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Study: Youth Find Mentors in Sheds

 

More and more Men's Sheds are establishing mentoring programs to support boys at risk. It's a win-win for both groups, research has found.

Men's sheds have mushroomed in countries across the globe, including Ireland, New Zealand, Denmark, Sweden and Canada. The grassroots movement originated in south Australia almost 20 years ago, fostering a sense of companionship and offering social spaces for guys to hang out.

Men's sheds come in all shapes and sizes. They are bottom-up and participant-driven. Typically, older men work on a range of individual and community projects based around woodwork, metalwork and other trade-type activities.

Mentoring youth

Today, about 24 per cent of international sheds and 39 per cent of Australia's more than 1000 sheds offer some form of mentoring, often on an ad-hoc basis.

In a first-ever study, researchers from Curtin University (Perth, Australia) have examined the characteristics of formal intergenerational mentoring programs offered by Australian men's sheds.

Led by Reinie Cordier, the team wanted to learn:

  • how programs are organized
  • factors that contribute to program success, and
  • the benefits of such programs.

The findings, based on data drawn from an online cross-sectional survey, appeared in the November 2016 issue of Health and Social Care in the Community.

Program

The survey was completed by 40 sheds with formal mentoring programs. Across the 40 sheds, 240 men mentored several hundred young people. Programs are unfunded, and most facilitators are unpaid male volunteers.

Seventy-five per cent of the mentors were aged between 61 and 80.

The 40 programs served 387 mentees, mostly youth with social, emotional and learning difficulties. Some engaged in risk behaviours, such as substance abuse or self-harm.

The majority of mentees ranged in age from 12 to 17. Most were male, but 57 of the 387 mentees were female. There was also a small number of children as young as nine years of age.

The most common activity was making something together, such as a wooden park bench.

Many sheds screened mentors prior to the program with a range of screening activities including:

  • police clearance
  • working with children check
  • teaching abilities, and
  • trade/technical skills.

Half of the sheds in the study provided mentor training.

What makes programs successful?

According to program facilitators, three factors contributed to program success:

  • meaningful activities
  • mentor's approach, and
  • a safe environment.

On the other hand, the study found lack of resources was the main barrier to running a formal intergenerational mentoring program.

Benefits abound

Previous studies have shown that male retirees are looking for activities that will stretch them and give them a sense of accomplishment.

According to Cordier and colleagues, their research highlights the potential of men's sheds to support vulnerable adolescents by helping them learn new skills and enhance their emotional well-being.

In turn, "shedders," derive a sense of satisfaction from sharing valued life experiences, knowledge and skills with the younger generation. Also, notably, mentoring ramps up men's visibility in the community and boosts their self-esteem.