IN OUR seventh edition of our ‘Mind Your Health’ series we spoke to one inspiring man in Orkney who is making a real difference to the mental wellbeing of men living on the island.

Four years ago, Morgan Harcus proposed to the local council that a men shed would be a valuable addition to life on the island - with the purpose of creating a communal space where men could come for both a social outing and to learn new skills.

Despite the council failing to give their support, Morgan never stopped pursuing this idea and two years this coming October, that dream became a reality and now Orkney’s men's shed has a 15-year lease on a fantastic property in Finstown and every month its membership is growing by two or three new members.

Men's sheds are increasing in number across Scotland, with around 160 up and running, however, their existence is largely unknown to many in our rural communities.

The purpose behind men's sheds are to promote health and wellbeing amongst the male population, who are often less comfortable with seeking support or discussing issues regarding mental health.

Morgan explained to the Scottish Farmer why Orkney men's shed has been a lifeline to so many and why particularly, the farming community, would benefit from the strong sense of community it provides.


“The real driver behind creating Orkney’s men’s shed was to provide a safe, comfortable place for men to visit and meet with other like-minded individuals in the community. Our members may have lost a partner or been made redundant, or could be experiencing emotional or financial difficulties, or simply feeling lonely – through the shed we offer a place that members can feel they have a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on.

“I first came across the idea of the shed when I visited one in Aberdeenshire that my wife’s cousin was a member of, and I knew instantly we needed to replicate something like this on Orkney.

“There is nothing happening here for men! The local radio station has show’s dedicated to women’s issues but nothing specifically for the male population. There are coffee mornings for women and different societies like Knit and Knatter, so it became clear that we needed to provide a place for men to feel they had a sense of belonging.

“After two years of fruitless negotiations with the local council I was able to find a private landlord who now leases us the shed. After generous donations from the Orkney community, the shed is now kitted out with great tools and equipment, providing a fantastic work space for our members. This is hugely down to the constant support from Westhill Men’s Shed in Aberdeen, Voluntary Action Orkney and our present board of directors.


“We have a lot of farmers on the island who are working way past retirement age and when they eventually pass on their farm or pack it in, they are discovering that they haven’t developed other skills or participated in hobbies and can often feel at a real loss in what to do next. Orcadian farmers may have been in one job for 60 years and could be daunted by applying their knowledge to a new environment.

“At the shed we can offer opportunities to learn new skills in our workshop - many of our members are joiners or builders and are keen to pass on valuable tools skills to fellow members. We do have a few farmers who come to the shed but we know there are so many living in Orkney we haven’t been able to reach and we are desperate to welcome them in to the shed to benefit from the sense of community which has offered comfort and a sense of purpose to so many.

“I was a farmer for 40 years running a beef and sheep farm and understand the changing climate of the industry – farmers are now working much harder, longer hours, with less staff, more paper work and little financial return. This in part has fed in to the ageing population of the industry as farmers carry on way past typical retirement age and the isolated nature of the business is leaving the farming community even more separate from the goings on of the wider community.

“There is also the other side of the problem with farmers, where we have young guys who are desperate to start in farming but are held back by issues of succession or struggle to borrow money to start a farm. Succession can be a particularly difficult topic of discussion in Orkney as farmers are holding on to their farms for even longer than on the mainland and we are struggling to get new blood in. Sometimes the advice from a mixture of ages and backgrounds can be hugely important in guiding young men who are facing these difficult obstacles and we find at the men shed that men will talk more openly about problems standing side by side at a work bench.

“We have found that men often won’t talk face to face but will talk working side by side. When it comes to discussing certain mental or physical problems, some men may struggle to confide in a partner or members of their family but feel more comfortable in the shed environment to share a concern with another member while busy at work.


“As well as providing a physical skills environment we try and have discussions on topical things and if possible, avoid topics such as religion and politics. We did have a Brexit debate recently, which a few farmers attended, and it became all too clear the level of pressure facing so many and the ensuing impact this is having on mental health and wellbeing.

“We might not have the medical training to offer professional advice to those who come to us with mental health concerns, however, there are men who are here today because of the support we have given them during crisis points in their life. A lot of men who develop severe mental health problems, get to that stage because they have had nobody to talk to and it is so important to talk.

“We have one member who first contacted the shed over two years ago and when he came along to his first meeting gave the impression of a 90-year old man, struggling with walking sticks, which made it more of a shock to discover he was only in his late 50’s.

“He had suffered from two strokes, was being treated for cancer and his wife had recently left him and as a result he had deteriorated in to this faded older man. I took him under my wing and encouraged him to come along to more meetings at the shed and each time we all began to see a gradual improvement in his general wellbeing.

“Loneliness and depression can really sink a man and it takes company to bring them back to life. It wasn’t long before he turned up without walking sticks with a renewed confidence and flair for life about him. At Christmas time, we hold a lunch for men who don’t have families to share the festive season with and this gentleman came in to the shed and made an announcement to all of the members that without the support of the shed, he wouldn’t be here today.

“This was a really emotional moment for us all and a sharp reminder of the purpose of what we are doing and the impact it is having on individuals. I am so determined for Orkney’s men shed to grow in number and to extend our reach within the island community. It is clear that something like this is saving lives and we want to continue to make sure we reach out to as many as we can,” he concluded.

Guidance and support

If you have personally been affected by any of the content in this series and would like to seek further advice, please see the details of specific organisations below: -

Breathing Space – Lines are open Mon – Thu between 6pm - 2am and from Fri 6pm – Mon 6am

RSABI - Helpline open seven days between 7am – 11pm on 0300 111 4166 or

SAMH – Call the info service on 0141 530 1000 Mon – Fri between 9-5 or

Samaritans – Helpline open 24/7, on 116 123 or 08457 90 90 90 or

Support in Mind Scotland (NRMHF) Call on 0131 662 4359 Mon – Fri between 9am – 5pm or

You can reach us by phone on 0131 662 4359 Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm.

If you need urgent medical attention, then please call NHS 24 on 111 or call emergency services on 999.