Men united

15 October 2019 | North West England

Mark Porter from Young at Heart

How charity is helping older men in Staffordshire beat social isolation

A brilliant new charity project is helping older men beat loneliness by stopping them “suffering in silence”.

The team at Young At Heart had noticed that while their services were open to all, they were mainly attended by women.

“All of our older people’s services are gender neutral but what has happened is they have been dominated by women,” says Mark Porter, a project manager at the charity.

“The men voted with their feet and chose to stay at home rather than take part in a project that doesn’t cater to their specific needs.

“I reckon 95% of those we were working with were women, and women are much better at being sociable and being engaged. What we were doing didn’t tick any of the boxes that men were interested in.”

It was clear a new approach was needed. So Mark, 50, came up with the concept of the Repair Cafe. The space offers men who have worked in industry all their lives the chance to re-use their valuable skills.  The idea is that people bring in items that are broken or need repairing. It might be a chair, table or radio. Or they might go on to make new, recyclable things, such as a bird-box.

Mark says: “We work with so many people who have trades and skills. With the Repair Cafe, they can take something that is broken and repair it, and hopefully gain a real sense of self-satisfaction and self-worth again.

“Men over 65 tend to suffer in silence, they don’t go to the doctor. They don’t complain. But being active helps with their self-esteem.  It also gives them purpose and it can actually change the course of their life. That is what we are striving to achieve.

“Even if they just want to come along and have a cup of tea, just getting them through the door feels like a sense of achievement, because we are getting them talking.”

Young At Heart is part of Father Hudson’s Care, an organisation which offers a range of services to combat social isolation faced by older people in North Staffordshire.

The project offers lunch clubs, social clubs and outings, and a wide range of activities such as exercise classes, craft and bingo.

“We are experts in providing services to older people in the local area promoting healthy, active and happy ageing,” says Mark. “Now we want to engage men in worthwhile activities that suits their interests, talents and needs and we hope the project will grow so the vegetables they grow on the allotment will be used in the lunch clubs.

“Tackling the problem of older men living longer lives isolated and in poor health is urgent for us. But I hope to integrate those I engage with back and give them the chance to be less socially isolated. The research shows it helps with their mental health too.”

They also have access to an allotment, next to the repair shed, where they can grow vegetables to take home or share with others. Once again, the idea is to get the men working together, making a difference and showing community spirit.

Jim, 86, has lived in the North Staffordshire area all of his life. He is now a volunteer at the Young at Heart Men’s Project. “I feel that I am putting something back into the community, now that I’m retired, plus it also gets you out of the house.

“I’ve made new friends, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the social life of the group, it also gives me something to look forward to. I hope to try and get more people interested.”

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