Local News

Orkney Men’s Shed Official Opening

By Eamonn Keyes

On Saturday March 18th Orkney Men’s Shed held their official opening and open day at their new premises based in the Old Herring Factory in Stromness, which they share with two other local community groups. A ten-year lease has been obtained, and this should hopefully lead to further development and expansion given the additional space now available.

The opening was performed to a packed crowd of members, visitors and guests by Liam McArthur MSP after Orkney Men’s Shed Chairman Morgan Harcus spoke, detailing the history of the club and thanking OIC and the benefactors who had made it all possible. What is all the more remarkable is the fact that the club has no membership fee and operates on donations, having benefited from a grant from the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative thanks to pupils from Kirkwall Grammar School.

In addition, a cheque for over £1000 was presented to the club by local charity fundraising stonemason John Hamilton before we were treated to tea, coffee and traybakes accompanied by a selection of traditional tunes by a band lead by the excellent Karen Tween on accordion and Councillor Heather Woodbridge on fiddle.

Orkney Mens Shed Open day on the left MSP Liam McArthur and on the right Morgan Harcus who is seated
Image credit Adrian Hughes

The Men’s Shed movement originated in Australia during the 1980s as a way to improve the health and wellbeing of older men. The original motivation was to give the men a focus point for purpose, for mentoring younger generations, socialising, and ultimately to create better mental health outcomes and to try to help stem the disturbing level of suicides among older men. It was successful, and it was noted that men’s mental health levels improved, along with their levels of happiness.

The Orkney men’s Shed was officially set up after an initial sounding-out meeting in 2015, and after an unsuccessful attempt to obtain premises in the empty Stromness Primary School they successfully found premises in Finstown, at last allowing the club to become active, opening in September 2017 .

Despite having made many improvements, in order make the building fully accessible for members the club required a disabled toilet and access. Unfortunately, the planning application was refused by Orkney Islands Council (OIC) due to road safety/vehicle access concerns. The application also revealed that the building might not be suitable for its intended use and the club was asked to vacate the premises in October 2019, and when COVID struck club activity and the search for new premises stalled. Initially staying in contact via online meetings, they held meetings temporarily at the Finstown Community Centre when it became safe to do so. OIC Interim Chief Executive John Mundell was instrumental in getting discussions going around possible use of the unused Old Herring Factory Building which had been empty for 10 years, and these talks eventually resulted in an initial ten-year lease being offered to the club.

As I probably fulfil the club’s main demographic- a retired man with a small social circle and various ailments that limit what I can do, I was interested to talk to members to find out just what they did and how they have benefited.  The members were enthusiastic, eager to show off their facilities and spoke in glowing terms about how it had filled the spaces in their lives, allowing them to both teach and develop skills under expert supervision, take on personal projects, and help the local community in many small ways, repairing items and even helping build scenery and props for the local drama group. The upstairs part of the club can now be reached by a newly installed lift that gives easy access to wheelchair users and the less sprightly among us.

The workshop at the Orkney Mens Shed shows a variety of very large machinery and wooden objects made by the men including garden planters

Whereas the downstairs area is the obvious centre for the more traditional woodworking and metalworking skills associated with Men’s Sheds the upstairs section has a large room for computer skills, crafts and modelmaking and I was also shown an impressive new photographic section by member Adrian Hughes, who had done this professionally in his working life in the Navy. A kitchen and mess area are also available for use.

an array of photographs taken by the Men, some are landscapes others portraits, theres also a computer and desk ready for use

There is room for substantial future development within the building, and it seems that at last the club has found a place where they can settle and further enhance the Orkney community during the next decade. In addition, Men’s Sheds have now also been set up on Sanday, Flotta and Westray, so the good news story that is the Orkney Men’s Shed keeps rolling onward.

However, on enquiry the club members deny that they intend to offer space craft design as a future skill.

The Orkney News wishes every success in the future to the Orkney Men’s Shed.

A Lego model of the Star Wars Millennium Falcon with flashing lights and little mini figures

You can watch a short video which was made of the Orkney Mens Shed Open Day here:

And in this video Andy Swain explains a bit more about the role of the Orkney Men’s Shed in supporting Men’s Health.

Leave a Reply