The Coquitlam Men’s Shed Society is an independent organization dedicated to men’s physical and mental health. This Shed is a member of the Men’s Shed Association of BC as well as Men’s Sheds Canada.
Usually the Men’s Sheds are located in a workshop setting and often assumptions are made that it is only for men who wish to gain woodworking skills. This particular Men’s Shed needs a variety of skills and experience. An independent Shed requires management, marketing, accounting, fund raising and “whatever skill you bring we can use in a low pressure, friendly environment” says Mike, President of of the Coquitlam Men’s Shed Society.
The Coquitlam Men’s Shed was formed in the Spring of 2015. A small group of friends started meeting weekly to discuss how to start a Shed after Mike had read an article about Men’s Shed’s Canada. They met in various locations in the community, sometimes in a heritage house, sometimes in a park and when the weather was bad, in a friendly, local restaurant that was to become a fixture in the Shed’s gatherings. A membership fee of $20 was established with some members chipping in $5 at each meeting. Their first $100 was used to create the Society.
“Then we set off to enlist allies. We pestered all the city counsellors and anyone at Fraser Health that would listen to us. We also met with our MP and MLA. Everyone was very positive about the concept but not very encouraging about the finding of the dedicated space we needed” says Mike.
Weekly meetings continued to take place in the various locations in the community, but the friendly restaurant worked best.
The Shed’s active reaching out to their community has been fruitful and has led to a stronger neighbourly presence and success in Coquitlam.
After a City of Coquitlam counselor suggested connecting with the local homeless shelter, the Shed began to volunteer in looking after their vegetable garden. Mikes surmises that this gave them credibility in the community. They were serious and committed to their Shed and the Shed’s local contributions of their time and efforts.
Their friends at the Fraser Health Authority kept the members aware of meetings that would help the Shed. Shed members also took available opportunities to make presentations about their Society and the increasingly important role they were playing in their members' lives and in turn, contributing to a healthier community.
Ted tells us about what the Shed means to him: “The Shed has enabled me to escape from isolation. After I retired, I ran out of things to do at home. There is lots to do here and I am really glad that I found you guys.”
Their big break came in 2019 when, with the help of the City of Coquitlam’s Mayor, they finally found a small building for their society. The Mayor had facilitated a meeting with the Red Door Housing Society which had a good location for them in one of their co-op housing developments. The Shed members were now welcome to use this location and ready to make this empty building their own. They began fundraising to buy tools, and with the help of a grant from VanCity Credit Union, they soon had a nice saw and a ventilation system. The Shed is now full of tools with extras to spare. Their hope is to donate the extra tools to others wishing to start a new Shed.
The Shed has engaged with their community with activities and events such as:
Giving back to the Red Door Society by doing jobs around the co-op housing development, and helping their neighbouring families.
Developing a community garden for the co-op with both financial and physical help of the Coquitlam Sunrise Rotary Club. In the first year (2019) the Coquitlam Men’s Sheds members did the gardening and this year, three quarters of the beds are tended by co-op residents.
In early 2020 (just before Covid-19) they built 50 birdhouse kits for Edith Cavell elementary school located in Vancouver. “Then we went to the school and helped the children put them together. We all had a blast, the schoolyard was in an uproar for an hour” shares Mike.
Shed members may also work on their own projects, make improvements to the Shed, and often sit around and “tell tall stories over a cup of tea”. Occasionally, talks are held that are of interest to the men. When one member was faced with heart surgery, Healthy Heart Society was invited to speak to them all. The speaker even checked in with them months later to see how they were doing.
In terms of mental health benefits? Stan, the oldest member says about his membership and friendship in the Shed “The greatest thing for my mental health. I know I am sane when I look at this group” and Doug shares that “It’s better than antidepressants.”
The Impact of this Men’s Shed is felt throughout the neighbourhood and beyond. The Red Door Society has said that they’ve made a positive change in the community. They can be found working in the co-op fixing kids’ bikes or interacting with the local schools and volunteering at the homeless shelter.
Cal sums up his experience with the Shed as a place for “mentoring, camaraderie, and the opportunity to help others as well as do my own projects.” and for Doug from Burnaby “good guys. Making friends with people I would not usually meet. It’s eclectic and fun”.
A challenge for the Coquitlam Men’s Shed’s Society is a need for more space, and they are working on it. Mike says “What challenges we have fall on many shoulders and, so far, have been easily handled.”
Just before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down so much in our communities, the members discussed what to do about the Shed. Most members were already staying home and had decided to “lie low”. A couple of members agreed to check in on the Shed to make sure it was safe, while other members dropped-in occasionally while practicing social distancing guidelines. They discontinued gardening and making presentations. A few times they had online meetings. The Shed can accommodate up to four members and if it’s a nice day, more can work outside. When it starts to get crowded, some will leave. Masks and gloves are made available for all at the Shed. As of the writing of their story, Shed members are heading back to their favourite restaurant in smaller numbers while social distancing, and activity at the Shed itself is increasing.
Today there are 35 members from all walks of life and the only requirement for membership is “respect”. The Shed is open to all ages, but the backbone of the Society is its seniors members. Membership fees are still $20 per member and some still pitch in a little more.
Funding for the Coquitlam Men’s Shed Society, both financially and in-kind, has been provided by the Red Door Housing Society, Vancity Credit Union and the Coquitlam Sunrise Rotary Club.
Mike has the final word when he says that “our Men’s Shed is an endless source of fulfillment for us”.