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Scotland’s largest men’s mental health charity faces collapse in months after government pulls funding

© SYSTEMMontrose Men's Shed, Union Street, Montrose. Image: Kim Cessford / DCT Media
Montrose Men's Shed, Union Street, Montrose. Image: Kim Cessford / DCT Media

Scotland’s largest men’s mental health charity faces being wound up in a matter of months after the government pulled all funding, The Sunday Post can exclusively reveal.

Critics warn the Scottish Government is “presiding over a loneliness time bomb” after cutting ties with the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association (SMSA).

The charity tackles social isolation among men and aims to improve quality of life for its community of 10,000 members across more than 200 independent sheds.

They help volunteers set up shared spaces where people from all walks of life can gather to learn new skills, pass on their experience and benefit from companionship.

Government funding was scrapped in April 2022 but a last-minute sum of £75,000 was agreed between SNP ministers and the charity last year.

However, no funding has been agreed since and the charity now faces being wound up by the end of the year. Politicians warn that would heap further pressure on already struggling health services.

There is also confusion over which area of government could support the charity after Tom Arthur, who previously held the community wealth portfolio, confirmed it is “not supported by a specific minister”.

Government ‘washing its hands’

The charity’s chief executive, Jason Schroeder, said: “We’ve got enough funding for about nine or 10 months and then we’ll be looking at winding up.

“That will mean the more than 200 groups lose all their support and all the new groups that are starting will have no support.

“We’ll be celebrating our 10th anniversary in October – hopefully we’ll be celebrating rather than closing.

Jason Schroeder. Image: Supplied

“The truth is that the impact of us closing would be felt throughout the sector and in communities across Scotland.”

Schroeder described the level of funding from government as embarrassing.

The Irish government provided one million euros last year, while Australia regularly gives millions of dollars in funding more than 30 years after the movement started.

An online petition for the Scottish Government to reverse its decision has reached more than 4,000 signatures.

Last year’s U-turn came after 40 MSPs came together to ask then-deputy first minister John Swinney to find the cash to ensure its survival.

“There’s a saying in the Men’s Shed movement that women talk face to face but men talk should to shoulder.”

Perth Men’s Shed member Adrian Harris

Politicians say Men’s Sheds provide an “incalculable benefit to society” and warn the level of funding required is far eclipsed by the cost to public services if the charity is allowed to collapse.

Schroeder says it is “just not acceptable” a country with the highest rate of male suicide in the UK is washing its hands of a leading force in preventative action.

The charity has never received any money from the government’s suicide prevention fund but says its impact on mental health is “huge”.

‘Men’s mental health not taken seriously’

Schroeder said: “This is working – and not a lot of things are – and now all of that could be lost.

“I cannot understand why they would just say ‘no’ – and not even give us a reason for it.

“In parliament, they are all for it but when it comes to financial support for men’s health in this way, it’s just a no.

“I see what is happening and the millions that are going to other organisations that don’t have a preventative impact and I can only hope they just don’t understand it.

“The interest in women and minority groups is immense but I don’t think men’s mental health is being taken seriously at all.”

The Sunday Post has seen a letter sent to new First Minister Swinney from West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MP Andrew Bowie.

It warns the Men’s Shed movement in Scotland is “very much at a precipice” and a clock is ticking on the existence of the organisation.

Bowie says the NHS and council budgets “definitely feel the benefit of third way intervention for loneliness and isolation before more costly cures are required.”

Perth grandfather speaks of magical impact

A Perth grandfather who builds props for magic shows at his local Men’s Shed spoke of the incredible impact they can have on mental health.

Adrian Harris has been a member of Perth Magic Circle for 60 years and is one of the UK’s leading dealers in rare and vintage magic books and apparatus.

Harris admits he was “roped in” to going to Perth Men’s Shed at first alongside a family friend but has since had the opportunity to witness their benefits firsthand.

Magician Adrian Harris. Image: DC Thomson

The Perth shed is based out of North Inch Community Campus and has around 20 members – although some groups around the country are much larger.

Harris said: “We have a joke than anyone from 18 to 118 can come along as long as they are accompanied by an adult.

“We actually lost a member just before Christmas who was in his 80s and started coming along after losing his wife.

“He would come in to read his papers and have a few cups of coffee with the guys.

“He only did something physical very occasionally. He was coming along purely for a wee bit of company and someone to chat to.

“Before long he was there more often that some of the most active members.

“There’s a saying in the Men’s Shed movement that women talk face to face but men talk should to shoulder.

“So just having somewhere you can go to be part of a small social group or to work on a specific project while having a chat is really important.”

‘Life-changing experience’

A report written for the Queen’s Nursing Institute Scotland into Govan’s Men’s Shed found that for many of those involved, it had been a life-changing experience.

In interviews, members spoke of how joining had given them a sense of purpose and a place to go to meet people and learn new skills.

One man said: “I almost don’t recognise the person I was [before getting involved]”.

Scottish Conservative deputy health spokesperson Tess White said: “Cutting ties with a charity that helps 10,000 Scots, many of whom get tremendous relief from social isolation and loneliness, is scandalous.

“A four-year study by Glasgow Caledonian University talked to members about their increased confidence and feeling of contentment, and a reduction in low mood.

North East Tory MSP Tess White
North East Conservative MSP<br />Tess White. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson.

“Physical and mental benefits were obvious. And there was an argument for more help so SMSA can expand the number of people who can take part.

“The value of Men’s Sheds to mental and physical health—and the public purse—has never been clearer.”

What does the government say?

The Scottish Government said it has been supportive of Men’s Sheds since their inception, supporting the movement to grow from five sheds to 200 through £795,000 in direct funding.

It said: “Men’s Sheds continue to benefit from the many funding streams that Scottish Government provides to support third sector organisations, including the Communities Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund for Adults, which has supported a number of Men’s Sheds across Scotland since 2021.

“In delivering our social isolation and loneliness strategy, A Connected Scotland, the Scottish Government will continue to engage with third sector organisations, including Men’s Sheds, to explore opportunities for people to connect.”