[translated from Polish original version]
Men’s sheds have operated for some time in Słupsk, Wrocław and in the Włochy district of Warsaw. In September 2019, a new one was established in Warsaw's Wola district, as part of the activities of the Wola Centre of Culture. A men's shed is a public carpentry workshop for local residents. How does it work? Who comes there? What is its social dimension? And what does it have to do with adult education? We asked the above questions and more Adam Kadenaci, the coordinator of the men's shed at the Wola Centre of Culture.
(fot. Ala Szulc)
EPALE: How did you come up with the idea to open a men's shed?
A.K. Let me start by presenting a broader context. We are in Kawiarnia Sąsiedzka (Neighbours’ Cafe), which is a meeting place for local residents of Warsaw. The Cafe offers its services free of charge. You can have coffee and tea here, talk, and play board games. It is a local activity space. For two years, we have also had a garden here, which we rearrange every six months. We have had a winter garden and a pool. Now, we have a greenhouse, where local residents plant the plants and care for them. It refers to the history of a greenhouse in nearby Ulrychów (part of the Wola district). Our garden is also a public space and an incentive for conducting joint activities.
One of the ideas for an additional social component of the Wola Centre of Culture at Dzialdowska Street was to create a workshop in one of our garages. It was the initiative of the Director and garden designers. When I found out about it, Men’s Sheds came to my mind on an instant.
The concept of men’s sheds originates from Australia. It was there that the first workshops of this kind were created to activate retired men. This initiative is also quite popular in Scandinavia and Anglo-Saxon countries.
In Poland, the idea was instilled by the Fundacja Nasza Ziemia (Our Earth Foundation), which found a strategic partner in the Swedish Jula DIY store chain. Thanks to the cooperation between the Foundation, Jula and local partners, the first three men's sheds were established: in the Włochy district of Warsaw, Słupsk and Wrocław. We went on a study visit to a men's shed in Italy. I learned more about the operation of such places there and obtained information on how to establish cooperation with Jula. The support for men's sheds forms an element of the Jula chain's sustainable development strategy. This is why we have also established cooperation. Jula has become a strategic partner of the workshop and this is how the place was created. Our technical department renovated the garage a little bit, and we obtained some equipment and furnishings from Jula. The shed was launched in September. It was important for our partner that we are a local government institution with a stable source of funding. This is a guarantee for the sustainability of our operations.
EPALE: How does the men's shed work?
A.K. We are obliged to have the men's shed open for at least eight hours a week. Using the workshop is free of charge. Residents can use this space only when there is someone there who knows how to use the equipment and can ensure safety. Our staff also assists residents in their work. Agnieszka Bykowska-Giler and Dorota Porowska are the hosts of the Wola shed.
The concept of the Men's Shed is such that people who already know how to use the tools come there. Yet, in reality for some people, it is the first contact with the tools available there. Our staff train the residents and show them how to use the tools. We are currently open three days a week: on Monday from 12.00 p.m. to 03.00 p.m., on Wednesday from 05.00 p.m. to 08.00 p.m. and on Thursday from 11.30 a.m. to 02.30. p.m. After six months of the shed’s operation, we came to a point where evening hours are so popular that in order to meet the demand we are looking for new volunteers who would provide assistance to the residents.
We have published an advertisement on the Ochotnicy Warszawscy (Warsaw Volunteers) website. And, frankly, I was have not expected such a great response. Eleven people have volunteered. Due to our coordination capabilities, we could use the services of seven of them. We are about to stage training with a professional carpenter to prepare them a bit better. All these people already have quite a big experience in operating machines and working with timber. Thanks to volunteers, the shed will be open more often and longer in order to meet the demand from local residents.
EPALE: Who are the people who come to your workshop?
A.K. Most of them are women aged 20-45. Men's sheds were created as a place to activate retired men, but this is not the case with our workshop. You can hardly find male senior citizens among our volunteers or users. The men's shed in the Włochy district is slightly different, because the volunteers working there actually are retired men. They have managed to achieve this goal. We haven't tried yet to promote our services in the senior citizens' community yet, but we have a Seniors Council, Seniors Clubs and Pensioners' Associations operating in the Wola district, and we will try to reach them.
EPALE: Are men's sheds mainly carpentry workshops or is it possible to do other work there?
A.K. Carpentry forms the basis. This is a starting point for a men's shed. But we want to develop this place. The sheds can operate as repair cafés. It's only a matter of space and equipment. This year we intend to expand the offer of our men's shed. We want to have equipment that allows you to repair your bike (tools, stand) there or, for example, a soldering iron for plastic with which you can repair your car bumper yourself. Technical capabilities of a men's shed are unlimited. The only thing that limits us is space and equipment we currently have. The Jula company supports existing men's sheds, so we will also have the opportunity to obtain more tools that will help us broaden our offer.
(fot. Ala Szulc) Dorota Porowska, Adam Kadenaci, Agnieszka Bykowska-Giler
EPALE: Is there a place for education in men's sheds?
A.K. This is an interesting phenomenon in the context of adult learning. We are observing that the residents who come to the men's shed share knowledge and experience.
Our volunteers are people who want to share their skills with others. They assume that it is fun to volunteer, because you can train other people, pass on knowledge to someone, and you can also learn something new from someone else. Most of them already have experience in processing timber. They make furniture, do the finishing work in their apartments or carve in wood and want to develop these skills when on duty. This is often the main motivation to volunteer at a men's shed.
We don't present ourselves as experts either. Agnieszka and Dorota, who currently volunteer at our shed, have knowledge and experience but are not professional carpenters. Therefore, the support from local resident is valuable, as both those on duty and people coming to the men's shed can learn something new.
EPALE: How do adults learn? What is their attitude?
A.K. It depends largely on your personality. There are people who are self-sufficient. They come here and even if they don't know something, they either ask the person on duty or look for instructions themselves, for example on YouTube. There are also people who need to work more closely with the person on duty. They want to try to do something when assisted, they need to go through the whole process with someone else or keep asking questions. To a large extent, this also depends on the level of skills, familiarity with the machines and the ability to create things from wood.
EPALE: Your offer also includes workshops for local residents.
A.K. We have noticed that some people who come there are unable to use the equipment, as this is their first contact with carpentry. So we came to the conclusion that it would be useful to have workshops that would prepare people for working in a men's shed. Once a month, we organise workshops teaching basic carpentry skills. Participants can try their hand at operating different machines and learn how they work so that later they can work independently in the shed. We may also organise training to teach more advanced skills. We want to make the most of this space. We don't want it to stay empty.
EPALE: What are the most common questions you are asked? What doubts do people who come to a shed have?
A.K. There are two types of questions. On one hand, it is a question of operating specific machines. People who have never used a milling machine come to us and ask how to replace a wood cutting blade, how to mount it or how to use the machine. There are also questions concerning specific technical solutions - for example how to remove a thick layer of oil paint from a piece of furniture. Often someone brings a piece of furniture that they have had for a long time at home. They got it for free and want to renovate it. This usually involves simple steps, like removing paint, sanding and repainting. We can see that this place is turning into a zero-waste promoting space. Ideas vary. They range from renovating to making new things from scratch. Recently, one man came there with an old ladder dating back to the 1950s. He wanted to renovate it by removing the paint from it. He wanted to use it as a shelf and place it on his balcony. He intended to put plants on the ladder shelf and thus create a vertical garden. Recently, during Dorota's duty hours we had a couple who wanted to prepare the setting for their outdoor wedding. They are building a hexagonal structure at our workshop, which they will hang from a tree. It will serve as the background for their marriage oath :)
EPALE: In your communications, you emphasise that this is a neighbourhood workshop. Are you successful in involving local residents? How does this integration aspect work? What is the social dimension of this place?
A.K. Social value of this place is very important. We can already see that social contacts are established there. We would want our workshop to be a place where people can get to know one another and decide together that there are no benches or tables in their backyards and then make such furniture together in the men’s shed. It is also very important for me that the shed serves the local community as much as possible and helps it change the quality of public spaces, common spaces of the Wola district.
Since the launch of this place, we were approached by local craftsmen who would like to share their professional expertise. We have had a visit from a jeweller who runs a shop in Działdowska Street. He said he'd like to offer basic jewellery making training to children. He would like to show his work and make jewellery with them. He has an urge to educate the young generation because he believes that his profession verges on disappearing. We were also approached by a man who runs a precision mechanics workshop. He learnt that we run a men's shed and thought that maybe we would be open to other crafts. He also wants to offer training. The fact that such a place has been established at a Culture Centre is a signal for local craftsmen that it can be a place for them, where they can meet their social needs. This is why we want to carry out a broader crafts project to get to know the craftsmen of Wola, create a map that will promote them, but also to invite them to us, to conduct free training for the residents. Wola is one of the few districts of Warsaw, just like Praga Północ, where some craftsmen shops have survived. So we have some people to work with here.
We are also aware that our small workshop has the potential to reach out with its offer not only to people living in the Wola district but also to all residents of Warsaw.
EPALE: Do you cooperate or plan to cooperate with other institutions?
A.K. We try to make our workshop available to other NGOs and institutions. We have prepared a model of agreement, on the basis of which we can rent this space for free. The only precondition is providing your own expert who will work with the group. The PACA 40 Action Centre from the district of Grochów, which has a youth group who wants to build a garden house for relaxation, has contacted us. They were looking for a place where they could build a summer house and assemble it in their garden.
In order to maximise the use of this space, we are willing to welcome other institutions and organisations who want to work together with their local communities.
EPALE: If an institution or NGO would like to establish a men's shed, where do they start?
A.K. First, you have to think whether you have adequate space in which to set up such a workshop. This is the first step and a very important one. As you can tell by the example of our men's shed, you do not need a large space. We have about 17m2 there. Even in such a small space, you can set up a workshop, but you must remember that it generates noise and dust. So you have to choose a place, where it will not disturb other users of the building or neighbours.
As a next step, you have to check whether there are people in the institution who could look after the place, both as far as coordination and duty hours are concerned. Ideally, you can use the services of volunteers, but it takes time. So in the beginning, there must be someone who can run the place.
The third step is to contact the Jula company, which supports the foundation of such spaces. To us, their support was of enormous value. If it wasn't for Jula's involvement, we wouldn't have been able to start our workshop. And thanks to the company, we now have a fully equipped carpentry workshop. All the tools you need for woodworking are in place. The Jula company is willing to support more such places. They are looking for new partners, so it is worth to contact them and ask about the possibility of cooperation.
I have already been contacted by phone by three people from different towns in Poland who have heard about our workshop and would like to set up a place like ours. I'm happy to give them advice on how to do this.
EPALE: Thank you very much for your time.
A.K. Thank you!
ADAM KADENACI - a specialist in socio-cultural participation at the Wola Centre of Culture, social researcher, facilitator and social participation practitioner. He graduated from the Faculty of Applied Social Sciences and Resocialisation at the University of Warsaw. A graduate of the 10th Coaching School of the NGO Coach Association. Member of the Network Animateurs at the "ę” Association of Creative Initiatives, which supports facilitators, cultural institutions and Third Age Universities from all over Poland. Together with the Na Miejscu Foundation, it organizes consultation processes promoting taking into account residents needs in plans to modernise public spaces in Warsaw. He supports residents in carrying out their socio-cultural activities, especially if it is their debut. In his free time, he plays ultimate frisbee and practices bouldering.
The Wola Centre of Culture aspires to connect the community of creators and recipients of culture, which integrates and builds a local community. It wants to see a modern community open to differing attitudes and phenomena of the modern world but based on the local identity of the Wola district.
The mission of the Wola Centre of Culture is to support a creative and integrated community, bringing together creators and recipients of culture, which creates the cultural programme and supports its implementation.
#neighbourhood / proximity / roots
#modernity / topicality / commitment
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