Categories
Culture

To tackle knife crime “invest in love and nurture”

PRESS RELEASE: Former gang member Sephton Henry, North London educator Gerry Robinson and community worker Suraya Miah came together to deliver their insights on knife crime in a Smiley Talk on 14th April. Aimed at addressing barriers to creating strong institutions and peace, the talk is available to watch online for free here.

Following an in-depth discussion analysing the causes of knife crime, the three panelists came to a consensus on how to tackle knife crime: young people should be considered victims rather than criminals and should be supported not suppressed if we are to combat the root causes of the problem.

Headteacher at Haringey Learning Partnership Gerry Robinson explained: “Rather than criminalising young people and investing in more criminalization, we need to invest in positive experiences, in love and nurture, and in building relationships.”

Echoing these sentiments, former gang member and community worker at the charity, Gangsline, Sephton Henry said: “In the UK we live in a loveless society. We build businesses before loving our own kids. And it’s not because we don’t love them but we’re too busy trying to make a living, that they end up getting neglected.”

Having lost years of his freedom due to involvement in gangs, Sephton has a firsthand experience of the problem. “I’ve spent nearly 11 years in prison. I’ve been shot out. I’ve been stabbed in my leg and then stabbed in my head,” he recounted. 

“I now work for a company called Gangsline where we go into schools and prisons up and down the country. I also am the founder of Unity. I’ve traveled to America to visit some of the prisons over there. So I’ve really got an insight into this problem, being involved in it as a perpetrator, and then also as a victim.”

Also contributing to the discussion was Suraya Miah, the lead organiser at Take Back the Power, a youth group tackling structural discrimination faced by young people in UK communities. 

“What makes people give up guns and revert back to normal life, is just to give opportunities to young people,” she explained. “If you actually give options to people to make legitimate money and qualifications and work their way up the employment ladder, they have something to look forward to and if not offered those opportunities, then how can you expect them to do so.”

Strengthening communities from within

Three major themes emerged from the event, which included dismissing the misconception that young people involved in knife crime have a criminal mentality. In fact, they are just vulnerable young people with experiences of trauma or caught in a poverty trap. Finally, the panelists suggested that reversing the impacts of deprivation requires investing in support networks in local communities.

As an example of what can be done to tackle knife crime, Suraya told viewers about The Power Circle, an anonymous listening service that allows victims of knife crime to unload trauma. Participants benefit from discussing topics and sharing stories amongst their peers rather than professionals who might be detached from their lived experiences.

The Smiley Talk came to a close on the proposition that governments should invest more in similar social services and provisions for strengthening communities in order to prevent young people from getting drawn into knife crime.

For more information about upcoming Smiley Talks, visit Smiley Movement’s website.

 

About Gangsline

Established in 2007, Gangsline is an organisation offering an outreach and mentoring service to young men and women involved in gang culture. They assist deprived sections of communities to tackle deeply entrenched social, educational, spiritual and family issues. Their ethos and achievements centre around a “proactive, spiritual and non-enforcement led” approach to gangs and violence impacting society.

 

About Take Back the Power

Take Back the Power is a group of young people from North London aged 15 to 20 investigating solutions to youth violence. The group was established by The Winch, an organisation based in Camden that works to create equal opportunities for all children. Members of Take Back the Power benefit from training and employment offered by The Winch in order to tackle injustices in their communities, including violence as well as issues such as racism in education.

 

About Haringey Learning Partnership

Created in order to streamline services for students in the London borough of Haringey, Haringey Learning Partnership supervises students requiring various kinds of specialist support. These include students at risk of exclusion, as well as ones struggling with mental health issues, social skills, emotional difficulties and more.

 

About Smiley™ and Smiley Movement

Smiley Movement (CIC) is a nonprofit, sponsored by the original Smiley™ Company, a Top100 License Brand and copyright owner of the original smiley face icon. With a mission of driving positive change, Smiley Movement empowers people and organisations doing good, connecting them to new resources and supporters via their online network, and through their Smiley Talks, inspiring other potential leaders and social innovators to create a better world for us all.

Categories
Wellbeing

School bus to tour UK tackling mental health issues

Offering well-needed respite from the trials of Covid-19, a glorious yellow school bus converted by community interest company The Heart Movement is touring the UK, tackling mental health issues in the population. 

Stepping into the Heart Bus’s welcoming interior, community members can access free mindfulness training, heart intelligence sessions and a listening space accompanied with a warming mug of tea or soup. To spread the benefits and broaden access to wellbeing tools, the bus will visit health centres, universities, charities, events, communities and town centres. 

“The impact of Covid-19 on mental health has been severe, but we’re unlikely to be able to measure its impact on society for generations. It’s a huge task and a massive vision, but our Heart Bus is going to take help and support to the places it’s needed most,” said Ri Ferrier, managing director of Heart Based Living Initiative. 

 

Help get the wellbeing bus on the road

The bus is set to hit the road, but The Heart Movement still requires funding to staff it and provide visitors with support. They have launched an Indiegogo fundraiser, which they hope will secure an additional £90,000 to finalise the national tour of the Heart Bus, kicking off in May 2021.

“We’ve already funded an iconic American Bus, but we need your support to fill it with a great selection of tea and soup, experienced mindfulness teachers, and the biofeedback devices that will prove beyond doubt its efficacy and benefits,” explained Ri.

“These amazing little devices can measure the impact of our mindfulness sessions for individuals, groups and even local communities. They show in real time that when we cultivate emotions of appreciation, love, and compassion our heart rhythms become more coherent or consistent.  We have always believed in the benefits of mindfulness – it is amazing to have the scientific proof to back it up.” 

Rollin McCraty, director of research at the Institute of HeartMath added: “Studies with many thousands of people have shown that accessing the intelligence of our heart can make a significant improvement to our mental health and wellbeing. I am delighted that The Heart Movement is taking our scientifically validated technology, tools and techniques out across the UK and offering this for free, during these difficult times.”

Ri continued: “We want to connect with as many diverse groups as possible. The more backing we get, the more towns and cities we can visit, and the more lives we can bring calmness, connection, and wellbeing to. And as we expand the road tour to touch as many lives as we can, we are asking for pledges to the Heart Bus crowdfunding campaign to support the greatest and most heartfelt road trip ever attempted.”

To help offer people across the country free mental health provisions and put the Heart Bus on the road, donate to their fundraiser here.

For more information about the Heart Bus, visit The Heart Movement website.

Categories
Wellbeing

Samaritans volunteer explains value of listening

Samaritans listening volunteers provide emotional support 24/7, 365 days a year – responding to someone in need every seven seconds – something which has stayed consistent during the pandemic. 

Since March 2020, volunteers have provided emotional support more than 2.3 million times, with one in five contacts specifically concerned about Covid-19, while volunteers suggest coronavirus has affected every call in some way.  

Those who have ever used the service might wonder what it is like for the volunteers on the other end of the phone or responding to emails. To answer this question, Colchester Branch Director, Gaynor, gave her perspective to Smiley News.

As both a listening volunteer and a branch director, Gaynor is responsible for overseeing the team of local volunteers and the branch’s overall functioning. She also takes calls and responds to emails from people who are struggling. 

In the 18 years she has volunteered for Samaritans, her experience has been positive, finding that volunteers come together as a supportive community.

“It’s very much a family,” she said. “We have to be incredibly supportive of each other, as you can imagine, with the work that we do, and we have really good mechanisms in place to support each other.” 

In fact, she enjoys the work so much that it has become integral to her life. She explained: “I think it’s that sense of belonging and mutual support that makes you feel that this is where you belong. I couldn’t imagine not doing it, to be honest.”

To support one another, the volunteers will pause between calls to debrief if a call is particularly challenging. Gaynor explained that volunteers are mentored throughout their work so that they have the support and guidance of a more experienced listener.

When new volunteers first sign up, everyone goes through rigorous training, with a particular focus on active listening to understand how to best respond to calls. 

 

A heightened need for listening

Prior to the pandemic, the Samaritans’ service was already invaluable to supporting people struggling with life. 

As Gaynor described, “People may contact Samaritans feeling that they have no options, no clear path of where they need to be and there’s nowhere for them to go. Just opening up and talking about their problems can lead them to think that there are alternatives and ways of helping. It helps clear the wood for the trees.”

With Covid-19, the charity has continued to provide support throughout, taking calls and emails from people specifically worried about the pandemic.


“People’s problems are still the same, in the sense that people are calling us who are anxious about something, or there’s an event that’s happened that’s caused some great distress. But the pandemic has heightened some of those anxieties and fears, the loneliness and worries,” she said.

 

Considering volunteering for the Samaritans?

For those thinking about joining their local Samaritans team, Gaynor gave these words of encouragement: “It’s an incredibly satisfying thing to be a Samaritans volunteer knowing that you are there supporting people who are in despair.”

It also offers volunteers various benefits. She added: “You learn some really useful, additional skills, make new friends and, as I said, we are like a family. You are part of a really amazing group of people, both at the branch and wider level.”

To sign up as a volunteer go to samaritans.org/support-us/volunteer.
(Please note, due to current restrictions not all branches are able to recruit right now)

To donate to ensure volunteers can continue to support people in need, please click here.

If you need to speak to someone yourself, Samaritans provide confidential, non-judgemental support, free on 116 123, or you can email jo@samaritans.org. For more information, please visit www.samaritans.org.

Categories
Equality Planet

Can upcycled products end food waste on an industrial scale?

In a significant step for ending food waste, the Upcycled Food Association (UFA) has announced it is partnering with food and beverage multinational Mondelez. The collaboration will see increasing numbers of upcycled products arriving on supermarket shelves. These will be identifiable thanks to a certification scheme to be introduced this year.

Advising around 150 food companies like Mondelez, the UFA promotes efficiency in the food system, ensuring that valuable ingredients do not go to waste during the manufacturing process. With their expertise combined with the reach of large food manufacturers and retailers, the nonprofit hopes to transform our food production system to meet the needs of an increasingly fragile planet with finite resources.

CEO of UFA Turner Wyatt explained: “Mondelez is is is a big company, and they have their finger on the pulse of the food industry all around the world. We keep hearing estimates like we have 10 years to reverse climate change and that’s really scary. What that should tell us is we need to act big, and we need to act now. 

“While big food companies are not good at everything. One thing they’re really good at is scale, and that’s exactly what Mondelez wants to do – they want to provide a big impact in the near term.”

Upcycled products are manufactured from nutritiously valuable parts of raw ingredients that usually go to waste. Food producers can optimise these to create a new food product. 

To give an example of a source of upcycled products, Turner said: “Around every coffee bean is a fruit. It’s delicious and nutritious and you can use it for all kinds of things but right now it just piles out the coffee plantations because there’s no use for it. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have value.”

Such products are already available in supermarkets around the world and will soon be more easily recognisable thanks to a UFA certification scheme they will introduce in upcoming months.

Why is food waste a problem?

After food arrives in landfill sites and starts to biodegrade it emits so much greenhouse gas that if food waste were a country it would be the third-highest emitter after the US and China. 

But food waste is not only an environmental problem. Before founding the UFA, Turner was the executive director of a small nonprofit called Denver Food Rescue.

He explained: “I became very aware of just how broken our food system is how racist it is and that it provides higher quality and more nutritious foods to whiter and wealthier communities and how it provides more unhealthy illness-causing foods to communities of colour and lower-income communities.”

By taking unused parts of ingredients and turning them into additional products to be sold, the UFA is creating new sources of revenue for small-scale farmers worldwide, the majority of whom are poor and suffer from food insecurity themselves.

“So for me, upcycled food presents, not only an opportunity to make the food system more sustainable,” Turner added, “but more equitable and just as well because we’re tapping into a really valuable source of revenue.”

 

Partnering for people and the planet

To join the UFA as a member company and advance the mission of tackling food waste, sign up here. The membership fees are based on your company’s gross annual sales and, to address inequalities, businesses led by women or people of colour are entitled to a 50 per cent discount.

Categories
Culture Equality

Organisations bridge the digital divide in online event

PRESS RELEASE: Nonprofit Smiley Movement co-hosts event with campaign group Citizens UK to tackle digital exclusion in education.

Convening online in a purpose-driven panel discussion, nine community members in northeast London drew on their experiences to imagine ways of creating a more equal education system while teachers and students are increasingly reliant on digital technology.

Hosted by nonprofit Smiley Movement in collaboration with campaign group Citizens UK, the event saw church leaders, educators and campaigners along with a year-three school pupil, discussing the causes and solutions to digital exclusion. Smiley Movement recorded the event on 1st February 2021, as three two-minute videos, which are available to watch for free online.

Speaking at the event, the principal of Leyton Sixth Form College Gill Burbridge said: “One of the things we hear a lot about at the moment is remote learning and actually, education should be anything but remote. 

“Whether you do it in a classroom or whether you do it over a computer screen, education should be immediate, it should be engaging, it should be personal, and if you can’t access the basic technology that you need to be able to participate in that experience then very quickly, as a young person or as a child, you are going to be both disengaged and disadvantaged.”

Experiences of digital exclusion

While some have access to the internet and electronic devices, others do not, and this depends heavily on wealth, according to research by Cambridge University. Nearly all households earning up to £40,001 have access to the internet compared to only about half of households earning up to £10,000, a situation that will severely hinder learning for children of lower-income families.

Eight-year-old primary school pupil Noah Copperwheat attended the Smiley Talk with his mother and father, Jen and Dan Copperwheat. He said: “I think that I’m very fortunate that I have enough devices to sustain me. Some of my mates don’t have it as good. So, for example, some friends of mine live in the same house and they are having to use their mum’s phone.”

Also speaking at the event was Church of England priest in Cathall Estate, Leytonstone, Reverend Polly Kersys-Hull. She supports more deprived residents with a food share initiative, through which she meets many parents whose children struggle to keep up with online school work. 

She said: “There are stories of people having to walk to school to collect worksheets on a daily basis, or on a weekly basis because they don’t have enough devices. As people have queued for food, they’ve had their children on lessons on phones because that’s the only device they have at home, and just not having enough data, so having to keep on buying data, which they can’t afford to do. 

“So people are having to make a choice between heating their homes and buying data to educate their children, which is a really hard choice to make. Often people are choosing education which has a detrimental impact on their life at home. So it’s a hard compromise for them to make.”

 

The solution: make devices “The daily bread of the education system”

To create more equal opportunities while lessons take place online, the panellists came up with a variety of solutions for the public and power-holders to engage with. 

Speaking at the event, head of PSHE at Connaught School for Girls Pablo Phillips, said: “We should make a device the daily bread of the education system. What I mean by this is that apparently, there is a law that says schools should provide a certain amount of daily bread to every child and that should be the same for devices that they can use for their education.” 

Campaigner at Citizens UK Paul Amuzie added that there are three main steps for the public and campaigners to complete in order to level education so all students get the same chances. These were to spread awareness of the issue, find ways of disseminating unused devices to those that need them, and to put pressure on power holders such as the government and network providers to offer free devices and data to more deprived households.

The event concluded with a call to action from Amuzie: “Our calls to the public are to find a group like Citizens UK. If there isn’t a group like this I’m sure there’ll be local institutions, churches, schools to which you can donate your devices. If you’re at home and you’re lucky enough to be working from home and saving money on travel and coffees, could you donate some money to a school or a church for people that really need it at this time?”

Notes for Editors

About Citizens UK

https://www.citizensuk.org/ 

With a mission of developing local leaders to drive positive change, Citizens UK is a network of communities working together on a broad range of issues. Their members include schools, universities, churches, mosques, synagogues, parent groups, health trusts, charities and unions, which are important civic institutions that connect every day to the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

On the topic of digital exclusion, Citizens UK offer their services to grassroots campaigners to help them create equal access to devices, broadband and data in their local area.

For more information visit citizensonline.org.uk/digital-inclusion/

Donate to Waltham Forest Digital Inclusion Appeal here.

 

About Smiley Movement

Smiley Movement (CIC) is a nonprofit, sponsored by the original Smiley Company. With a focus on positive solutions journalism, Smiley News covers the work of inspirational charities changing the world through their frontline work in the community. With a mission of driving positive change, Smiley Movement empowers people and organisations doing good, connecting them to new resources and supporters through their matchmaking for good network, and through their Smiley Talks, inspiring other potential leaders and innovators to create a better world for us all.

Categories
Wellbeing

Giving never tasted so good

PRESS RELEASE: Birmingham-based Michelin star chef Brad Carter has partnered with Smiley Movement and a local knifemaker, to donate the proceeds from an artisanal chef’s knife to young people’s charity All Saints Youth Project.

Creating innovative food from his restaurant, Carters of Moseley, Brad Carter had a powerful desire to help those in his local community. But tied down by up to 18 hours of work a day, he lacked the time for charitable work.

“I’ve always wanted to help and use what I’ve done with my life to help others,” he explained. “I think if you get five really good things in life, then you should give one back. So if you get a nice house, a nice car, a nice jacket, a nice telly and a nice meal at a fancy restaurant, for the next thing you should give something back.”

As a corporate partner of the brand licensing company, Smiley™, he decided instead that the best way he could contribute was through fundraising, and Smiley™’s global head of partnerships, Matt Winton stepped in to select All Saints Youth Project (ASYP) as their beneficiary. 

ASYP is a young people’s organisation offering local youths a safe recreational space, away from the hardships of life and society today, providing counselling if they need it. 

Carter joined forces with his friend, Benjamin Edmonds, a Midlands knife maker from Blok Knives, to design a handmade knife from which 10 per cent of the profits will go to the youth charity. The pair launched the project with a video explaining how Edmonds created the knife and the ideas behind it.

A personal connection

Nearly half of the young people who attend ASYP sessions have learning difficulties including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), something that touches Carter personally.

He explained: “All Saints Youth Project resonates quite closely to my heart. Growing up through school in the ‘80s and the ‘90s, the thing that these children have is something that was undiagnosable when I was younger. When I was at school it’s something that I definitely suffered from but I was just branded ‘naughty’ whereas actually, children just learn in completely different ways.”

Winton added: “Brad’s got a really interesting story. When you get under the skin of these relationships and you talk to people, you find out their story then you get the logical connection with the charity. What we wanted to do with the charity was find something that’s really touched Brad’s life.”

Cutting through to what matters

Building on his previous charitable endeavours, including feeding the homeless over Christmas, the knife project helps Carter to transform the symbol of a knife, usually linked to crime and harm, into a symbol of productivity. 

Reflecting on how the project will impact the young people it serves, he explained: “I hope that they see the knife as a really positive symbol. Because all you ever hear about knives is negativity. I understand it because of how they’re used. Kids get into gangs and it’s the easiest thing to get hold of to use in the wrong way. But I hope they see this knife as a thing of beauty, a thing that they can hold and change their life in a positive way.

“I also hope that it inspires people to think about cooking and providing because my job is a really important job in the world and a life skill. Working in a restaurant, even just for a few months, they’ll pick up skills that they can use for the rest of their lives.”

 

About All Saints Youth Project

https://www.allsaintsyouthproject.org.uk/ 

ASYP serves young people aged 10 upwards with four youth club sessions a week. Their byline is “All Saints Youth Club, not just a club” because the charity goes beyond offering diversion for young people. Intertwined in their work to support local youths, they care deeply about their mental health, offering counselling services for those who need it. In the past, they have also provided support for parents facing difficulty caring for their teenage children.

Co-founder of ASYP Mary Miles explained that through their support for young people, the organisation tackles issues such as knife crime, unhealthy relationships, peer pressure and damaging internet content.

To support their work you can donate or volunteer by getting in touch via info@asyp.org.uk. 

 

Categories
Culture

Flora Barton on the purpose of education

Flora Barton, headteacher at Cromarsh Gifford Primary school joined one of our previous Smiley Talks event – The Big Education Action Plan

Beforehand, she caught up with us to share her insight on the importance of happiness within schools and how we can build movements which foster this. 

When we think of innovation, it is often thought of as something happen in larger organisations. How do you innovate in a small village school like your own?

I think it’s very much involving everybody. It’s about making sure everyone is involved in the process. We ask questions of everything we do and I think that’s why we are innovative, and why we come up with new ways of teaching our children. It’s about putting the kids at the heart of everything we do.

We have three questions that base every action on. The first is thinking about the purposes of everything that we do. The second is, what impact is it going to have on our children? If it’s not positive, we usually don’t do it. And then what impact is it going to have on the wellbeing of staff? And again, if it’s not positive, we don’t do it. 

Do you feel there is conflict between your decision to prioritise teacher wellbeing and the direction education policy has gone in in recent years?   

Absolutely. I think we always say put the children at the heart of everything we do. I think every school everywhere would say that, but it is also about making sure that your staff are at the centre of everything.

It has to start with your teachers and has to start with the people who are actually making the magic happen, so to speak. And so it’s making sure that your staff are happy first, so that they can then in turn, make sure that the children are happy, because until their well being is at the centre, the children’s well being won’t be.

My first inset that I did, eight years ago, my very first meeting with all the teachers I said to them, that I would we would work together to make sure that they could all leave by 4.15pm twice a week with nothing in their hands.

At the time,  they were teachers who were basically sitting there, exhausted, some were staying till ridiculous hours of the night, working all of the time. So that is what we started from, just implementing that and taking it from there. 

Whatever we do, it’s going to be about reducing everything we do work smarter, not harder. And that’s kind of just where we started and where we continue to work from really.

Tell me a little bit about your Burn Brighter conference.

During the lockdown, I was very much of the opinion that we’ve been given time and time is a gift. And during that time, I had done a lot of thinking – even though I was working flat out the entire time – I was just thinking about all the time that children were then having at home and the time they were having with their families, and just the opportunity to slow down and to think about things and reflect.

I feel as though we’ve been given the opportunity to really make a difference and to make a change in education. I feel as though if we don’t do it, now, we are going to miss our opportunity, we are going to become complacent again, because we know what the job entails. And we know how tired we get. So Burn Brighter was really a conference I’ve put together. We have another conference planned for December and I want it to become a movement.

It is about getting people together, who are passionate about changing education, and finding out what we want education to look like and how we get there. 

Has there been anything in particular that you have learned from another educator and adopted into your own school? 

Yes, absolutely. That’s that’s what education is about – it’s about everybody sharing best practice. I can’t say anything that we do in our school is any different to schools all over England, it’s just that we question everything we do. And so through the questioning, we then start researching the best ways to do things for the children.

I think the biggest thing that we need to take from from the coronavirus crisis is that the competition between schools needs to be broken down. So we are sharing best practice because we’re in this for every child everywhere, not just for the children in our school. That’s why we’re in education.

What do you think the purpose of education is? 

I think the purpose of education, for me is about helping children develop the skills and the behaviours to be the most effective. Learners I can be, so that they can go on to be lifelong learners. It’s about engaging children and getting children to question the world around them. Because for me, school should be about helping children find their purpose in life. They won’t find their purpose in life in primary school, but it’s about helping them understand that they do have a purpose. Yeah. And I think for me, you know, success is about waking up in the morning and doing whatever it is that you love to do every single day. And that’s what I want to help develop in our children is find what they’re passionate about.

You mentioned having an opportunity brought about by the pandemic – where do you think we should go from here? 

I think, I think we all need to really take stock of where we are,and realise that we have been given an opportunity. Everyone needs to come together, put their heads together and think about what we really want the purpose of education to be. It’s a chance to actually redefine everything, to truly consider what it is that we want education to look like in our schools. I think it’s a chance to flip everything back up on its head and and, you know, start fresh from a brand new perspective.

Categories
Wellbeing

Beat charity discusses government measures

Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, has criticised the measures set out by the government to address obesity. The charity recently published a report on the risks to people with eating disorders caused by government anti-obesity strategies, and asked Number 10 and Public Health England to take its recommendations into account when planning the current campaign.

Drawing on the harms and distress caused by previous anti-obesity campaigns, Beat asked the Prime Minister and Public Health England to avoid a repeat by only using evidence-based tactics, avoiding the promotion of crash dieting, and ensuring that eating disorder experts were consulted. This has been ignored on all three counts.

Beat’s Chief Executive, Andrew Radford, says: “In particular, we are concerned that the campaign will encourage people with eating disorders to use the promoted weight loss app, which fails to prevent under 18s or people with low-weight from using it, despite it not being suitable for them. Without suitable safeguards, what could be useful in helping people with obesity risks harming people with eating disorders.

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“It is also worrying to see a renewed emphasis on measures such as calorie labelling, as evidence clearly shows that these risk exacerbating eating disorders of all kinds. Furthermore, we are disappointed that the government has chosen to use language that blames people living with obesity. Instead we would like more attention to the complex causes of obesity, which for some people can include eating disorders.’

Beat welcomes the government’s intention to increase resources for NHS weight management services. Noting that up to 30% of people using these services are affected by binge eating disorder, we call for a nuanced approach to ensure that people with BED are properly supported.

Eating disorders are devastating mental illnesses, affecting over 1.25 million people in the UK, with anorexia nervosa having the highest mortality rate of any mental health condition. Beat urges the government to carry out an immediate review of these dangerous proposals to ensure that people with experience of eating disorders are not further put at risk.

Categories
Wellbeing

Menspeak provides a safe space for men to support each other

The social enterprise MenSpeak, brainchild of Kenny Mammarella-D’Cruz who was called ‘The Man Whisperer’ by Newsweek, is calling for online men’s groups to be highlighted as a key way to keep men happy and well during  times of social isolation.

 

Kenny Mammarella-D’Cruz considers mental health to be a highly gendered issue. “In general, men prefer side-by-side communication, and tend to avoid clinical language and settings,” he says. Just over three out of four suicides (76%) are by men and suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 35. 

 

Mammarella-D’Cruz also acknowledges that for many men, seeing a therapist is too hierarchical, or they may feel their issues aren’t ‘severe’ enough. “Some men see these types of support as something needed by severely mentally ill people – not for people with everyday issues and challenges.”

 

This is where men’s groups come in. In a community of like-minded people, they’re able to talk ‘man-to-man’ and at their own pace. At these groups men are empowered by listening to others who’ve been through similar situations. The power is shared, rather than held by one qualified expert, who is habitually deferred to.

 

It’s not all about support though. MenSpeak is simply a men’s group, not a mental health support group, which allows for other needs to be met, like needs for connection, community and having a good laugh. “We aim at early prevention of mental health issues. If a man has nowhere to share the small stuff or ‘just hang out’, before he knows it he could be facing bigger problems down the line.” Mammarella-D’Cruz says.

 

“The reason we’re holding daily men’s groups is to keep men calm, connected, safe and sane in times when they might feel like caged animals. And as quarantine continues, the groups have never been more important,” says Mammarella-D’Cruz. 

 

MenSpeak has been hosting weekday lunchtime online mini-men’s groups – or ‘check-ins’ – with steadily growing numbers. Many men are new to such forums and find it easy to connect with others on a regular basis and share their feelings in total confidentiality. The benefit of this is that there are no judgements or pre-conceptions, like those that may come when sharing personal issues with existing friends and family.

 

One of the members, Bertie, 27, says: “I’ve been recovering from the flu – very likely to be Covid-19 – and I felt anxious and spaced out before the online group, but almost immediately after the check-in round I felt much calmer and more stable. I didn’t realise how much I’d missed real sharing with good men. It felt like a luxury to be able to chat, hang out, laugh, talk about real issues and feel connected in such a disconnected and chaotic time. The groups are essential for me for maintaining my sanity and remembering what life is really about – friendship through thick and thin, and finding the humour in every situation.”

 

MenSpeak also offer a free ‘Men’s Group Quick Start Guide’ for those who want to start their own group a one day training for those wish to take things further; and both open and closed groups for men who need more time and space to listen and share or who wish to commit to the same group of men over a period.

 

Interested men can join for free on www.mensgroups.co.uk

 

By Ellen Jones