When Mike Jennings was set to retire, he didn’t know what he was going to do with himself.
What he did know was that he enjoyed making things – and to have a place to do just that would be great, he thought.
So, in 2015 he started looking around and stumbled upon a thing called a men’s shed.
A men’s shed is basically a place for senior men to get together to work on projects, promoting their overall social, mental, and physical health and well-being.
First started in Australia to keep men physically active and healthy, there are now 3,000 men’s sheds worldwide, with about 50 in Canada, 22 in B.C., and now two in Maple Ridge.
The Coquitlam resident decided to start his own men’s shed, the Coquitlam Men’s Shed.
Now Jennings is not only member of the Coquitlam shed, he is currently president of the Men’s Shed Association of B.C. and a founder of the Burnett Street Men’s Shed in Maple Ridge.
The Burnett Street Men’s Shed was established a little more than a year ago, and has a small workshop along Burnett Street. The space is around 12 feet wide and 20 feet long – perfect for the amount of men who meet at the weekly events.
At the Burnett Street shed the men, about half a dozen, meet at least once a week to work on different projects.
Currently they are working on about 20 birdhouse kits to donate to the local Girl Guides group for a fundraiser.
More recently the men finished building birdhouses with residents at a local extended care facility in Maple Ridge, a project that brought Jennings to tears.
On two occasions the men have created bird house kits and brought them to Baillie House, to make with the residents who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The kits are specifically to house chickadees, a bird commonly found in the Lower Mainland.
When the participants first sat down, said Jennings, they didn’t say a word, had their arms crossed, and stared down at their feet.
So the men passed out the kits and gave the participants hammers and before long they could hear the tap, tap, tap of nails going into the wood. And then there was pandemonium, Jennings exclaimed, with all the noise and everyone talking and “kibitzing”.
“Everybody’s laughing, talking to one another. Everybody’s having a good time,” he said.
“It was a wonderful afternoon,” said Jennings, adding that they have gone there twice now to Baillie House, and they are about to go a third time.
What Jennings enjoys most about Men’s Sheds is that they are welcoming places.
“And if you come with a long face, somebody asks you, how are you doing,” he said.
And not all sheds do wood working – or work at all. At some, Jennings said, they may play table games, they may carve, they may sing, or they may play guitars.
So, he said, a workshop is not essential. What is essential, he said, is the no-pressure and welcoming atmosphere.
John Zhang, who joined the group about three months ago echoed Jennings in that the group is very welcoming. When he joined, he said, he was very, very happy.
“These guys are very, very kind,” he said motioning to the rest of the group.
Ron Watters, joined about a month again, and loves that it’s a place to come out to.
Rick Medhurst, a member since September, after hearing Jennings give a promotional talk about the men’s shed at the local legion, said it gets him out of the house.
“And it gets me out of my wife’s hair at least once a week for sure and that’s always good,” he joked.
Thanks to a $10,000 grant from United Way the men were able to purchase woodworking equipment and subsequent United Way grants totalling about $11,500 will be going towards the building of a new shed at ground level to make their group inclusive for all.
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