Posts Tagged ‘Community’

Meet, Talk (Part 2)… and Make Connections

May 09 2013

How best can the Men Beyond 50 Network speak up about our common needs and gifts? How can our voice reach a wider audience? One part of the answer is to focus on creating a face to face network and events that meets the specific interests and specific concerns of older men, including around lifeskills, relationships, health, care and development. Another part of the answer is for the MB50 Network to deepen and widen the connections between us, allowing conversations to develop finding our voice as mature men and sharing ourselves with the world.

Finding our voice as mature men: both as a distinct voice among older people in general, and as a voice that expresses the gifts and issues of our dependency and interdependency as older men.

Sharing ourselves with the world: there is a real need for maturing men to speak up and be heard, and to speak out to different groups of both younger and older people.

These are the main reasons why the Men Beyond 50 Network is beginning a series of evening discussions under the title Maturing Men: a Growing Conversation. The next in London will be on Tuesday  June 18th (7-9pm): contact if you would like to attend and take part (and for further information).

Exploring the dependency and interdependency gifts and issues facing maturing men in the UK: for a 6 minute introductory briefing on ageing with really useful facts and helpful visuals, try this YouTube summary On Ageing Population in UK and Europe 1985 – 2010 project to 1935  (NB -Don’t be put off by the speaker’s really annoying  voice!)

Digging into these interconnected challenges facing maturing men in greater depth: if you are interested and are looking for reports, statistics, and analysis, I particularly recommend the well researched and authoritative guides issued by the National Audit Commission on the UK ageing population. You can find their latest (January 2013) briefing by clicking here:

The summary also provides links to x 6 very useful guides the National Audit Office has published since 2004 (NB they are all available to read online): Older People – A Changing Approach. Together the x6 reports tell us an important story of the changing 21st Century realities for older people:
1. The main aim of the first report (Feb 2004)was to begin to change our mind-set about ageing from thinking about dependency and deficit to looking at well-being and independence.

2. The second 2004 report explored in greater detail the need to recognise diversity and difference among older people’s interests and life experiences, especially in terms of income, ethnicity, sexuality… and gender  (including older men!).

3. The third report was aimed at briefing the public sector on how to meet the interconnected challenges of dependency and interdependency… also written in 2004… when there was still the expectation that there would always be a well funded public sector to provide the services.
4. The 2006 report was called ‘Living Well in Later Life’ and looked in greater detail at the specific future needs of the UK ‘baby boomers’ across 6 interconnected areas:

Social networks (including activities and ‘keeping busy’)
Getting out and about (transport)
Information (including online and social media)
Health and healthy living.

5. The 2008 report was called ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ and looked at ways of implementing new approaches to meeting the complex challenges of dependency and interdependency facing older people.

6. The 2010 report was called ‘Under Pressure’ and began to own up to the gap between older people’s needs and what public services will be able to provide in future.

“How Can Local Authorities with Less Money Support Better Outcomes for Older People?”: this is the increasingly insoluble question being asked of the public sector by policy makers. Actually this question was also the title of a separate and recommended report from the UK Centre for Policy on Ageing (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Jan 2011, and also available to read online)- )

Meet, Talk… and Make Connections:
realize our potentials as older men
contribute to our communities as we support values, quality and growth
grow face-to-face social networks (supported by the virtual online medium)

YES, because we’re facing the 2020’s together and we can’t do it alone!

Exploring elderhood at Findhorn Foundation

Apr 26 2013

Rich, expansive, poignant, nurturing and more…

In February 2013, I brought a vision to fruition: co-leading a week-long programme at Findhorn Foundation on elderhood.  My co-facilitator Ineke and I, had high hopes for the week, which were more than fulfilled: a tribute to the quality of our participants, to the magic of this spiritual community, and the great support we received from the community there.

We hoped to explore elderhood on the inner and outer, individual and collective levels, and amply fulfilled this hope.  We dug below the fear and denial so common about ageing and dying, and recognised the gifts and joys of elderhood, as well as the losses.  As one participant said, “When time and energy are limited, and health is variable, it’s an invitation to live wisely, focus on what really matters, enjoy every moment.”

The Community Centre at The Park, Findhorn Foundation

The Community Centre at The Park, Findhorn Foundation

We used a wide range of approaches, including sharings, meditations, solo time, storytelling, sacred dance, and some inspiring sessions with elders’ organisations around Findhorn.  The work of a few Findhorn elders in running the Community Care Circle is especially impressive: includes organising paid and voluntary care for those who need it, building care flats for those whose own home is unsuitable, and providing training and practical advice on many aspects of ageing, including how to receive care. One of the most powerful experiences of the week was when our group joined the weekly Elders Meditation in the main Sanctuary.  There was such power and character in the silent presence of nearly thirty elders, with a combined age around 2000 years.  For me it highlighted a sense that the beauty of elderhood is about the emergence of full, authentic individuality, and its miraculous interweaving with others.Findhorn is a good role model of a community which already includes and supports its elders pretty well.  Our schedule enabled our participants to enjoy this, for example Taize singing every morning, movement classes for oldies, shared meals in the community centre, sacred dance and other shared events in the evenings.It was very satisfying to find that our week helped the whole Findhorn community to recognise and appreciate what it already does to support the elders, and also to recognise and start working on what more could be done.  For example, it would be great if the loving and personal quality of care already provided on a small scale could be expanded more widely, and if this became a role model for mainstream society.  This is one of various ideas which I and others are now exploring.  Perhaps a good summary of the whole week is this comment from one participant, “From this week I have the sense that ‘we have to do something’, and also that ‘all is well’.  I like both feelings.”

The Lost Elders: Who are we? Where’s our voice?

Apr 26 2013

At 21 million, if we’re not a major blessing, we’ll be a major problem!

 Over-fifties are one third of the whole UK population, but this huge group has no collective name, voice, or sense of purpose.  Many of these over-fifties are relatively well-off for time, money, and health, and yet there are major worries on how their pensions and care needs will be funded.

I’m now 64: I’ve found the years since 50 both happy and bewildering.  It’s a time when you need to reinvent yourself, the old maps are no use.  Since 2010, I’ve been exploring elderhood, a concept which could offer identity and purpose to the older generations.  My exploration has included leading groups on elderhood, for men and women, co-founding the Men Beyond 50 Network, and writing Out of the Woods: A Guide to life for men beyond 50 to be published September 2013.

The biggest surprise from these explorations has been the very widespread denial about ageing, the unwillingness to consider the issues.  The best explanation for this that I’ve found comes from a French expert, Olivier de Ladoucette: “people don’t perceive growing old as a progressive process, but as something that ‘attacks’ you around the age of seventy-five or eighty.  Between fifty and seventy-five, we don’t know what is going on”.

I believe that millions of healthy over-fifties feel they’re on borrowed time, in the shadow of a disastrous event, where they can’t control the timing or the effects – the ‘attack’ of real old age, which implies dependency, dementia, care homes, and other unthinkable horrors.

Storytelling: a traditional role of the elders

Storytelling: a traditional role of the elders

The antidote to this fear and denial could be for olders to become elders.  Elderhood is a rich concept with a range of meanings.  For me, elderhood includes:– Having a steady, positive sense of yourself as an older person, which includes facing fears of dependency and dying.

– Choosing an outlook of gratitude and hope, instead of focussing on the losses which are a part of ageing.

– Believing you have a valuable role in society, and fulfilling it: this could be in active ways, or in your wise presence.


– Recognising the collective aspect of elderhood, and helping to create groups of elders for fellowship, wisdom, support, and service.

In a world awash with problems, the elders can be a massive blessing, a power for positive change, if they find their vision, their voice, and their power.  There are flickering signs of such a trend beginning.

Senior cohousing: a much better kind of ageing

Senior cohousing: a much better kind of ageing

As I’ve pondered the over-fifties, I see parallels with an even bigger situation: the huge global challenges of the 2020s.  Most people know what these are, but feel too overwhelmed to look: climate change, food and energy supply, service cuts, economic contraction… Here too, denial is the first huge challenge to overcome.


The scary problems of the 2020s can be a gift.  We could choose to react by moving to a simpler, more localised way of life, where people share more resources and help each other out.  Instead of seeing old age or the future generally as disasters beyond our control, we can face them, shape them, meet them constructively.

And if one-third of the UK population (44% of all adults) led the way in this constructive outlook, the elders would fulfil their potential as a blessing, not a burden.

Tags: Community, Social issues, Ageing, Elderhood

Hazel Hill Wood: A very special place for men

Mar 13 2013

Hazel Hill is a magical 70-acre wood near Salisbury, which I have owned since 1987. It has been an amazing catalyst for vision, healing and lots more, for me and many other men over the years, so I’d like to share the story with you.  This will build on the previous section, and show you in more depth how Nature can help you on your journey.  To get these benefits, you don’t need to own a wood: come and enjoy mine!

In 1987, aged 39, I was still in the thick of my workaholic business career, but knew that I needed to move on, re-invent myself and expand.  I had just received a chunk of capital from share options in the business I was running, and wondered what I could do with this money that I’d really enjoy.  Out of nowhere came the idea, you could buy a wood.  I was inspired by the idea, and after a few months of research, bought Hazel Hill.

Since the mid 1990s, Hazel Hill has been a conservation woodland and retreat centre, with lovely wooden eco-buildings, diverse wildlife habitats, and a fascinating range of groups using them.  However, I didn’t start with a vision or a business plan for any of this.  I followed a strong inspiration to buy the wood, and everything else has unfolded, slowly and organically, through listening to the wisdom of the wood.  The catalyst for all this was vision questing: in 1992, when my kids were entering their teenage years, I wanted to do something to help adolescents approaching adult life.  Vision quests are a rite of passage also relevant for maturing men: you can read more about them in the section below.

I started co-leading vision quests for teenagers at Hazel Hill in 1992  These awoke me to the dialogue which I and others could have with the wood, with individual trees, with nature and the spiritual world, so that Hazel Hill is a kind of gateway to these deeper connections.  Stewarding this wood has been a profound education in sustainability.  For a start, you have to think long-term: in Wiltshire, pine trees take 60 years to mature, and prime hardwoods like oak or beech take well over a hundred.  Changes happen slowly, and you have to think about posterity: many of the benefits of our current forestry and conservation work will be felt far beyond my lifetime.  Secondly, the wooden buildings used by groups are low-impact and mostly off-grid: we have PV electric systems, composting toilets, reed beds for grey water, and visitors have to sort, take away and recycle all their rubbish.  When you’re at the wood, your impacts on the environment are visible, so it’s a great place for learning about sustainable living

The more time you spend in a special landscape, and the deeper your relationship, the more it can support you when you need it.  When my wife finally called an end to our marriage struggles, I was shattered.  It was the wood which gave me the most comforting and parenting through this shipwreck: I recall spending three days there in shock and grief, partly alone, partly with a couple of close friends from my men’s group.

If you go into a church or mosque, you feel a special atmosphere: this is a place set apart from everyday life, where generations of people have come to make a spiritual connection.  The same is true for landscapes, but in a different way: here, you’re open to the sky, the stars, the sun, and direct contact with all the beauty and wisdom of nature.  I’d say that Hazel Hill has become a sacred landscape, through twenty years of people being here with this intent.  It’s worth finding a landscape which feels sacred for you, or creating one.

Here are the main roles which Hazel Hill has played in my journey through the maturing years.  I hope you can find places that do the same for you.

One-off men’s weekends: I have co-led many weekend workshops and retreats for men at Hazel Hill, and they have been some of the deepest I’ve experienced.  Being out together on the land gives men a unique sense of fellowship, perhaps recalling our primitive times as hunting bands.  There’s also a quality of safety, being able to open up and share deeply, which comes from being in a men-only group, out in a sacred landscape.  I’ve seen many men voice painful feelings which they had carried alone for years, finding healing from being witnessed and accepted, not judged, by a company of men.  Growing from this comes a stronger, happier sense of self, realising that who you really are is ok.

Solo quests: Hazel Hill has been used by myself and numerous other maturing men, and I highly recommend the wisdom quest for all men beyond 50.  See more in the Section below.

Conservation work: Michael Meade, one of the pioneers of men’s development in the US, says that men of all ages connect best shoulder-to-shoulder, not face-to-face: meaning that when men work together on a physical task, this creates a setting where it’s easier for them to open up.  The men’s groups at the wood usually include conservation projects, and they’re a great catalyst.

Seasonal celebrations: The Celtic and many other native traditions, celebrate each turn in the year’s cycle out on the land.  Having organised seasonal celebrations at Hazel Hill for many years, we now have a rolling community of people who come together for a weekend at the eight main festivals: this means the Solstice and Equinox points, and the cross-quarter festivals between them.  The wood provides a superb mirror and guide for people, helping them to move through the seasons of their year and their life.

Men and women: Hazel Hill is an important place not only for men, but also for women, and for their relationships.  The wood enables sharing wisdom between men and women, and exploring sacred relationship.  My wife Linda and I initiated our relationship here, and got engaged with a handfasting ritual at Hazel Hill.

Ongoing conversation: As well as being at Hazel Hill for many of the groups, I spend a night and day there alone every couple of weeks.  This gives me relaxation, renewal, healing, and whatever insights I need.  As everyday life gets more speedy, complex and technical for most of us, getting back to Nature like this becomes more and more crucial.

The roles of older men in community

Feb 25 2013

Just being there is a start!

It’s now well documented that older men are a high risk group for loneliness, depression and related issues: this is especially ironic since there are so many ways that older men can help those around them, and it’s also well documented that helping others is one of the best ways to help yourself too.

One role where older men are uniquely needed is in mentoring for younger men.  Crime, drugs and education are among many areas where young men have worse problems than young women: for example, 80% of kids excluded from schools are boys.  Two thirds of all male criminal offenders are under 30.  It’s clear that the lack of fathering and older male role models has been a major factor in these problems, and mentoring for young men can help.  Put simply, it involves an ongoing supportive relationship with an older man who has suitable skills and experience.  It’s not therapy, and it’s not really a fathering role.  In traditional tribal societies, initiation and guidance of young men didn’t come from their fathers, but from the elders of the tribe.

A Band of Brothers and Journeyman UK are two organisations whose programmes mentoring young men are well-designed and maintained.  Many mentoring programmes are for young men in trouble, but there’s also a need to help young men who are a bit lost and unsupported.  The Prince’s Trust and Community Service Volunteers offer ways to help in this area.  If you’re in a local men’s group, you might explore what you could do together.

One reason why older men are reluctant to get involved in mentoring or other community work is that they don’t believe they have the right skills.  This reflects the typical male conditioning that if we see a problem, we have to know how to fix it.  It’s very clear when you talk to those running mentoring programmes that the last thing these young men need is someone to fix them.  As an older man, what you really need to do is be there for them, hear them, witness their journey, and share some of your own vulnerability.  Involvement in this kind of work can be a great way to learn that being there is enough.

There was a touching piece in the Guardian in January 2013 about a frail 87 year old woman wanting to contribute to her local community, and a range of great ideas on how she could do so.  Even if you don’t feel you have many skills or much energy to contribute, if you’re willing to take a step and look around, you will certainly find opportunities.  Local charities, conservation projects, food banks, would be a few of the places to start the exploration .