Posts Tagged ‘Men’s groups’

MB50 Launch Men’s Sheds Corner!

Dec 20 2013

MB50 is proud to be supporting the UK Men’s Shed Association, which was launched nationally on November 6th.



We are going to feature a Men’s Sheds Corner here to help spread the word about Men’s Sheds, and encourage all ‘Shedders’ to share the stories; tell your personal stories of how your lives have been changed by joining a Men’s Shed, engage us with your Shed project triumphs and disasters, compare different approaches to your projects and perspectives on what you get up to in your Shed, and raise and debate some of your major issues and concerns. 


The Shed Movement started in Australia 13 years ago where there are now over 900, and in Ireland in just 4 years there are 115. In the UK there are still only 31 (with another 30 in the pipeline) and we predict a massive growth in the next few years as the idea catches fire!

 The great beauty of the Shed Movement is its flexibility. Each different Shed project is created by local men to be exactly what they need and to provide exactly what they want. The main thing is for sheds to offer men the opportunity to carry on doing work in an inclusive way and in well equipped spaces, but there are many activities Shed members can get up to if they want to! It is a ‘social franchise’ movement, and the job of the UKMSA is to act as an umbrella organisation promoting the concept, providing advice with a start-up guide and other information ‘toolkits’, and practical support with insurance and sourcing building materials or equipment… and everything else!


Over 150 people attended the UKMSA launch. The central focus was about meeting older men’s needs and a key aim of the association is to help to counter the detrimental health effects of retirement (see Institute of Economic Affairs ‘Work Longer, Live Healthier’). So not surprisingly Age UK and a number of other major UK charity/community organisations involved with older people were also there at the launch, and at MB50 we confidently expect the Shed Movement to grow rapidly as it creates partnerships with these in future.

 Kenny and Max from MB50 were at the launch, and we noticed that while the majority of those there were older men, there were also some younger men, and some women  as well. We joined in lots of conversations and heard a wide range of opinions, and we expect that there will be a very broad spectrum of viewpoints in the UK Shed Movement; not just about practical stuff or the needs and priorities for older men, but also the relationship each Shed has with younger men and with women (‘intergenerational’ and ‘intergender’ stuff to use the jargon words!), and other issues where different views will all want and need to be expressed….


MB50 would welcome hearing and holding all of your viewpoints here on our new Men’s Sheds Corner:

  • Tell us your personal stories
  • Share your contacts, systems and strategies
  • Champion your preferred approaches and opinions
  • Raise your issues
  • Debate your concerns and viewpoints

We look forward to welcoming all ‘Shedders’, and supporting your diversity of views!


If you would like help to find out your nearest local Men’s Shed, or advice about setting up a shed contact the UKMSA, or Alys Exley who runs 3 Peabody sheds (0207 021 4137 /

Jeremy Thres: Questing Guide

May 20 2013

Jeremy is a charmingly modest man who wouldn’t sing his own praises, so I’d like to do it for him.  He is one of the MB50 Core Team of facilitators and guides.

Jeremy ThresTo give you a flavour of Mr Thres, it may help to describe where he lives: a rambling cabin on Dartmoor, at the very end of a long track off an old, little-used lane.  His cabin is strewn with outdoor clothes, deer antlers, and wise books.  I don’t know Dartmoor well, but I’ve realised that it’s a haven for eccentrics and folks who follow their own path: Jeremy fits perfectly.

For many years, Jeremy’s main work has been guiding small groups on vision quests and other processes where you spend time alone in Nature.  The land you work with is vitally important in such work, and he is deeply rooted in the Dartmoor landscape.  As soon as I met him, I realised how great it would be if Jeremy could lead such groups at Hazel Hill, and after several years of pondering, he began to do so in 2006.

There are many aspects of Jeremy’s approach to guiding groups and processes which I value: for example, he engages deeply with the people and place he is working with, and is brilliant at shaping rituals and traditional wisdom to fit the current situation.  He has a light, gentle approach which he somehow combines with an ability to be quite rigorous and disciplined when this is needed. 

The School of Lost Borders in the US has played a major role in the resurgence of contemporary rites of passage, conveying the essence of these rituals that have been kept alive by more earth cherishing cultures and lain dormant in our own, bringing traditional rituals like the vision quest to the rest of us.  This is one of the places where Jeremy trained.  Like them, he has a great talent in transmitting the essence of a tradition, and adapting it to a current context.

The vision quest is a rite of passage, used especially for the shift from adolescence into adulthood, found in many cultures. It can serve to support and inform a shift in whatever stage of life one is passing through, but it feels good to offer one more specifically tailored to meet the needs of those moving into their mature years and ripening to elderhood. Jeremy and I are evolving the Wisdom Quest to serve that need.

So how will our Wisdom Quest differ from a typical vision quest?  We can’t be fixed about this, as we will respond to the needs of those who come, but here are a couple of its likely features.  Facing your dying to enrich your living becomes especially important at this stage of life, where it takes on a deeper significance.  Likewise, harvesting the gifts of your life to date, shedding any anger and resentments, moving forward more lightly, may be relevant at any age, but especially entering elderhood.

I have helped guide both teenagers and elders, and there are striking differences and similarities.  In both cases, the past is not enough to guide the future: people have to find a new sense of who and why they are.  But for adults becoming elders, this can build on decades of life experience (mistakes and successes!).  And it has to include facing old age and dying.  By coming to terms with the end of life, you can hugely enrich the present. 

Jeremy and I are co-leading a Wisdom Quests at Hazel Hill Wood July 3 – 8.  This is open to men or women.  Jeremy works with a maximum group size of ten people, so early booking is advised.  Click here for details.







No shaming, no blaming, just naming: – A journey beyond mental illness

May 16 2013

A fascinating story from Kenny D’Cruz of MENSPEAK.

In Men’s Health Week Kenny will be co hosting special group sessions with Max of the Men Beyond 50 network (Tues 11th June), as well as running his own MENSPEAK Men’s Groups (Mon 10th June) and a WOMENSPEAK / MENSPEAK Mixed Group (Thur 13th June) on the theme of mental health, stress and stigma. Here he describes how his own astonishing journey through life and through mental illness to wellbeing now inspires his acclaimed work with clients.    

Kenny D’Cruz was eight years old when his father took a phone call at his family home saying ‘we’re going to come and kill you tonight.’

“My father was declared an enemy of the state by Idi Amin’s Secret Service in 1972. He made a joke about the phone call” Kenny recalls, “but the rest of us, our blood went cold. They phoned straight back, saying ‘we’re not joking, we’re coming to kill you tonight.’ I was the only one who cried. The others were in shock. I was an aware child and I knew what was going on.”

The D’Cruz family were Catholic, of Goan descent. Kenny’s father, the head of the parcel department of the Uganda postal service, had already fallen foul of the government in helping to protect helpless individuals and families from outside his community from ethnic and political persecution.     

Like tens of thousands of other Ugandan refugees with British passports, Kenny’s family fled to the UK. His father remained in Uganda and was smuggled to Italy, stateless, at the 11th hour, then miraculously reunited with his family nine months later, once the Conservative government changed policy and allowed him in. His father’s parting words to his elder son were: “You may never see me again. You are now the head of the family, you have to take care of your mother and brother.”

Although only a small child, Kenny took his father’s instructions to heart. The family were raised with domestic servants and knew literally nothing about cooking, cleaning and caring for two young boys in a cold country, all alone. Weeks and months in refugee camps, unprotected and not knowing the Indian languages and customs, then after that settling in a dilapidated council house in a small town in Wales, Kenny continued to take care of his mother and brother, while working around his father’s panic and anxiety issues, as they started again with nothing, having lost everything but their lives.

The day-to-day practicalities of the family’s new life were demanding enough, but emotional matters were no easier. Kenny’s father was literally absent at first, but even when he joined his wife and children, he remained emotionally distant. Kenny’s mother turned to her son for companionship, unconsciously creating an intense, psychologically demanding relationship, the type which clinical consultant and writer Pia Mellody calls enmeshment.

The responsibility weighed heavily on his young spirit. Before long he began to develop symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. “My inner world was chaotic and impossible to put right, so I guess I tried to control my outer world. Things out of order would cause added anxiety. It was all about avoiding possible harm and control over my environment.”

“I carried deep guilt that my mother, who lived like a princess in Africa, was suddenly my servant, having to cook, clean and hold it together for us. I would clean like crazy, while dealing with the contamination that came from cleaning.

This period marked the beginning of a secret long battle for Kenny over his own mental health and strength. He soon began to display symptoms of Tourette’s Syndrome with spontaneous, uncontrollable tics, twitches and grunts.  Throughout his childhood he continued to internalise and avoid his anxiety, panic, depression, paranoia, body dysmorphic disorder (which wasn’t helped by being the only coloured family in the area and an oddity in the changing rooms) and both traumatic and post-traumatic stress disorder as best he could. He developed eating disorders, would obsessively pull his hair or gouge his skin (known as trichotillomania and dermatillomania) and the family became compulsive hoarders and collectors. Those days are long gone, though Kenny recently discovered he has dyscalculia, a neurological condition that makes it hard to process numbers and measurement. “Knowing this has helped me get off my case with mid-life loss for not having followed a normal career and financial path. Now I can work around this too, with the help of my level-headed fiancée with whom I manage our money and passwords. My life is healthy and wonderful now.  I am not my past, I am not my thoughts, I am not my emotions, I love what I do and I do what I love. I’ve turned it around.”

Despite the stresses and his personal demons, Kenny made it through his education and graduated from business school. His OCD was becoming so severe that it impacted seriously upon his employability. “I was often late for work, once I moved to London to my first job in publishing in the 1980s. At worst, I would have to wash, scrub, bath and then shower before leaving home, then if even the hairs of my arm touched a ‘contaminated’ surface I’d have to do it all over again. I’d continually return to my front door to check I’d locked it, as I’d check my bag, my pockets, my flies, the time, anything and everything that could help avoid impending doom. I began to make up more and more ridiculous excuses as to why I was late. I once told my manager that I had been on the bus and it had just stopped in the street for a long while for no apparent reason. Eventually someone went to check on the driver in the car at the front of the traffic jam and he had had a heart attack and died at the wheel. It was a desperate lie, but easier than telling the truth.” Twenty years on, Kenny lives free of these issues and is running a thriving consultancy enabling men to live beyond their stories and true to themselves. “I now keep good time and don’t need to check anything, because I am present.”

“My mental health issues have felt like my dirty secret that no one should know. I have no idea of the consequences of coming clean as a man with mental health issues. I am a man with physical health issues and the people around me understand and accept that as normal. I would like to dispel the idea that mental health problems are any different.”

Counselling and therapy helped with some of his symptoms, but the breakthroughs came with his own determination and self-calming from a young age. “I learned to be calm. Not just internalise, but to truly calm myself, irrespective.” It is something he passes on to his clients. “As soon as they get taken over by their fantasies of the future, fear, or unfinished business from the past, I invite them to take a deep breath in, as they think: ‘Thank you for reminding me of who I used to be’, and then on exhaling they allow themselves to be calm, present and able to deal with what is in front of them, from a state of mindfulness.”

“For most of my life I’d been a little boy pretending to be a man. There hadn’t been the space for me to be safe enough to do my adolescence until I was in my thirties. I made a best friend in Australia who came back to England with me and we did our share of partying, finally experiencing the initiation of adolescence so that I could move on and become my own man. I realised that in order to free myself from my repetitive life script I had to retrieve lost parts of me that kept me in a loop as I survived life. Life kept showing me where I was stuck and I realised they stemmed from the moments where my emotional growth had been put on hold. Slowly I discovered how to release those ‘depressed’ pause buttons. There was no shame, no blame, just naming the truth of what happened and unlearning my beliefs about myself and my take on how life worked. As I accompany clients to these places of vulnerability they claim themselves back and inevitably uncover a tool for the next step of their life path. It’s a courageous and magical process where awareness is the key and we come from the bigger picture.”

Some of Kenny’s clients and group members work with him while also seeing medical or psychological professionals. “I always tell clients that if they are seeing another professional, they must keep them informed so there are no conflicts,” he explains. Mark Strider, a psychologist and former priest (who nominated Kenny for the ManKind Project’s Ron Hering Award, which he won for living his life’s mission, for his work with men including his MENSPEAK men’s groups that have been running for over a decade) describes Kenny as a ‘soul doctor.’ Kenny clearly states that he is not a doctor or a psychotherapist, while celebrating the fact that his group sessions belie to the notion that men don’t willingly speak about themselves. “Carl Jung stated ‘Secrets make us sick’. I strongly believe that the more men have a space to be heard, the better our mental health and lower suicide figures.”

“I meet people where they are on the road and together, we walk forward. Often that means meeting people at the point they keep returning to, which might be the time they were abandoned by their father, or publicly humiliated by their best friend, or whatever it might be. So if I meet someone with a Peter Pan Syndrome, for example, the men who can’t quite grow up, I will meet them at the point at which they got stuck and use the most efficient tools to support them in moving forward.”

“My own experiences of mental health and emotional trauma inform what I do because whatever problems people might have, there will be something I’ve gone through that is in some way parallel, if not actually the same, so it does help me understand and meet people’s reality. There are many different tools we can use. Sometimes naming it rather than shaming it or blaming it is enough, it breaks the spell and allows them to authentically and successfully take part in the world. The same thing can happen in groups. We’re allowed to talk about it. Often that leads to people having less need for therapy or being able to reduce their medication and that’s great if it happens, but it is not necessarily the goal.”  Group work also allows Kenny to assist clients at costs that can be affordable within even the tightest budgets.

kenny dcruz

The key, Kenny says, is to never let a problem of the mind define the person as a whole. “I assist my clients in owning their stories, rather than being their stories. Keeping them in the shadow simply fuels and recreates these denied parts.

“I can’t say that I was brought up in a bad way or that I had a horrible or nasty life, I didn’t. I had a life that was normal to me, and I had some limiting reactions to it. I was able to undo those and find my pathway. Now I love my life, I accept my past and I live with purpose.  I love facilitating groups, I love working with private clients, this is what I am here for and it brings me alive.”

Interview by Ally Fogg.

Meet, Talk… (Part 1):

Apr 26 2013

“What we want are real (not virtual) social networks!”

Meet, Talk… : Our vision has always been to make Men Beyond 50 a true network, and we feel the time is now right to take the next steps to make this a reality. The main message from the MB50 Questionnaire which we circulated in January and February couldn’t have be clearer – you want more opportunities and different ways for us to meet and talk. So we are putting that into action!

London MB50 Group: this began last month co-hosted MenSpeak .  If you are interested in starting a MB50 local group, and would like help and support, contact

– MB50 Events for Spring/Summer 2013: for listing go to EVENTS PAGE

– MB50 ‘Steering Group’: we are holding a series of evening open meetings over the next few months to explore in greater depth the gifts and issues for older men, and one of our hopes is that this will lead to the creation of a ‘Steering Group’. Contact to find out more, and if you would like to attend and take part.

MB50 Questionnaire Results (January/February 2013)

Meet, Talk… Support… and Help: We are really very grateful to the 12 responders to the MB50 Questionnaire! You gave us some very clear messages:

1. Build real (not virtual) social networks

2. Support ways we can contribute to our communities

3. Help us realise our full potentials as older men

Click here to read the full results of the questionnaire


Research Backs Meeting Face to Face!

Meet, Talk… Be happy: “People are happier and laugh 50% more when talking face-to-face”. So wrote the Daily Mail (11 April 2013)

I began by feeling suitably “sniffy” about the D Mail article, but the main points from the research were interesting – especially in the light of the results of the recent MB50 Questionnaire.

(1. Talking on phone does not make people feel as good as sharing a smile

2. Quality not quantity of communication is more important

3. Most satisfying relationships “come from a handful of close friends”

I am a scribbler (writes Max), and I love writing for the MB50 website, and I have also enjoyed creating a MB50 social media presence, but of course I value and need real face-to-face meetings more. There is now some research showing that the connections we make through a website blog or Facebook are “weak ties” compared to real meetings (or even Skype when we can at least see each other), and that websites don’t appear to help people make true friendships .

The research has been done by Dr Sam Roberts, senior lecturer at the University of Chester and you can follow him talking about it here Based on two questionnaires, his research found there was no link between Facebook use and people with larger groups of friends and more emotionally rich relationships. The research also suggested that even talking on the phone and texting does not make people feel as good as sharing a smile. People find the most satisfying relationships come from a handful of close friends, with an outer ‘ring’ of 10 significant others, and by contrast building up a large number of Facebook ‘friends’ produces a poor level of intimacy. In another related study ((Available in free full text ) Dr Roberts compared Skyping with interacting via phone, instant messaging, text messages or social network sites. People interacting face-to-face or on Skype were 50 per cent more likely to laugh, and they rated themselves as significantly happier.

Of course there is plenty of other research suggesting other things – (thanks to my good friend Dr James Hawkins for this bit) – but some scientific evidence supporting too. If you are interested, try:

Helliwell, J. F. and H. Huang (2013). “Comparing the happiness effects of real and on-line friends.” National Bureau of Economic Research NBER Working Papers 18690.  This is a very recent large (5,000 people) Canadian survey of 5,000 people that compared real-time and on-line social networks as sources of subjective well-being. There are three key results. First, the number of real-life friends is positively correlated with subjective well-being (SWB) even after controlling for income, demographic variables and personality differences. Doubling the number of friends in real life has an equivalent effect on well-being as a 50% increase in income. Second, the size of online networks is largely uncorrelated with subjective well-being. Third, we find that real-life friends are much more important for people who are single, divorced, separated or widowed than they are for people who are married or living with a partner. Findings from large international surveys (the European Social Surveys 2002-2008) are used to confirm the importance of real-life social networks to SWB; they also indicate a significantly smaller value of social networks to married or partnered couples.

van der Horst, M. and H. Coffé (2012). “How friendship network characteristics influence subjective well-being.” Social Indicators Research 107(3): 509-529.  (Available in free full text) This article explored how friendship network characteristics influence subjective well-being (SWB). Using data from the 2003 General Social Survey of Canada, three components of the friendship network were differentiated: number of friends, frequency of contact, and heterogeneity of friends… etc, etc!

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.