Men’s Engagement in the Upper Rhymney Valley

There is evidence to suggest men can be reluctant to engage with social and community projects, in particular young men. The basis for this reluctance can include fear of stigmatisation, a lack of male role models or peer influence. Consequently some men can be deemed ‘hard to reach’ because of barriers between them and our projects and support. In this blog the Communities First Support Service visits the Upper Rhymney Valley cluster in Caerphilly borough to see what can be learned from the team’s experience of engaging men.

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On a beautiful day in mid July, we paid a visit to Hafod Deg in Rhymney where we met Communities First Mental Health Officer, Colin Capel and Upper Rhymney Valley (URV) Cluster Manager, Sean Rees.

Specifically, they spoke about their gardening project, which has proved exceptionally popular, with more than 50 individuals, predominantly white Welsh males aged between 19 and 76, all living in the Rhymney area. Since its inception in April 2014, the project has gone from strength to strength, with the addition of several satellite gardens to the main one at Hafod Deg, as well as a community-owned garden at a housing association site, which was set up by an early participant.

Providing a Bespoke Service

Whilst formal projects will always be essential in producing outcomes for Communities First, it’s important to recognise that getting people to attend these things often requires community involvement activities to be innovative, and a somewhat ‘softly softly’ approach.

Colin discussed the varied and often bespoke nature of the service he, as the mental health officer, provides. He is known for his open door policy, and often helps those in desperate need of support to do things like fill in forms and making and attending appointments with their GP. The cluster also has a specific staff member, David Friar, who is seconded from Flying Start for 3 days a week and is specifically able to work one-to-one with “dads and lads” in order to do things other CF staff simply cannot.

A particular example of this is his interaction with an unemployed 19 year old man who had become socially isolated and was living with his grandmother. He was not claiming benefits for himself and was, according to his grandmother, “barely leaving his bedroom and never leaving the house.” Colin’s help was sought, and he began visiting this young man at home, managing to get a GP to do the same, and gradually encouraged him to accompany Dave on trips to McDonald’s and the supermarket. Initially Dave drove, then after a while they took public transport, and eventually Dave encouraged him to visit Hafod Deg. Once the young man had been escorted a few times, he was encouraged to make his own way there. Although at first he stopped attending, and the temptation was to go and “hold his hand”, Dave resisted, and after a short while the young man came back of his own accord and now attends the garden project, as well as others, several times a week.hafod-deg-2

Whilst this kind of service is slightly outside the CF remit, and can’t be measured within conventional parameters, Colin believes it all feeds into engaging men with formalised CF delivery projects.

As a result of this work, he’s become known in the local community as a ‘go to’ for those experiencing difficulties, and if he can’t help them, he’ll most certainly point them on to someone else who will.

When discussing being an active member of the community, Colin said:

“If we isolate ourselves, we’re the same as the people we’re trying to work with. We need, first and foremost, to be available for people to turn to, and the rest, hitting targets and so forth, will follow.”

Getting People through the Door

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When discussing the success of the men’s engagement projects in Rhymney, Colin also pointed out the parallels that these ‘clubs’ have with the work environments that many of these men will have had experience of.

They’re a place for men to come together somewhere they feel comfortable and experience the camaraderie that was lost when the area’s mines and factories were closed. In essence, they are a ‘safe space’ where men can come and be themselves, regardless of abilities, difficulties or health problems.

Each of these projects is somewhere men can develop even the most basic of skills, a great example of one being the luncheon club, where attendees can hone their social skills (things like eating in public), learn about fresh food and cooking, and generally boost their confidence.

It’s also important to point out that attendees of the luncheon club pay to come, and that their doing so allows them a certain sense of pride and self-respect, in that they are not receiving charity and are in many respects simply socialising for socialising’s sake.

What may seem like incremental progressions all contribute to some of these men becoming work ready, and others becoming significantly healthier and less reliant on public services such as the NHS or even the Police.

Co-Working

One of the main points to emerge from visiting the URV team was the essential nature of working well with other agencies. Sean highlighted the fact that Communities First “mustn’t be precious” about its customers, and needs to recognise when other services might be more appropriate for them. To that end, he believes it is key that organisations communicate well and are fully aware of each other’s referral criteria.

He also spoke about the need to familiarise appropriate Communities First customers with staff from Job Centre Plus (JCP), whose very attendance at Hafod Deg has been known to cause customers to “run for cover.” Many of the attendees of the projects taking place there were anxious at the thought of being “caught looking capable” and being sent straight into work when they simply weren’t ready. It’s Communities First’s job, Sean believes, to explain that this won’t happen, and to help familiarise appropriate individuals with the concept of moving closer to the job market. In an effort to “humanise” JCP staff they were encouraged by Sean to drop in to the Hafod Deg garden informally, purely to see what was going on there and to ensure lines of communication were firmly open.

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That being said, it’s important not to set people up to fail, and not to refer people on to the next step in their journey unless they have developed sustainable social skills, confidence and self esteem. Doing so, they recognise, can be extremely damaging, and simply create more work for the Communities First team. It’s important to recognise, particularly with men, getting people into work is only one positive outcome, and that reducing isolation and helping those with low to moderate mental health needs feel more positive about their mental wellbeing is also vital.

Sean also added that it was important not to institutionalise those who come through the door, and emphasised that these people are on a journey. He believes in the importance of having a natural progression from project to project – using the analogy, in this case quite literally, of “from the garden to the plate”.

Mental Health Awareness Training

Another innovative way in which URV staff improved relationships with outside agencies was to offer mental health awareness training to JCP staff.

The thought behind these sessions was that it would be helpful to make staff aware of some of the problems or issues that their clients were experiencing with regard to their various diagnoses. Sean believes this training lead to a more compassionate approach from JCP staff, and allowed them to further understand both the role of Communities First as well as how beneficial referring clients on to the programme could be.

caerphilly c1st logoIf you would like to know more about the men’s engagement projects taking place in the URV, please contact Cluster Manager Sean Rees: Reessc@caerphilly.gov.uk


In the time it’s taken this post to be published, Colin Capel has retired from his role as Mental Health Officer with the URV Cluster. The Communities First Support Service would like to thank him for his contribution to this blog post and wish him the very best in the future.


 

On the 12th of October 2016 we held a Twitter chat surrounding the subject of #engagingmen. Here’s a taste of the discussion, thanks to everyone that contributed:

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