed density per capita as Christchurch.
This means branches like Auckland East are bursting at the seams, such is the demand. Formed in 2016, Auckland East struggled to find a venue initially and would meet in a local café twice a week and carry out onsite projects in the community. They moved into a large warehouse-like building in Auckland’s Waiatarua Reserve in 2018, which they have customised for their needs. While most of the branch’s 200 members are men aged between 70–90 years old, this Shed is also open to women and all ages, and currently has seven female members. Several Sheds around the country offer sessions catering to women who wish to acquire new skills.
Auckland East is open five sessions a week, and there might be as many as 50 members visit over one session, including some members who can’t participate in the physical work and come along for a cup of tea or to complete simple tasks. Alan says often someone will join with their own pet project, but then they form friendships and get involved in the wider community project.
For more information about Men’s Sheds and to find your local branch, visit menzshed.org.nz
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