“Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy”.
There is a point to the Franz Kafka quote, which will be explained later. In the meanwhile I’ll stop being pseudo intellectual and resume normal service….
Last week I was at this Working With Not To event, learning about Co-Production and Asset Based Community Development. It was great to meet Cormac Russell and even better that he mentioned MEN’S SHEDS! I’ve been desperate to talk about sheds for ages, so here goes.
Men Sheds Australia. Cormac told the story of how the Men Sheds movement in Australia had grown from a small social movement, into something that attracted the attention of large government institutions. The key points were:
- Many Blokes like to mess about in their sheds – fact – no further explanation needed.
- During the 1990’s in Australia a few Blokes started to informally gather together in sheds and do ‘shed based activities’ – you know the kind of thing, fixing lawnmowers, repairing a bookcase, making new things etc etc.
- The activity became popular and spread by ‘word of mouth’ around Australia. Men Sheds started to pop up everywhere.
- Some people (Academics) started to notice that the Blokes who got involved in Men Sheds were healthier and happier than those who didn’t.
- Proper scientific research followed which tried to understand if there was a clear link between better men’s health and Men Sheds. The research wasn’t completely conclusive (is it ever… ha ha), however the general view is that Men Sheds are beneficial. This report by the Lancaster University Centre of Ageing Research summarises the ‘shed loads’ of research into Men Sheds.
- Scientific research led to government bodies taking an interest and now Men Sheds features prominently in the Australian Government Department of Health Policy.
- A small social movement has grown to global success with a 1000 Men Sheds in Australia and expanding networks across the globe in countries like the UK, Ireland, Finland and Greece.
- Have a look at this video of an example from Age UK (Bromley & Greenwich) which has been funded by the National Lottery.
Where does this fit with the Slime of Bureaucracy?
If you look at any of the Men in Sheds websites and you’ll see a fair few references to ‘Health and Safety’, Insurance and ‘guidance’ for operating a shed.
I suspect that when the first Men Sheds started as a Social Movement in Australia there wasn’t a Health and Safety Policy in sight. Cormac Russell made the point that with the growth of Men Sheds they attracted government attention, and MONEY.
The money is quite necessary, sometimes essential. It helps to keep the sheds viable, particularly those where opportunities to raise funds by selling products and services don’t exist. However, money, particularly if it’s been provided by the taxpayer, usually comes with a bunch of rules and regulations attached. There might even be a Manager, a Coordinator, a Liaison Worker and even an Evaluation and Reporting Officer attached.
I’m not sure if any of these things actually harm the Men Sheds movement, but they do add a layer of something that didn’t exist when the first ‘social movement’ started. Maybe this is the ‘Slime of Bureaucracy’ that Kafka spoke about?
Whatever it is, I hope the revolution of Men Sheds doesn’t evaporate before I get a chance to get a saw in my hand and put some overalls on.
So What’s the PONT?
- Men Sheds are an activity that helps many men to socialise and make a positive contribution to society.
- Whilst the research doesn’t seem to have absolutely proved the link with better physical health, they are undoubtedly a very good thing (in my view).
- With any revolution (or social movement) I think a bit of ‘the slime of bureaucracy’ is probably inevitable if the movement becomes highly successful and grows significantly beyond it’s original community.
Here are some useful Shed based links:
Mens Sheds UK: http://www.menssheds.org.uk
Age UK Cheshire – Men in Sheds: http://www.ageuk.org.uk/cheshire/our-services/every-man-needs-a-shed/ (where I first heard of Men in Sheds)
And a Shed Locator Map – to find your nearest shed: http://www.zeemaps.com/view?group=598561