By @SimonCocking

John Evoy Founder of @IrishSheds & @EuroMensSheds here for conversation & fun | men’s wellbeing, social entrepreneurship, resilience, leadership, start-ups & most sports

What is Mensheds, what inspired you to start it?

Men’s Sheds is an organisation for men. I set up the Irish Men’s Sheds organisation, to create a mechanism to support an overall movement. This then helped it grow exponentially across Ireland. I had a background in community development in Wexford for about  the last 12 years, and had been trying to get men involved.

We were having limited success however. Then I saw the Men’s Sheds model in Australia. Then their Patron Barry Golding visited Ireland in 2008 and I then visited Australia in 2009 to learn more about it. It seemed effective, efficient, and I thought that this is exactly what we need in Ireland too.

What’s your link with ChangeX?

Men’s Sheds have been supported by the Social Entrepreneurs Award Ireland. From this we began to meet other helpful and interested people out there. Through this we encountered the ChangeX platform,  this helped us to grow and get the message out there. They have a bigger mission and picture, it helped us to grow, and see other solutions too.

How did last 12 months go?

Personally this past year has been challenging. In February I realized that I had become burned-out and needed some time away from my role in the Men’s Sheds Association. I now know that you can’t do it 24/7 forever. I gave it 100% for 7 years, but I now see how it’s necessary to have self-care and take time away from it too. It is quiet ironic that my own wellbeing suffered as a result or trying to set up an organization with the aim of enhancing men’s wellbeing.

However it is very reassuring to know that the organization is in very safe hands at the moment. The board and current CEO, Barry Sheridan are exceptional people and the Association is very well served from a leadership perspective.

Anything you’d change?

From an organisational point of view, there are lots of little things you might have done differently but overall I’m happy with how it worked out.

That said from the start, you need to emphasise a sustainable model. If you rely on outside funding, you will need to keep sourcing money, which takes a lot of time. A sustainable model would have been better. Maybe we should have charged everyone two Euros a week, or even a month, but if you don’t charge at beginning it can be hard to implement charges later on.

Is there a sustainable model for something like this?

Yes, but it would have raised costs to fund someone to chase additional funding. It is a challenge. If you get funds, they are tied to specific outcomes. However the funding might be for men’s mental health for example, but that might not be what the men really signed up for. You then had to do men’s health for example to get funding. Alternatively if you charged €2 a head, then they could get on with what they were more interested in coming down for, carpentry or something else for example.

What sort of cool projects / businesses have come out of your place?

Tons, there are 280 sheds now, and 8000 to 9000 guys going to the sheds. This is fantastic. There are lots of little stories, simple things, saying things like ‘it’s the reason they get up in the morning’, it’s something they look forward to.

Have any other businesses come out of it?

Lots of guys involved work on construction and had been laid off. Coming to the Men’s Sheds created social capital. It helped to get them out of the house, and to hear word of mouth news about work. A small number of businesses may have come out of it, but was not the number one goal or  outcome. Men’s mental health, skill sharing and the social conectness are the most important.. To create a place to go that is not just the pub. Pubs and bookmakers are fine, but it’s good to have other healthier options too for places to go. Men’s Sheds provide all of this, friendship, belonging, these are all good benefits.

What trends are you excited about?

It’s here to stay. The movement is still young, but it’s growing, and there is a feeling that it’s here to stay, this is very positive. It’s got huge potential to drive positive social change at local levels. Sheds  can help create positive role models, and hopefully in the future it will be  normal to do something positive for the community when you have free time, rather than doing negative activities. It’s a good alternative to pubs and bookies, and provides good example to young lads. It can change the paradigm for young lads, to see positive things being done by older men in their community.

What are your plans for the future?

I don’t know! I’m taking time out for R&R at the moment. My main interests are still social entrepreneurship I will go back to it in six months time.

Men’s Sheds have a good following on facebook / twitter – do you find it useful?

On Facebook we have a good following. We received money from Arthur Guinness Fund and training from Vodaphone in 2011. They gave us good social media training including the importance of really specific goals. Mine for example was to achieve the goal of not having to tell people what a men’s shed is, because we have successfully spread the message online. Nearly all the local groups have a Facebook page to share ideas and news. It’s been really useful. Social media really helped the individual groups to grow and communicate with each other and other groups.

What interesting insights did you gain from the online activities?

If you compared posts we ran on men’s health and then something on wood joints, the carpentry piece would get 15 times more views. It’s important to remember that Men’s Sheds is a social thing. It’s not a men’s health intervention. That’s not why they go, so it’s important that our members get to talk about what they’re interested in. However we want to  cover the other issues too.

When do your sites get the most views?

Not at the weekend when you might expect. It’s more during business times when the site is viewed. So it became a replacement for ‘work’ during working hours, which shows it was filling a need for people. To get up and stay connected with the outside world. Ideally it would be good to put out a new relevant post every day online but the web aspect is only secondary however it still needs to be consistent to your overall message.

In general how do you manage the online / offline work/life balance?

The thing is bigger than just me. We would like to have someone responsible for the online stuff. He could get people to send in articles, to get the guys from the sheds to create the content. This can take a lot of energy at the start, but it would create lot of good content too. We also have some brilliant volunteers.

Maybe I didn’t manage the work life balance too well before, but sometimes it is necessary to give 100% for a startup at the beginning.

We also had a good board, with lads from the sheds across country, with a good governing structure. This helped to manage the workload.

Who do you like to read for advice and ideas

I studied counselling & psychotherapy and the Equality Studies so I tend to top up my info those areas when when I can. My reading patterns have changed too, I now tend to read 3 to 4 paragraphs of great insights from different online articles. Ted talks are particularly great. It can get harder and harder to read a book sometimes! The most recent book I read from cover to cover which had an impact on me was Susan Scott’s Fierce Leadership.

Anything else to add / we should have asked?

Our ethos in a nutshell is, everybody needs somewhere to belong and to have friends. We can underestimated power of friends.

Tech can be isolating. People are critical of the tech, but it can be used for good in this sphere, to bring people together online and offline. Sheds offer a physical interaction which is very important, but without the tech it would be very hard to reach some guys.

Most of guys in the sheds are pre millennials, different to the kids of nowadays. People need to get together and put the tech away, but guys who go to Men’s Sheds are pre these current changes. They’re having more difficulty catching up with the pace of rapid change.

We did a men’s survey, about how did they want to be contacted. 70% said by phone, but when we use email we can contact more people. Sheds have been very good for peer to peer learning to bring on the other guys. They have learned how to skype, and apps like Donedeal. This is very popular, people want to learn how to use it, and wouldn’t consider this to be a tech thing.


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