A handshake at the headquarters of Wairarapa's newest Men's Shed, Carterton, formalised a unique reciprocal agreement giving members full access to four of the region's sheds, Henley (Masterton), Martinborough, Featherston and Carterton. A fifth shed, Greytown, opted not to participate.

The latest development allows the four sheds' 270 members to mix and match, finding activities to match their skills, their learning needs, their wish to help their community and widening their social horizons.

Men's Sheds began in Australia, catering to the needs of newly retired and often depressed men. The movement grew explosively, with at one time one shed a day opening across the Tasman. Today there are nearly 1000 sheds in Australia and the movement has spread around the world. Growth in New Zealand has seen around 90 Men's Sheds established around the country.

John Bush, co-ordinator of Henley Men's Shed, Wairarapa's first, said there was no typical Men's Shed. Activities are based on what members want to do, whether it be boatbuilding or community and school projects. The membership includes some very skilled craftsmen willing to coach new members through everything from metal or wood turning to fine joinery, he said.

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Some members look to saving money in the future, making their own coffins.

"They can come to a Men's Shed and do everything or nothing. They can come in and have a scone and a cup of tea and yarn away to another bloke," Mr Bush said.

"Or they can repair something, make toys for the grandkids or get involved in a local project." At Henley, another gift for the grandkids can be stories of Grandad's early life, products of a very active Writers' Group. The dramas, the history, the mischief they got up to, make fascinating reading. And putting it all down on paper helps to keep ageing brains active.

South Wairarapa Mayor Adrienne Staples, who has three Men's Sheds in her area, is a great supporter of the movement, and she defends the men-only ethos.

"Having a place for men as opposed to a place for 'people' is a red rag to a bull for those who believe we should all be treated equally, regardless of gender," she wrote in a Comments column. "To be totally successful though a Men's Shed must be run by men for men."

"Wairarapa is blessed to have such a strong Men's Shed presence throughout the district," she wrote.