Coquitlam Men's Shed Society helps others and themselves

The Coquitlam Men’s Shed Society used to meet at a picnic table in Blue Mountain Park.

Now, they have the capability to build a picnic table.

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As of January, the collection of handymen and would-be handymen, who are united by their desire to keep busy and learn new skills, has an actual shed where they’ve been able to set up workbenches, tools and machinery such as table saws, lathes and drill presses.

But more importantly, said the group's founder, Mike Jennings, it’s a place where men of various ages and backgrounds can go to forge new friendships.

It’s all about mental and physical health, he said. “It reduces isolation.”

The shed is a blue storage building at the entrance to the Sunshine Terrace co-op townhouse complex in central Coquitlam.

How the group came to acquire the space is a tale of perseverance and hard work in itself.

Jennings formed the local Men’s Shed Society when he was casting about for ideas to keep himself occupied and active after selling the equipment sales business he had run for years. He didn’t much care for the structured activities of a seniors' recreation centre such as Dogwood Pavilion but he still had a hunger to connect with his peers and make a contribution to his community.

Then, Jennings read about Men’s Shed societies in Australia and New Zealand, where the movement started in the 1990s and where there are now more than 1,000 such groups. They’re also popular in Ireland and the United Kingdom. 

In Canada, there are about 25 men’s shed societies but the closest one to the Tri-Cities in Squamish, Jennings discovered.

So, in 2015, he started one of his own.

The first meetings comprised a handful of men and took place at Mackin House Museum. Then, the group moved to a picnic table in Blue Mountain Park. As more members joined, weekly appointments were held at the Sun Star Restaurant on Austin Avenue.

Mostly they ate breakfast, talked, made friends. But, Jennings said, if they truly wanted to get their hands dirty doing projects, they needed a permanent home. So they started lobbying various levels of government and Fraser Health to help find an appropriate space.

It was Coquitlam Mayor Richard Stewart who connected the group to the Red Door Housing Society, which helps find and place low-income families in various properties it manages around Metro Vancouver.

One of those properties is Sunshine Terrace, a co-op complex with 36 units not far from Coquitlam Centre that had been targeted for redevelopment but was now becoming a home for families that could really use one as well as several refugee families from countries such as Syria.

Jennings said the group, which currently has about 25 members from West Vancouver to Langley, gets to use the space for free in return for its labour to keep up minor repairs in the complex, like putting new hinges on cupboard doors. This year, the members plan to build six raised flower beds so residents can grow their own vegetables, something the society has experience with after members built and tended three such beds last year at the Gordon Avenue homeless shelter.

“We try to pay back, within our capabilities,” Jennings said.

And those capabilities are varied.

The Coquitlam Men’s Shed Society includes an electrician, steel fabricator, a couple of ex-cops and a pharmacist. They cover all ages and several nationalities. One member is blind.

“It is truly Canadian,” said Doug Gale, one of the members, who was directed to the society by his wife as he cast about for purpose after retiring.

Since joining the group, said Gale, who travels from Burnaby for meetings, he has lost 70 lb. and gained several new friends.

And that pretty much captures the purpose for men’s sheds, Jennings said.

“We do this for ourselves.”

• To learn more about the Coquitlam Men’s Shed Society, go to www.coquitlammensshed.ca.

mbartel@tricitynews.com

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