A group of staff and volunteers from BAB projects recently came together to improve evidence based practice. We looked at this article about loneliness among older men, which had a particular focus on Men’s Sheds, and discussed how we could use this research to improve our practice.
The article was called ‘Place and Wellbeing: Shedding light on activity interventions for older men’ (Milligan and colleagues, 2015). The study looked at what could be learnt from Men’s Sheds projects in order to engage older men who are lonely. Some of the key insights from the article and our discussion are listed below.
If you would like to come along to a similar session in the future, let us know by contacting email@example.com, you would be very welcome. It is an informal group which meets approximately every 2 months and is focused on supporting your evidence based practice. We summarise the research at every meeting so it is not necessary to have read it beforehand.
Here are some of the key insights from the meeting:
1. It seems there is value in having male-only spaces for older men. The article suggested that supposedly gender-neutral spaces and activities (those which do not specify who they are for) tend to be highly feminised and mostly appeal to women, making older men feel that it is ‘not for them’. We reflected on which spaces in Bristol tend to attract a higher proportion of men, including mosques, pubs, betting shops, DIY groups and sports activities.
2. The study claims that in this environment the activities gave men a sense of self-worth without the need for competition or targets. It was almost a way to replace work after retirement, but with less pressure. We discussed how this focus on socialising through doing an activity works to engage older women as well as men, as it gives people a reason to attend and a shared interest to talk about.
3. The male-only space of the shed seemed to encourage the men to share informal messages about health with each other, by talking ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ rather than ‘face-to-face’. Some sheds in the study tried to bring in external health professionals to speak to the men, but with mixed success as this can be alienating. In these environments, informal peer support from a fellow shed member seemed to be more valuable that external health messages.
4. The Men’s Sheds in the study were run using a membership scheme; people became members of the shed which gave them the opportunity to drop in and out as they chose. In this way, the men were seen as co-participants rather than service users.
5. The facilitator played an important role in each of these sheds. They provided one-to-one support to some of the men which allowed different abilities to be involved, for example those with dementia or mobility difficulties. We discussed how sometimes it can be difficult for informal groups to manage certain situations when they don’t have a facilitator, for example when there is conflict between members or when some people need one-to-one support to be able to participate. We also reflected on how characteristics of the facilitator would affect the dynamic of the shed, for example if the facilitator was a woman or a younger man.
6. The Men’s Sheds model seems to be gaining popularity among the current generation of older men. We discussed whether the concept could be adapted for those who are less interested in DIY, and agreed that a similar model could be adopted for other interests for example computers, breadmaking, gardening or beer/wine making.
7. Unfortunately this study only focused on the benefits of male-only spaces, rather than how mixed gender groups and activities can become more inclusive of older men. We discussed whether the Men’s Shed model would have the same benefits if it was a mixed gender group, and how sometimes in some mixed gender activities sub-groups tend to emerge where the men mainly speak to the other men and the women mainly speak to the other women.
8. We discussed how it is important not to see clubs and activities as a ‘catch-all solution’ to low levels of social contact, or assume that the main barrier is enabling someone to attend a group. Some people may have low levels of social contact but be happy with this situation and not feel lonely.
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