Social Movements, The Slime of Bureaucracy and SHEDS!!!!

My T-Shirt - worn to important meetings (under a shirt - obviously!) My Kafka T-Shirt – worn to important meetings (under a shirt – obviously!)

“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?

  1. Men Sheds are an activity that helps many men to socialise and make a positive contribution to society.
  2. 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).
  3. 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: 

Age UK Men in Sheds:

Age UK Cheshire – Men in Sheds:  (where I first heard of Men in Sheds)

And a Shed Locator Map – to find your nearest shed:


About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

11 Responses

  1. I’ve never heard that Kafka quote before but I’ve got to get myself one of those t-shirts.

    I was talking to my Dad last night. He’d read about The Harbour in his nearest town in Essex. It’s supposed to be an informal coming together of those who may be a bit lonely or isolated with people with some time to spare. He’s rather quiet my Dad but he has time, likes playing board games and thought he’d pop along to get involved. After a morning of interviews, form filling and questioning he left without having played one game of Monopoly.

    Two weeks on and he still hasn’t heard whether his 70+ years of board game playing experience will be enough…….

  2. olwenmhughes

    Apart from a frivolous temptation to speculate on the notion of fifty shades of grey (as an expression about tone and colour, literally, of course) as a metaphor for the slime of beauraucracy (or fifty sheds, come to that), I do note a rise in the installation of sheds in the gardens of friends and family. In most cases these appear to be places to find some colour in life, through plants, painting, writing etc. the phenomenon is also increasingly unisex.

    BTW do you know Kafka’s story about the mouse? The one who come out of his hole into a world where the walls were squeezing him ever more narrowly and all he could see was a trap at the end. Then a cat spoke to him about choice being in his own hands and that the trap could be avoided: the desperate mouse ended up as dinner for the cat.

    What was that about Trojan Mice I hear you mutter, Chris?


      1. Its a fascinating subject Chris and something I’ve been pondering for a while. Kafka and Weber give some great context to much of the blue sky leadership thinking in the social mediaverse. Thanks for highlighting it with sheds!

  3. When public money is involved at least a thin smear of the slime of bureaucracy is inevitable. We auditors have the job of measuring the thickness and quality of the slime, but we need to avoid adding unnecessary layers of the green stuff. If we are serious about supporting well-managed risk taking, we must help the bodies that we audit to wash away unnecessary and costly layers of bureaucratic slime. But we must be careful that the combination of slime and cleaning products do not also wash away the revolution.

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