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January 19, 2021 20 min

In Episode 3 of Sparks of Hope, Frank Kennedy chats to Brian O’Flanagan about his involvement in the setting up of the New Community Men’s Shed in Waterford.  A slightly different take on the concept of men’s sheds, the Waterford New Community Men’s Shed is a cooperative collective of migrant men, many living in direct provision.

In this wide-ranging chat, Frank describes the challenges they faced and how they had to work hard to find common ground in order to go forward.  Many of the members had suffered trauma and persecution and were living in very uncertain circumstances as they awaited the results of their asylum applications.  These factors added to the normal tensions and issues to be found in any new project and for a while it looked as if some of the problems might be insurmountable.

Then, as Frank explains, just as they were reaching the conclusion that the project was not going to work, they decided to have one last attempt at searching for common ground. In an unusual move, the New Community Men’s Shed organisers looked to the diverse religious traditions in their group for the solution.  They found the common ground they need embedded in the various religious traditions of the men in the group.   

Ideas like forgiveness, love, support and friendship - central tenets of all religions - became the common ground and allowed them to build a flourishing initiative with the power to change lives. Discussing these concepts and putting these beliefs into practices in their group turned the whole enterprise around. 

Now everything is different.  Once they identified common ground they rapidly began to build on it.  Men who were originally suspicious and mistrusting of each other became friends. Nowadays, far from fighting and competing, they support and assist each other whenever they can.  One of the keys to success in the New Community Men’s Shed is their celebration of differences.  This approach has helped them to create an environment that brings the idea of ‘diversity advantage’ to life.The whole process has been so successful that the men have also been able to create a multi-faceted educational and social environment associated with their Men’s Shed.  

The work done by the Waterford New Community Men’s Shed has been covered in the national media and they are also offering to work with similar initiatives around the country to help more people build common ground.  As it goes from strength to strength the hard work, vision and dedication of these men as they overcome obstacles and build bonds of friendship is an inspirational model for real community development in all settings.

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