Men’s Sheds and Governance

7 June 2021

When a group of guys come together to start a new men’s shed, their thoughts are often focused on what activities they will be able to undertake, finding suitable premises and the last thing that is on their mind is what sort of legal structure they will need for the organisation.

As a men’s sheds development worker, this is one area that I find I often have to provide some form of steering for a group.  This requires a subtle balancing act as on the one hand I don’t want to dampen their enthusiasm for the project; on the other I don’t want them to go too far down the path of developing a shed.  To later find they lack the structure to be able to sign a lease for premises or open a bank account.

There is therefore the need to think ahead and put in place the foundations that will be able to stand the test of time and be suitable to construct the organisation. Without the need to restructure the organisation structure to accommodate taking on a lease for premises.

Often the first thought is to create a simple association, which can be used to open a bank account.   However an un-incorporated association has a couple of major disadvantages.  The members would be mutually and severable liable for any debts or liabilities. It also makes it difficult to enter contracts for the lease or purchase of properties as all members would need to be named on the lease unless holding trustees are appointed.

An option that is often suggested is that the men’s shed comes under the umbrella of an existing community organisation, such as a church or a community association.

This may seem an attractive way forward as it means the shed, would appear to be freed from some of the bureaucracy of operating the organisation. However; when I first started working on supporting men’s sheds, I was warned by an experienced development officer that this was not the best way to go.  As it means the shed is in effect the client of another organisation and is not fully responsible for its own destiny.

This removes from the men involved some of the responsibilities for the operation of the shed. This has several consequences, one it removes the opportunity for the guys running the shed to gain the full satisfaction of running the show, which intrinsically makes a positive contribution to their well-being.

This acquiescent role may be as simple as having to the go to the umbrella organisation for funds to pay for some new equipment or materials, or seek their permission for engaging in some new project thus removing the agency from the men involved.

This can result in tensions and a sense of loss of control. I have known of some umbrella organisations be quite controlling in their approach emphasising that the Men’s Shed is their project and is part of their argument for funding. In effect the shed has become a prop for the umbrella organisation rather than being primarily about the well-being of the men involved, which leads to frustrations and tensions between the two organisations.

To maximise the level of control a shed has for its own operation, direction and viability as well as being able to enter in to contracts for the lease of premises with limited liability for members. A solution is for the shed to become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation. (CIO).

This not only provided limited liability for members, is a corporate body able to enter in to contracts and is also a registered charity and is able to gain from the benefits of charitable status.

To become a CIO requires an application to the Charity Commission . There are two forms of CIO  the Association Model, where all members have a role in major decision making and the second the Foundation Model where the Trustees are solely responsible for decision making.

The paperwork may seem complicated, however many men’s sheds groups have already become CIO’s and are happy to share examples of their applications with other shed groups.

One advantage of going through the application process is that it means the guys involved have to work through the process of determining what they are about and write down their objectives as an organisation.

This is a useful process as it means that new shed can at an early stage have a clear vision as to what its about and perhaps more importantly what it’s not about, without the encumbrance of actually managing the shed on a day to day basis.

This can reduce the opportunity for disagreements and fall outs between members.  See our blog on Disagreements within sheds.

It also increases the men’s sense of responsibility and sense of agency which makes a positive contribution to their wellbeing.

There are a number of Men’s Sheds across Yorkshire for contact details of your nearest shed visit the UK Men’s Shed Association Find a Shed website.