The Taieri Blokes Shed: An Ethnographic Study

James Sunderland
29 November 2013


Sunderland, J. (2013). The Taieri Blokes Shed: An Ethnographic Study (A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the degree Master of Occupational Therapy at Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand) [PDF 6.541MB]


The Men’s Shed movement originated in Australia as a way of addressing older men’s health issues through engagement in meaningful activity. Sheds are embedded in a culture of ‘mateship’ where members work shoulder to shoulder on constructive work projects for the benefit of the wider local community, their Shed, and themselves. Research on Men’s Sheds indicates a number of benefits related to health, wellbeing, education, and vocational training. Most research to date has been based in an Australia context with minimal study conducted in New Zealand where there are now over thirty five active sheds. Although all Men’s Sheds share a focus on collective constructive work each individual Shed has a unique identity.

The aim of this study was to understand and interpret the culture of one New Zealand Men’s Shed community as viewed through an occupational lens. The Taieri Blokes Shed, situated in Otago New Zealand, was the chosen community for this research. An ethnographic methodology was used where I was a participant observer over a six month period, after which qualitative theme checking interviews were conducted with six chosen Shed members. Cultural records and secondary sources were also used to inform findings.

The findings revealed that meaningful constructive work is the foundation for attracting membership and providing benefits to individuals. Work needs to serve a purpose, be of benefit to the wider community, the individual member, and the Shed. Supporting occupational roles and the construction of place are requirements to enable constructive work and community. Identified benefits of membership include social inclusion and social contribution alongside structured work roles and social activities. Members value self-governance and the ability to exert control in the Shed community. Sheds need to sustain relationships with local communities and understand involvement in a national Men’s Shed context. Researchers and funders need to acknowledge, understand, and value the real work that is done in Men’s Sheds. Benefits or proposed interventions are dependent on the maintenance of true work and control remaining with Shed communities.

Implications and guidelines for the Taieri Blokes Shed, the Men’s Shed movement, and occupational therapy are outlined. Limitations of this study and suggested future research are offered.


This item is available under Creative Commons Attribution licence CC BY 4.0 International.