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Watch: Men’s Sheds are precious, but the Scottish Government is withdrawing funding for ‘lifeline service’

Neil Drysdale
Westhill Men's Shed was launched in 2013. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson
Westhill Men's Shed was launched in 2013. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

Jason Schroeder has been thrilled by the rapid expansion of the Men’s Shed movement in Scotland since the first organisation opened its doors in Westhill in Aberdeenshire a decade ago.

Ten years later, there are now more than 200 of these sheds across Scotland offering men – and, in some cases, women – a place to socialise, talk about their issues, discuss any health concerns, be creative, help their communities, interact with people from different generations and stay warm without going to the bookies or the pub.

Westhill Men’s Shed has opened its doors as a new warm place session.

It seems like one of the most positive developments imaginable – and especially at a time when an increasing number of people are feeling the impact of a cost-of-living crisis, spiralling bills, a stagnant jobs market and a general feeling of worthlessness – which is why Scotland has the highest number of male suicides between the age of 33 and 45 in Europe and a well-documented drugs crisis in cities such as Dundee.

Decision was a bolt from the blue

However, the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association (SMSA) has been told it will receive no more Holyrood money, following a £75,000 payment to partly cover the current financial year. It has been instructed to search for new funding partners and seek cash from the corporate sector, which is already burdened with serious issues of its own.

Mr Schroeder, the chief executive of the Banchory-based SMSA, is not only furious about the “short-sighted” and “inexplicable” decision, which he has branded “an international embarrassment”.

He fears it will cost lives and spark misery for many in the future and contrasted the difference with the situation in Ireland, which now has more than 500 sheds, and whose government has provided core and Shed support funding of more than £1.2million this year alone, to ensure they have enough to cover their development plans as part of a health initiative throughout the country.

Craftsmanship and comradeship often combine at Westhill Men’s Shed. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.

As a consequence of this level of monetary support, Ireland is the fastest-growing Men’s Shed movement in the world, which in turn saves billions to their health system.

As he said: “There is no logic behind the thinking, nor have we been given any explanation for why the money is being taken away. But this is a very dark road we are going down and I don’t believe anybody can justify this action if they ‘hear’ what we and thousands of the public are saying and look at the four-year Scottish research now completed by Glasgow Caledonian University.”

These places are a lifeline for people

The Press and Journal has seen correspondence between Men’s Sheds groups and the Scottish Government, which spells out the anger many feel about the decision.

One letter, sent to Tom Arthur MSP, said: “Jason and the team from the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association have been working closely with the start-up of a new movement of Men’s Sheds in Canada and some states in the USA.

“They are using the SMSA’s model as a template for their start-ups because it has been so successful. How sad and nonsensical that Scotland is putting such a great movement on the map in different countries worldwide, and yet is not getting the support it needs from its own Government? It really does not make any sense at all.

“If it hadn’t been for the SMSA during Covid, our own Shed would probably have closed and certainly wouldn’t have been able to offer the support we were able to give our members. It was literally a lifeline for some who were close to suicide at times.”

Westhill shows what these places do

The P&J visited Westhill Men’s Shed last week and discovered the wide range of activities and ventures in which this award-winning group has been involved as they prepare to celebrate their 10th anniversary next month.

From the outset, their chairman Nick Pilbeam, explained their aim was to be inclusive and provide members with a safe space to meet and address such concerns as social isolation, low self-esteem and the “silent curse” of Scotland where men keep their feelings bottled up, often with negative and occasionally tragic consequences.

Men’s Shed movement becomes one of the fastest-growing initiatives all across the world

Their progress has been a shining example of what can be achieved. Before the pandemic, they worked with charities and local schools; in 2017, they opened a She Shed to give women opportunities for learning DIY, getting satisfaction from repairing and making things for themselves and the community; and, as Covid struck, they once again showed their ingenuity in early 2020.

It was all about helping other people

Mr Pilbeam said: “As soon as it became clear that visors and face masks were going to be needed urgently to help the effort to tackle Covid 19, Westhill Men’s Shed swung into action, turning their many skills to the task.

“Key to the project was access to enough 3D printers to produce the frames, along with a small army of helpers to assemble the face coverings ready for use. It was important to get going quickly – and that’s exactly what we did.

Men’s Sheds in face of Scottish Government funding cutbacks Picture shows Jason Schroeder.

“Underpinning the whole operation was the funding needed to buy the raw materials, with an initial grant from the Aberdeenshire Council Community Resilience Fund. Later on, further grants were secured from the Scottish Government Response, Recovery and Resilience Fund and from Westhill & Skene Lions Club.

The work never stops for us

“We also thought we could help during the current cost-of-living crisis by providing a warm place where people can come for some company and get a lunch free of charge.”

Anybody who thinks these places are just gatherings for Still Game characters in search of a quick cuppa and a blether should pay them a visit and rid themselves of such stereotypical notions; the reality is that these sheds are the vibrant beating heart for many communities and the only refuge for those who might feel overwhelmed by the apparently never-ending cycle of doom and gloom on the national news.

Can the decision be reversed?

Mr Schroeder and the SMSA have gained cross-party backing in their attempts to argue their case, with Labour’s Alex Rowley raising a motion in the Scottish Parliament supporting the SMSA’s call to the Scottish Government to provide “stable, long-term funding so that they may continue their important work and create a start-up and development fund that new and existing Sheds can access.”

Westhill Men’s Shed member Bob Paton involved in restoration work. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.

The Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, said: “I am dismayed that ministers have decided to pull the rug from under Men’s Sheds organisations.

“The cutting of this funding from the SNP-Green government will have come as a major shock to branches across Moray and Scotland and, if it goes ahead, will be a hammer blow to their future prospects. I urge them to think again.”

And a petition launched by the SMSA, addressed to the First and Deputy First Ministers, has already gained more than 3,000 signatures.

Pressure will step up in days ahead

The Scottish Government’s only response to the barrage of criticism so far has been to highlight the success of the scheme since it was launched.

A spokesman said: “[Our] funding for Men’s Sheds has helped the movement to grow from five Men’s Sheds in 2013 to over 200 sheds today with over 3,000 members.

“The £75,000 provided by the Scottish Government this financial year will help the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association build further success as they continue to develop their business model and new funding partners come on board.”

The work never stops at Westhill Men’s Shed. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.

But that doesn’t provide any answers about how the SMSA should continue expanding with no revenue in place. As Mr Schroeder said: “We are grateful for any support, but this is not a hobby club, this is a health movement and should be treated as such.

“If we’re not there to continue providing central support for developing groups and sustainabilty benefits for open sheds, I am very worried what is going to happen to the health of Scotland’s 10,000-plus volunteers who make up the Scottish Men’s Sheds Movement across Scotland.”

The petition is at