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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, June 16, 2022

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid) 16 June 2022 [Draft]

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Men’s Sheds, Point of Order, Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Role of Incineration in Waste Hierarchy, Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Miners’ Strike (Pardons) (Scotland) Bill, Point of Order, Decision Time


Contents


Men’s Sheds

I ask those leaving the chamber and the public gallery to do so as quickly and as quietly as possible, because we are still in session.

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-03064, in the name of Christine Grahame, on “Men Don’t Talk”. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I invite members who wish to participate to press their request-to-speak buttons now or as soon as possible.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the work that has gone into producing the one-act play, Men Don’t Talk, by Clare Prenton, who is based in Peebles; understands that Clare based this play on the experiences of those involved with Peebles Men’s Shed and conducted a number of workshops with members to inform the storyline, which was written and developed over two years; further understands that it explores the myth that men do not talk, in a fictional Men's Shed setting, discussing such issues as loneliness, alcoholism and recovery, loss of a life partner, caring for a partner with dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from previous service in the Armed Forces, and where the next supply of jaffa cakes is coming from; notes that this was made possible by funding from the Peebles-based charity, Inspiring Life—Evie Douglas Memorial Fund, which was set up by Freda Douglas in memory of her daughter Evie; congratulates those involved, on the play coming to fruition in January 2022, with a rehearsed reading at The Eastgate Theatre in Peebles, employing a professional cast of three actors and the services of one local amateur, who helped with the stage direction, in front of an audience of over 70 people; believes that projects such as this celebrate community collaboration and are an important part of raising awareness of issues around mental health, particularly among those in society who may be less comfortable in engaging in conventional support for this, and considers that organisations such as Men’s Sheds are a vital support for many in Scotland’s communities.

12:50  

I thank the Presiding Officer for the pause to allow members to enter the chamber.

It is with great pleasure that I lead my debate on men’s sheds. I add that this is not the first time, as I led a debate on the same topic in 2019, and contributed to another in 2021. I thank members for signing the motion and, in advance, for contributing today. I also welcome to the gallery members of the Peebles and District men’s shed and the Penicuik and District men’s shed, which are in my constituency. I visited both pre-Covid and hope to do so again. There are also sheds in Lauder and Galashiels.

All men’s sheds have much in common, and their members have a wide range of experience, which is very handy—for example, there may be an accountant who can search out funding streams; a retired lawyer, if you are lucky—although not many people say that about lawyers—who can help with the legal stuff; and men with experience of trades. Collectively, they make a powerful functioning organisation.

The name “shed” is so apt. I recall that my father had his own one-man shed plonked right in the middle of the back garden. He would retreat there from our large and noisy family with the Sunday papers and sit in the open doorway at peace with the world, or he would disappear inside to make sledges for us that were so heavy that they would not move through the snow. There were also shelves that were constructed to survive an earthquake. Woodwork was not a talent of his, but he was happy. When men’s sheds came on the scene, I immediately recognised the benefits.

The play “Men Don’t Talk” by Clare Prenton was born out of discussions with Peebles men’s shed members, and it prompted me yet again to highlight again the importance of men’s sheds. Men talk there, and the play explores what they talk about, including a range of small, medium and large issues. By “large”, I mean issues of loneliness, bereavement, dementia and so on—all discussed while they hammer away at bird boxes, planters and garden benches that are mostly for community use, accompanied, of course, by the obligatory cups of tea and coffee and biscuits. Lest I forget, I should make it plain that Peebles men’s shed also provides for women members.

I thank the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association for its briefing, and note that there are 201 known men’s sheds and developing groups across Scotland—129 open sheds, 47 that are in development and 25 that are proposed. The pandemic meant that some sheds have gone, but post-pandemic there is an even greater need for them, as we can see from the sheds that are proposed and in development. Incidentally, the SMSA has an excellent website to guide those interested in the dos and don’ts of establishing a shed.

I now welcome more people to the public gallery—you missed a bit, but you can see it online later.

There is no dispute that men’s sheds do a power of good, and I am not just talking about bird boxes and benches. The companionship is good for body and soul, and is much needed, especially after the last two dreadful years.

I know that you would have wanted to take part in this debate, Deputy Presiding Officer, so I thought that I would say what you would have said; besides, I have family connections to Orkney through a sister, which I think gives me sufficient authority to deputise for you. I am deputising for the deputy—how nice. Here is the jist of what you told me.

Orkney men’s shed, like others, found securing premises difficult, but having at last found a location in Finstown, which is midway between Stromness and Kirkwall, and thus central and ideal, it has had to relocate to Stromness.

A hard-working team of volunteers led by Morgan Harcus has quickly enabled Orkney men’s shed to prove its worth to members and the wider community. The concept is making its way north of the Galt, with plans for the Sanday men’s shed well advanced. Given the risks of isolation and poor mental health, there is no reason at all why that model could not be replicated on other islands, albeit tailored to meet the circumstances, demand and personalities in each community.

I trust that, if I run out of time, I will get a little more time for that.

However—the minister will know where I am going with this—funding for sheds has to be raised through the Big Lottery Fund and so on. That is time consuming and exhausting, and finding suitable premises is a common challenge—it is not just a challenge in Orkney. That was true in Peebles, where premises were secured in the former ex-servicemen’s club, and in Penicuik, where, after years, a place has just been secured in the YMCA. Local authorities can help with that, and they often do.

The Scottish Government is quite right to face up to the challenges of the population’s health and wellbeing, especially the health and wellbeing of older people. Keeping folk fit in body and mind is not only the right thing to do; it can save more than pennies for the public purse, especially the health budget. Therefore, it seems to me—I am glad that the minister is listening—that there is a requirement for a more proactive role for Government in supporting the men’s shed movement. I am aware that there was a meeting with the SMSA earlier this year to discuss a new funding strategy for men’s sheds. A trilateral funding approach in the budgets of the Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth, the Minster for Equalities and Older People, and the Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care was looked at.

I understand that the minister has responded to a request for three-year funding, and I appreciate that the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association is disappointed to receive only one-year funding. However, these are extraordinary times, and there are severe financial pressures on all budgets. As my mother used to say, “It’s better to get something than nothing.” I note that the minister has suggested that the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association should apply for funding to explore the upcoming social isolation and loneliness fund. I encourage it to do that.

If allowed, I will be back again in a year’s time in another men’s shed debate looking to see that more funding is secured for that very important organisation and all the individuals who give up their time to develop men’s sheds throughout Scotland.

I am glad that the minister is listening, and I hope that the Deputy Presiding Officer is happy.

Thank you very much, Ms Grahame. It is always a pleasure to be able to put words in your mouth.

There is, quite understandably, a lot of demand to speak in this debate, and I am conscious that business will resume at 2 pm, after lunch. We do not have an awful lot of time, so I would be grateful if members stuck to their four-minute allocation.

12:58  

I thank Christine Grahame for lodging an important motion, which eloquently describes the commitment behind creating the “Men Don’t Talk” one-act play. The storyline development, the issues that the play explores and the funding support have all helped to create an opportunity to raise awareness of mental health and the vital role of men’s sheds in many of Scotland’s communities. What struck me about the motion is the really creative and positive relationship between the Peebles men’s shed, the playwright Clare Prenton, the Inspiring Life—Evie Douglas Memorial Fund, and the Eastgate theatre in Peebles, which clearly brought significant positive benefits to everyone involved in the project.

Age Scotland has described a men’s shed as

“a safe social space for all men with time on their hands, to come together to socialise”

and undertake

“purposeful activities ... for themselves or for their ... community.”

It continued:

“sheds aim to provide positive views of aging and later life, tackle loneliness and isolation and help older”

men

“to be as well as they can be.”

I am sure that most—if not all—MSPs who have supported Christine Grahame’s motion will have a special relationship with men’s sheds in their constituencies and regions. My Aberdeen South and North Kincardine constituency hosts three sheds, which I will drop into over the summer.

Earlier this year, I spoke about the Portlethen and District men’s shed in a speech about veterans and mental health and wellbeing. Cliff and John, who are both shedders and veterans, are testimony to the role that the shed plays in helping men to access their social network of friends.

Recently, my colleague Jackie Dunbar lodged a motion to celebrate global intergenerational week. In that debate, I spoke about the work of one shedder who has created doodle boards for a local primary school, putting his practical skills to very good use, recycling materials such as wood and supporting children to learn while developing their sensory practice.

However, the reach of that particular shed is much wider, as evidenced by the dementia-friendly garden that they maintain, the planters that they have made for their local railway station and the benches that they are currently making—out of mahogany, no less—to be placed outside the local chemist for older people to sit on when they are waiting for their prescriptions. Those are all activities that enable men to come together with their peers, neighbours and even strangers, and talk.

Of course, the context of today’s debate addresses the scenario not so much of “Men don’t talk” as maybe also “Men don’t want to talk or don’t feel able to talk.”

A recent American study on the role of men’s sheds in health promotion for older men highlighted the importance of an informal, male-friendly and safe shed environment that helps them to open up and talk about health issues in a comfortable and secure way.

By sharing their individual health and illness experiences with their peer group, men gain social support, which helps them to deal with their health issues, and in particular their mental health issues. I have it on good authority that my friends at the Portlethen men’s shed are more than happy to talk quite frequently about their waterworks, including the number of times they go to the loo in the evening and which treatment works best—wonderful stuff.

The study also suggests that a successful men’s shed must be supported by the availability of good shed facilities and, as Christine Grahame highlighted, sufficient funding and a management arrangement driven by shedders that enables them to make their own decisions—for example, which projects they want to work on.

I thank Christine Grahame for lodging the motion and I look forward to visiting Portlethen men’s shed, Cove and Altens men’s shed and Culter and District men’s shed during recess for a bit of summer talk.

13:02  

I welcome Christine Grahame’s guests to the public gallery and thank her for securing this debate and for the opportunity that it has given Parliament to discuss men’s health week as well as Clare Prenton’s play “Men Don’t Talk” and the work of men’s sheds in general across Scotland.

As Christine Grahame has outlined, Clare Prenton produced the one-act play “Men Don’t Talk” after conducting a number of workshops with groups from the men’s shed in Peebles. That work shows the huge benefit of men’s sheds, which I hope that we can all acknowledge today. “Men Don’t Talk” highlights the work that men’s sheds such as Peebles and District men’s shed do and helps to dispel the myth that men do not talk. Rather, men talk in a place and at a time when they feel comfortable to do so, which is why men’s sheds and other community projects are so essential to all our communities.

The debate is taking place during men’s health week, which is about raising awareness of health problems that disproportionately affect men. Men’s shed organisations across the country are indeed a vital source of support, friendship, relief and comfort to many and provide that strong support network that men often feel—particularly in today’s technologically driven world—that they are not necessarily connected to. It is important that that human contact is really looked at.

Men’s sheds provide an excellent opportunity to act early in the work that needs to take place to address people’s depression, relationship breakdowns and male suicide, particularly for men in Scotland from the poorest social backgrounds, who are often the most vulnerable due to issues around unemployment and poor social conditions.

The figures surrounding mental health and suicide among men in Scotland are shocking—we have had many debates on that—and I think that men’s sheds have a positive role to play in that jigsaw of how we find a solution.

In Scotland today, more young people under the age of 29 die by suicide than from all types of cancer combined. In 2020, 71 per cent of all suicides recorded were men, further illustrating the disproportionately high number of suicides among men in Scotland.

In my Lothian region, between 2016 and 2020, more than 500 people died from suicide, with 389—70 per cent—of those being men, which aligns with the national average. I recently met with the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association at its Banchory headquarters to discuss the challenges that face the charity, the work that it can do to help to turn around some of those problems, and the role that it needs to play in helping us to address them.

Anyone who has interacted with a men’s shed will know how their work is making a huge impact on local men in every community, and that the model is working well in rural and urban Scotland. Edinburgh and the Lothians, which I represent, are fortunate to have a number of men’s shed associations operating in the area, but we need to look at how we can further expand them, which I think is an important part of what this debate can help to achieve.

The debate shows how members’ business debates can drive change. The member has managed to do that because, yesterday, the minister responded to the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association to indicate that the Scottish Government will make available £75,000 of core funding. As Christine Grahame has outlined, that is fine for staffing, but we need a future commitment on support. I hope that the debate can help the three-year funding request that was put forward and rejected to be revisited, and that ministers will look towards the development of a future sustainable financial package, because it is hugely important for that to happen if men’s sheds are to be sustainable and expanded.

With just under 3,000 individual members and a pre-Covid engagement of about 10,000 members across Scotland, the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association is the largest and fastest growing member-led men’s health charity in Scotland—we should celebrate that. Therefore, it is vital that we look towards how its work will be expanded.

I thank Christine Grahame and Clare Prenton for bringing the work of men’s sheds to the attention of the Parliament. I will close with an important quote from another woman, the actress Glenn Close, that sums up the issue quite nicely. She said:

“What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candour, and more unashamed conversation.”

I sincerely hope that, by next year, when we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the first men’s shed in Scotland, and when, I hope, the pandemic will be behind us, we can tackle issues of men’s health and wellbeing with more sunlight, more candour and more unashamed conversation.

I know that it is not in keeping with members’ business debates to be too strict on time limits, but we are under the pump, because business is starting at 2 o’clock. If members could stick to their four minutes, I would be very grateful.

13:07  

I thank my colleague Christine Grahame for securing this important debate.

We all know that most men don’t talk as much as they should, but why not? In the past, men were not encouraged to talk about their feelings. In fact, they were often actively discouraged from doing so. Over the years, men have been conditioned not to talk about their fears, emotions or feelings.

I believe that two simple words have had the greatest detrimental effect on how comfortable men feel talking about their problems and experiences: “man up”. The inference of that phrase is that men should be strong, should not show their feelings, should not cry and are expected to get through their problems on their own. The words are often thrown around without any thought being given to the damage that they inflict, not just to the person on the receiving end but to wider society and to future generations.

Historically, men have been taught to hide their physical, mental and emotional pain, and society has made it difficult for men to discuss topics of personal importance, favouring instead impersonal matters such as sports or popular culture. It is encouraging to see that our younger generations appear to be more open to talking about mental health, thanks in part to the media presence that mental health now has, and to social media, which can be a lifeline for people who feel isolated. I am reassured to see just how far things have progressed since I was a boy, but there is still much work to be done to challenge the cultural stereotype that exists in our society and to avoid the trap of toxic masculinity.

Startling research from the men’s health charity Movember finds that nearly a third of men say that they feel pressure to be manly or masculine. To maintain the appearance of manliness, the research finds that 38 percent of men do not talk to others about their feelings, and that almost three in 10 men have never shown emotion or cried in front of others. That pressure to repress emotion can have devastating consequences on mental health, and may even stop some men from seeing a healthcare professional about physical or mental health problems.

That inability or unwillingness to reach out to friends, family or health professionals can have devastating results. The statistics surrounding the issue of male suicide are truly heartbreaking to read. Figures from National Records of Scotland show that one in four men have thought about taking their own life; in 2020, 71 per cent of all suicides were men; in every year since 1985, more than 70 per cent of people dying from suicide have been male; and 43 per cent of men wish that they could talk more to others about their personal problems. It can be a vicious cycle: men don’t talk about mental health because there is a stigma, but until more men talk about it, the stigma will remain.

That is why organisations such as men’s sheds are very important. They provide a safe and supportive environment that fosters discussion and encourages shoulder-to-shoulder chats. They cater to the unique needs of men, while recognising that many men find it difficult to discuss their personal thoughts and feelings head-on.

As I have mentioned in the chamber previously, my constituency is the home of the Kirkcaldy and District men’s shed. On the previous occasion that I stood here highlighting its invaluable contribution to the local community, I described how its members had been victim to a robbery in which their equipment, tools and electrical generators were stolen, rendering them powerless. I am delighted to report that they have not only recovered from that crime; they have gone from strength to strength. The group has now secured and moved into its own premises, and as a result membership has increased greatly in recent months.

The group’s community open day last month was a great success, with a number of men coming along to find out more about what it does. It was great to see the local reaction to national issues. In Kirkcaldy, there are now a number of groups that address men’s mental health, including Pete’s man chat movement and Andy’s Man Club, all of which are helping to reaffirm the message that, “It’s okay to talk”.

We must continue to challenge, change and empower our fathers, brothers, sons and friends so that all their voices are heard, and so that future generations of men and boys will grow up feeling confident in talking about and expressing their emotions, asking for help when they need it and discussing topics that they never dared to discuss before. When men get together and start to talk about the issues that really matter, the results can be astounding.

13:12  

I thank Christine Grahame for bringing the debate to the chamber. From what we have heard, I am in no doubt that the play “Men Don’t Talk”, by Clare Prenton, goes a long way towards dispelling the myths that persist in our society that men don’t talk, and the stigma that persists around how men deal with their feelings. I congratulate Clare Prenton on that important piece of work. The fact that she went into a community and worked hand in hand with a men’s shed to inform the play can only mean that it gives a piercing insight into the worries and angst of so many men, even if that sometimes extends to discussing who is next to do the dreaded trip to the shops.

I agree with Christine Grahame that projects such as “Men Don’t Talk” are an excellent example of community collaboration and play an important role in raising awareness in society among those who may be less comfortable in engaging with conventional support. If the performance travels further north at some point in time, I think that we would all be delighted to attend a showing. Perhaps we could even do so in the Parliament in the future.

In my community, we are fortunate enough to have access to our own men’s shed just down the road in Barrhead. It is a community that the minister knows well—indeed, he and I have visited that excellent facility. We have not yet been encouraged by the members to take up woodwork, but that may well happen in the future—although I am not entirely confident about my abilities in that regard.

The community men’s shed in Barrhead does so much more than provide a space for crafting and woodwork. It provides a lifeline to many in our community, and enables older people—both men and women—to come together and share a space with one another. The Barrhead men’s shed does amazing work, and we can all learn so much from its members’ example of kindness and respect to all. Every time that I have visited, I have felt that warmth and kindness, and the real buzz that exists around the place with people coming together.

Will the member take an intervention?

I do not know whether I have time.

You would have to take it in your allotted time.

I will not, if that is okay, so as to keep on the right side of the Presiding Officer.

I will share with members a few quotes that have come directly from the members of the shed in Barrhead. I think that these quotes typify what the shed means to them. One person said:

“It may just be a shed to you, but to me—it’s my Sanctuary.”

Another said:

“The men’s shed has been my life saver since my wife died.”

From those quotes, it is clear to me that we need to do as much as we can to provide support for these organisations, which, for some people, are indeed a lifeline.

As other members have said, it is not rocket science. It is a model that has, in some ways, always been around, but the difference that it makes is huge. As Christine Grahame said, we need to think about the preventative spend aspect, particularly with regard to the savings to the health budget.

We have heard from other members about the issues of funding and the sustainability of men’s sheds. Sustainability of funding is crucial, and I know that it worries many people who are active in the men’s shed movement. We have heard about some of the national issues that the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association is experiencing, and I hope that the minister will pick up on those in his concluding remarks.

There are also issues at a local level in relation to support and the funding for leasing the buildings that men’s sheds occupy, with councils sometimes dragging their heels when it comes to making decisions on future support. We need to explore further the asset transfer framework in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015. The men’s shed in Barrhead has raised issues about the validation certificate and the length of time that it can take to have that confirmed, the uncertainty that it creates when it comes to applying to funders, and the group’s desire to have a sense of control over the buildings that it occupies. I am conscious of time, so I hope that the minister will be able to respond to that issue, or perhaps take it offline with me.

Next year, the Scottish men’s shed movement will celebrate the 10th year since the first ever men’s shed opened in 2013. Since then, from Barrhead to Ullapool, the movement has gone from strength to strength, and that should be celebrated. I look forward to us all coming together in the Parliament next year, with perhaps even more guests from men’s sheds from across the country, to celebrate that milestone.

Thank you, Mr O’Kane. I am sure that if you can operate a kettle, you will be very welcome in the Barrhead men’s shed.

13:16  

I thank Christine Grahame for bringing this important topic to the chamber and highlighting the positive impact of men’s sheds. I also welcome the shedders who are in the gallery, and I congratulate Clare Prenton, Inspiring Life and the gentlemen of Peebles and District men’s shed, who collaborated to create and produce “Men Don’t Talk”.

According to the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association, there are 127 established men’s sheds in Scotland, three of which are in my constituency. They are Three Towns men’s shed, Irvine Harbourside men’s shed and Irvine Newtown men’s shed, which, in September 2019, along with Garnock Valley men’s shed, created the Ayrshire men’s shed network.

A man’s shed might conjure up the image of a lone man making or mending items by hand, content at the bottom of his garden, and away from the family, as Christine Grahame said. However, what we are talking about today is a wee bit different. Men’s sheds are about social connections, friendship building, sharing skills and knowledge, banter and, of course, a biscuit or two.

We all know that men’s health can be overlooked, with men being more predisposed to physical illness and injury, on top of being vastly more susceptible than women to mental health problems and suicide. It is often reported that men are less likely to access professional interventions. Men’s sheds raise awareness and encourage shedders to look after themselves and seek help when needed.

The Three Towns men’s shed, in conjunction with other organisations, co-ordinated a very successful men’s wellbeing event, which featured the Prostate Scotland virtual toolbox workshop to raise awareness of prostate disease.

The Scottish Shedder, the official free magazine of the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association, not only promotes news from men’s sheds across Scotland to showcase their successes, but includes a health section, which promotes topics from first aid to the benefits of physical activity and support services. It also includes personal stories from men on how becoming a member of their local shed helped to turn their lives around.

With an increase in online activities and the use of social media, one particular area of concern for men is social isolation and loneliness. As I am sure we can all understand, that was exacerbated during lockdown, when there were limited social interactions and community spaces were closed.

Organisations such as Age Scotland herald men’s sheds for offering opportunities to interact meaningfully with others. What is more, many sheds get involved in community projects such as restoring village features, helping to maintain parks and green spaces, and building things for schools, libraries and individuals in need.

At the end of last year, Irvine Harbourside men’s shed were made aware of a young apprentice joiner in the town who did not have any tools. It quickly stepped in to help by gifting a tool bag and basic toolkit to get him started. It also recently made planters and a bookshelf for the Puffer cafe at the Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine.

The Three Towns men’s shed runs evening classes that provide basic do-it-yourself skills, camera skills and painting and decorating advice, which allow members to share their skill set with the wider community.

Irvine Newtown men’s shed turned pallets donated by a local business into fabulous benches, decorations and planters for the garden at Dreghorn library.

Men’s sheds are vital. They are community spaces for men to connect, converse and create. They help reduce loneliness and isolation and take into consideration differing male behaviours and the attitudes towards men’s physical and mental health. More importantly, they are fun and I wish them all the best.

13:20  

I thank Christine Grahame for lodging her motion and securing the debate.

The patriarchy does not hurt only women. The myth of masculinity, which a 2013 study of men’s sheds described as

“physical dominance, emotional control and achievement through paid work”

completely fails to respect or acknowledge the reality of men’s lives, emotions, relationships, needs and experiences. It is perhaps no coincidence that the men’s shed movement originated in Australia, a repository of so many patriarchal fantasies, or that it has taken such root in Scotland, where we are, I hope, beginning to recognise that all of us, regardless of gender, can talk, feel and cry.

As a member for the North East region, I am fortunate to represent the members of many wonderful men’s sheds. We have men’s and community sheds in our cities, from Lochee in Dundee to Bridge of Don in Aberdeen; in towns across Aberdeenshire and Angus, from Banchory to Brechin and from Fraserburgh to Forfar and in many village and rural communities. Some, such as the Carse of Gowrie men’s shed, which meets in Dundee’s technology park, bring the city and countryside together.

Whatever their setting, men’s sheds fulfil the same core functions, providing a place for people to meet and talk, to share skills, projects and ideas and to be active in the company of others. Some, such as the Westhill shed, host talks by experts in local history and health issues, while the one in Inverurie has a music group. The connections between activity, social relationships and good physical and mental health are well established, and men’s sheds play a vital role in supporting their members’ wellbeing, in body, mind and spirit.

Men’s sheds benefit more than their own members. They provide huge benefits to their local communities, as analysed by the Gable Endies men’s shed in Montrose, and to the wider world. Many of the concepts that we discuss in this Parliament and the changes that we want to see happen are already being dealt with quietly, practically and wisely by men’s sheds.

Reuse, repair and recycle is not just an aspiration for the men’s sheds of the North East, it is a daily reality. Across the region, tools, machines and furniture are rescued, refurbished and returned to active use and love. Peterhead men’s shed even refits boats, while the one at Ferryhill is linked with the Railway Heritage Trust.

Men’s sheds meet community needs in immediate and practical ways. In Turiff, they built children’s picnic tables and Banff and Macduff built a mud kitchen, both for local primary schools. That positive relationship with local schools is replicated in many communities through teaching and doing woodworking, gardening and more.

Men’s sheds have long addressed the crises of food insecurity and poverty. Ellon men’s shed, like many others, has a polytunnel and raised beds, while Alford produces vegetable and herb plants for sale. Men’s sheds can address global needs too: in Broughty Ferry hand tools are collected, refurbished and shipped to Malawi, where they are a vital resource for communities. It is inspiring.

As we have heard, men’s sheds themselves face challenges, both institutionally and to their individual members. The Covid pandemic has had a deeply damaging effect on capacity, with many still waiting to resume their previous projects. Health issues, both physical and mental, the cost of living crisis and growing pension poverty limit many men’s engagement with their local sheds. There are also challenges of inclusion, while some communities that could benefit from men’s sheds are yet to be reached.

In reflecting on the wonderful achievements of men’s sheds in the North East, across Scotland and the world, we should ask ourselves how we can do more. How can the decisions that we make in this Parliament, the priorities that we decide upon and the messages that we send support and extend the vital work of men’s sheds, now and into the future? I look forward to continuing the discussion.

13:24  

It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, and I congratulate Christine Grahame on securing it and giving the Parliament the opportunity to commend the positive contribution made by men’s sheds to the wider community. I agree with Christine that men’s sheds are a vital support to Scotland’s communities and I am pleased to have signed and to support the motion in her name.

As the member for Clydebank and Milngavie, I am pleased to advise the Parliament that I have two men’s sheds in my constituency: the men’s shed in Clydebank and the Milngavie and Bearsden shed in Bearsden. The Milngavie and Bearsden shed is in the pagoda of the King George V park in Bearsden, and it was only after an extensive search that the group’s initial trustees identified the former tennis changing rooms—that is, the pagoda—as a possible home. After a year of negotiations with East Dunbartonshire Council, they got the keys of the derelict building in April 2018, and the building itself has been lovingly restored by the group with the support of a grant from East Dunbartonshire health and social care partnership.

The shed in Clydebank was formerly some school huts in the grounds of Dalmuir community centre, and the group has recently managed to secure another hut from West Dunbartonshire Council and is in the process of refurbishing it. It is great to see these derelict buildings being brought back into use.

I have had the privilege of visiting both sheds and have spent an enjoyable time listening to my constituents tell me how the resource plays such an important part in their lives. Some of the men told me that attending the men’s shed gave them a purpose, and it is clear that our local communities gain tremendously from them, too. I particularly want to thank Mick Wilson for hosting my visit to Clydebank and Hamish Livingstone at the Milngavie and Bearsden shed. It was wonderful to meet them and the other men who were there. We had a great chat and a really enjoyable day.

I came away from those visits, clear about the good that these facilities are doing for my constituents. The support was there when they needed it most, frequently as an antidote to social isolation and poor mental health. In both of my visits, the men talked about the mental and physical health benefits of attending the sheds. Some of them had recently retired, which meant that they had a lot of time on their hands compared to when they were working. Attending the shed helped reduce their social isolation and gave them an opportunity to speak to other men and, indeed, to be creative—and, oh boy, are they creative. They come from many trades—there are, for example, ex-joiners and painters—and they can turn their hands to absolutely anything and do it effortlessly.

Covid-19 placed such a strain on mental health and unfortunately increased social isolation, and I admired the way in which the men tried to keep in touch during that time. Having made lasting friendships, they recognised the importance of that contact, and their feelings of relief and happiness were obvious when they finally got to meet again in the shed with the easing of the Covid-19 restrictions. It was an honour to be invited to the re-opening celebration of the shed in Clydebank, and I was pleased to show my support for their community endeavour.

The commitment of the men’s sheds to our community is widely recognised and highly valued. Both sheds are very connected to the wider community; for example, the Milngavie and Bearsden shed in East Dunbartonshire has supported Milngavie in bloom with a floral arrangement outside the Fraser centre, and the men have also constructed an outside canopy for Gavin’s Mill and helped Bearsden in bloom. In Clydebank, the men are very active in their community, supporting local groups, particularly Old Kilpatrick Food Parcels. Both organisations help each other in kind, and the way in which they are there for each other sets a really great example of how to foster community spirit.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to thank both men’s sheds in my constituency; indeed, we are very fortunate to have two of them. I have nothing but the highest praise for them and, as a constituency MSP, I will be a very strong supporter of them.

I am conscious of the number of speakers who still want to contribute to the debate, so I am minded to accept a motion under rule 8.14.3 to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Christine Grahame]

Motion agreed to.

That is excellent. Of course, it is not an invitation to members to go beyond their four minutes.

13:29  

Challenge accepted, Presiding Officer.

It was a pleasure to support the motion when it was lodged by the member for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale. I am delighted that the motion achieved enough support for a debate in the chamber, and I congratulate the member on that. I also congratulate all those who were involved in producing “Men Don’t Talk”. I hope that they are rightly proud of their work and that they continue to enjoy much success in such a worthwhile endeavour.

I am also grateful for the opportunity to pay tribute to men’s sheds across Scotland—more specifically, in Glasgow and, in particular, the Springburn park men’s shed in north Glasgow, with which I have had a close association in recent years. Led by the fantastic Tom Bennett, it took over an abandoned Romney hut at a council depot in the park and was formally established as a men’s shed in August 2018. Since then, it has grown exponentially as a supportive environment for men in the local area, as well as a wonderfully creative and generous community initiative.

Springburn park men’s shed is a wonderful example of the ideals and missions of the general men’s sheds project in Scotland: to provide valuable services in the community and a means for men to share their skills and knowledge with others. The men’s shed has worked brilliantly with local business to reuse excess material in order to benefit the community, such as in the construction of new mental health wards at Stobhill hospital, which is just half a mile away. Surplus materials, including portakabins, were used to extend the men’s shed complex and build a community library, tea station and kitchen facilities. The men’s shed has grown arms and legs thanks to construction companies such as BAM Construct UK supporting it in such a practical and meaningful way. The men’s shed has used those investments by private businesses and the council to secure positive impacts for the community across all generations. For example, the men’s shedders regularly visit primary schools to install outdoor play equipment, including mud kitchens—I am not sure what those are, but they are, apparently, very popular with children. The men’s shed also offers a handyman service for elderly and infirm people on Mondays and Fridays, which is really important and is booked up until August.

That is a real issue that we need to face in our communities. As statutory services face real financial pressure and council budgets for housing and garden maintenance are cut back, an increasing reliance on that sort of good will is building up informally in communities. Although I deprecate cuts to public services, we must recognise the importance of community resilience, and the men’s sheds are a fantastic example of where community good will can come to the fore and help to ensure that people’s wellbeing and lives in the community are sustained. That is particularly important for those who are infirm and unable to fully maintain their properties. Springburn park men’s shed also provides fantastic one-off projects for great local causes, including building a Santa’s sleigh for a local children’s hospice and providing garden furniture to the Marie Curie hospice at Stobhill hospital. The projects were all well received and the organisations were grateful for that work.

Members across the chamber have raised points about what the play “Men Don’t Talk” means in essence. It is about how men’s mental health must be treated differently, particularly with regard to men from an older generation. Purpose, fulfilment, satisfaction, self-esteem, companionship and friendship are the key attributes of men’s sheds, and they are so important. That also has to be understood in the context of our wider mental health and care strategies in Scotland. We have a tendency to overmedicalise things, but we must recognise that the normalisation of these softer approaches is critical to avoiding costs elsewhere in our public services, particularly in the national health service.

I hope that the minister will take on board this opportunity for cost avoidance, because the often precarious nature of the funding that men’s sheds get is not helpful. There can be a virtuous rather than vicious circle in how we approach the funding of these great community assets. It is not just about maintaining our properties and ensuring resilience in our communities; it is also, fundamentally, about ensuring the resilience of a generation. Men’s sheds build connections and skills across generations and with young people, and they ensure that we have a more robust and resilient community across Scotland.

13:33  

I thank Christine Grahame for securing the debate this afternoon.

Last night, I hosted the Scottish Mental Health Partnership, which launched a paper on the forthcoming Scottish mental health strategy refresh. Last week, I held a similar event with the Scottish Social Prescribing Network, which looked at the role of link workers and other professionals in that sector. At both events, there were discussions about how to engage with men, who sometimes find it difficult to talk.

There are a number of men’s sheds in East Lothian, including those in Dunbar, East Linton, Macmerry, North Berwick and Haddington. As has been mentioned, there are around 10,000 shedders in Scotland, across all our local authorities.

The Scottish Men’s Sheds Association website states:

“Men’s Sheds respond to men’s need for camaraderie and provide opportunities to work together in a way that contributes meaning to their lives and their communities.”

The Scottish Men’s Sheds Association also partners with other organisations. For example, this week, the association teamed up with Scotmid to offer Scottish men’s sheds a promotional opportunity in 35 Scotmid stores during men’s health week. Scotmid stores offered a full-day exhibition space to accommodate a 6-foot table and up to two shed representatives.

Moray-based professional theatre company Right Lines Productions will also be partnering with Edinburgh festival fringe this August, as part of the Pleasance Theatre Trust’s Edinburgh national partnerships programme. It has a brand new production that will debut at the Edinburgh festival fringe, which is called “Man Shed”. The show is prefaced with the following:

“How does a man find his purpose when he grows old and major life events come thick and fast? Should he retire to the solitude of The Shed as usual and escape from the world, or get out and try something new? When the familiar rules no longer apply, is it too late to change the habits of a lifetime?”

The play is described in this way:

“Man Shed is a bitter-sweet one-man theatre piece which explores the joy of sheds, the pain of loss and the comfort of friendship. The play has been inspired by Men’s Sheds around the world, but more specifically by the work of the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association.”

The play runs throughout August at the Pleasance theatre, and I encourage members to see it if they possibly can.

Another fantastic organisation that helps with men’s mental health is Andy’s Man Club, which is a men’s mental health charity that offers free-to-attend talking groups for men and that challenges the stigma around men’s mental health. Andy’s Man Club was set up by Luke Amber after the tragic loss of his brother-in-law Andy in 2016. He and Andy’s mum, Elaine, wanted to prevent other families from going through what they had gone through. The idea was that, to prevent families going through the same thing, they had to help other guys—and Andy’s Man Club was born. Last week, I watched a group of men take part in the Dunbar civic week parade under the banner of Andy’s Man Club. I was humbled to attend one of its meetings, where, as men, we all talked openly about our mental health issues.

There is still stigma associated with talking about men’s mental health—feelings of weakness, being a burden or embarrassment—and that is what prevents men from speaking out. Men’s sheds and Andy’s Man Club are helping to pave the way for men to know that it is okay to talk. It takes strength and courage to open up about your struggles. The men’s shed movement and Andy’s Man Club do an amazing job in helping men to know that they can talk to someone.

13:36  

I thank Christine Grahame for securing the debate.

I am very supportive of the men’s sheds in my constituency and I want to take the time to thank Jason Schroeder, chief executive and founder of the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association. He operates the SMSA from an office in Banchory, which I am delighted to personally support—I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.

Westhill and District men’s shed is also in my constituency. It was the first ever men’s shed set up in Scotland, in 2013. It now welcomes over 300 members and was voted Scottish men’s shed of the year in 2021 and received a Queen’s award for voluntary service during the pandemic.

For many, men’s sheds are a life support, providing a space for men to engage with one another and overcome challenges such as loneliness and the stigma around mental health. Sadly, since the pandemic, we have lost some sheds. That is due to post-Covid fatigue of shed trustees and financial pressures.

However, the pandemic has shown the real need for new healthy male places to socialise, with eight new shed groups requiring support in the past few months. It is disappointing, therefore, to hear that men’s sheds are not receiving proper long-term support from the Scottish Government. Despite the positive meeting that the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association had with the minister back in February, when he spoke of trilateral portfolio funding possibilities, there were no assurances of support—despite him being chased—until yesterday. Some may say that that assurance was cynically timed, to give the minister something to say in today’s debate.

The support that we are about to hear about is for just £75,000. That is for only one year and, at just 17 per cent of what was requested, it falls well short of what is required to prevent a collapse of the men’s shed movement. The minister went as far as to tell the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association to seek alternative funding next year. I have only one question for the minister: was £25,000 each really the most that he, Christina McKelvie and Kevin Stewart could spare from their budgets, and today, will he commit to supporting sheds beyond March next year?

13:39  

I join colleagues in congratulating and thanking Christine Grahame for once again bringing a debate on men’s sheds to the Parliament. Like my colleagues, I welcome the shedders in the gallery and I commend everyone involved in the play, “Men Don’t Talk”.

It is testament to the positive impact that men’s sheds have on communities across Scotland that we are again debating them. I very much welcome today’s debate as an opportunity to demonstrate their positive impact on health and wellbeing, support for older people, especially but not exclusively men, and their enabling of resilient communities, as Paul Sweeney articulated.

As Maggie Chapman highlighted, the original movement started in Australia in the 1980s and was set up to improve men’s health and provide a place where men could socialise and talk shoulder to shoulder. Today, there are more than 900 sheds in Australia, with other countries adopting men’s sheds worldwide.

Here in Scotland, the movement started in 2009 and, by 2013, we had our first five sheds. Today, as members have heard, that number is more than 200. That is in no small part down to the vision of Jason Schroeder, who is the chief executive and founder of the Scottish Men’s Sheds Association. He started the men’s shed movement in Scotland in 2009 after being inspired by a talk about men’s sheds by Dr Neil Bruce, chairman of a New Zealand men’s shed.

In 2014, Jason created the SMSA and the Scottish Government became involved in 2015. Those early discussions led to Scottish Government funding of the new SMSA in 2015-16, which helped establish and grow the movement. Our support played its part in enabling Jason to become the executive officer of the SMSA in 2016 and continue the growth of an organisation that touches on every corner of Scotland, with 2,899 members and 10,627 shedders and supporters. Jason has played his highly commendable part in that growth, building the association into a team of four, with him as chief executive officer, a communications and public relations officer, a development officer and an administrator.

We have continued to back the SMSA with sustained support. Earlier this week, against the backdrop of an exceptionally challenging financial environment, I wrote to Jason with an offer of core funding for 2022-23. That said, the SMSA must be able to adapt to the demands of an ever-increasing number of sheds and help to sustain and keep existing sheds open. We are committed to helping Jason respond to those needs and to building a sustainable business model for the SMSA that can attract a wider range of funders and reduce dependency on Scottish Government support alone. For example, it could be about tapping into the upcoming social isolation and loneliness fund, which is an integral part of our programme for government commitment to invest £10 million over the next five years to tackle social isolation and loneliness across Scotland’s communities.

We recognise that men’s sheds provide more than just a physical place for activities; they enable a space for people to talk to each other. For example, in Scotland, men’s sheds have provided vital support to veterans who have missed comradeship and a sense of belonging. Challenges with mental health have touched every aspect of life in Scotland and it has never been more important to continue talking about mental wellbeing. We must use such opportunities to prevent and address mental health issues with the same commitment, passion and drive that we have in relation to physical health problems.

Many mental health problems are preventable and almost all are treatable. People can either fully recover or manage their conditions successfully and live lives that are as healthy, happy and productive as possible. The range of activities found in men’s sheds plays into that preventative health agenda. They also benefit their wider communities in a range of ways, such as through making buddy benches for schools, as we heard about, and providing classes in operating tools or craft projects. I have still to take up—as Mr O’Kane has—the offer of those particular instruction opportunities in Barrhead. Perhaps that is something that we can do together. In response to Mr O’Kane’s specific ask with regard to the community asset transfer process, I am more than happy to meet him to discuss that in more detail.

The minister has very eloquently gone over all the benefits that sheds provide, but he has also finished talking about funding and not committed to funding beyond March next year. Will he revisit that question?

As the member knows, we have set out broad parameters for our public spend within our revenue spending review. Specific budget decisions are taken during the budget process but, even with the RSR, there is obviously still a great deal of uncertainty about what our financial position would be.

I recognise the nature of members’ business debates and I do not want this to descend into something overly political, but the independent Scottish Fiscal Commission has already stated on the record that we are operating within the context of a 5.2 per cent real-terms reduction in our budget and that, unfortunately, means that we are challenged in how much support we can provide, however much we wish to do so. I will touch on funding matters further on in my remarks.

Considerable Scottish evidence has been gathered to support the growth of men’s sheds and it complements international research. For example, men’s sheds provide positive views of ageing and later life. Mr Sweeney talked about the importance of intergenerational solidarity and I am conscious that men’s sheds can provide that.

The evidence is referred to in the Scottish Government-funded study, “The Shed Effect”, by Age Scotland. That highlighted that 76 per cent of those surveyed agreed that their physical health improved, and 79 per cent felt that their mental health improved as a result of shed involvement. Those benefits are also felt in the wider community, with savings to our health and social care systems. SMSA research showed that, for every £1 spent on Westhill men’s shed, there was a return of £9.34 in health and social care and community learning outcomes.

Many other community projects can achieve similar positive outcomes. In response to the pandemic and in recognition of the value of grassroots wellbeing projects, last year we launched our communities mental health and wellbeing fund. Through that, we have provided £21 million to more than 1,800 local projects to deliver activities and programmes, with a further £15 million being invested this year. The fund tackles the impacts of social isolation, loneliness, and mental health inequalities on adults.

I am particularly pleased that men’s sheds across Scotland are also supported. Those include Portlethen men’s shed in Aberdeenshire, which was mentioned by Audrey Nicoll, which used funding to broaden services in response to increased numbers following the pandemic, and the Forfar men’s shed, which used funding to build a new community allotment.

The communities fund is one element of a range of work that we are doing to support positive mental health and wellbeing in Scotland. Central to that is the refresh of our mental health strategy. Alongside delivering effective services, we have an opportunity to place increasing emphasis on prevention and early intervention, and that will enable us to build on the creative projects that people, communities and services have undertaken before and during the pandemic.

I am conscious of time so, in concluding, I return to the key point that Christine Grahame made: this is the third time that men’s sheds have been debated in the chamber, and we can all welcome that. We all recognise the important role that they play. This is a debate that needs to move on from simply saying that men’s sheds are great things, and that is something we all agree on. We now need to know who will join us in support of this great initiative. Partners such as local authorities, the third sector, the national health service, the private sector and community workers alike can all play a role in developing funding and supporting the SMSA and the men’s shed movement. Let us build on what has been achieved and take men’s sheds in Scotland to the next level so that all our communities can benefit from them.

That concludes the debate and I suspend the meeting until 2 o’clock.

13:48 Meeting suspended.  

14:00 On resuming—