Posts Tagged ‘social action’

Should Men Beyond 50 be a Campaigning Organisation?

Feb 25 2013

There’s the Men’s Movement, and then there’s activism on men’s issues and campaigning. What’s the difference? As older men we lived through the “men’s liberation movement” in the 1970’s and tried to accommodate ourselves with feminist ideas and politics; men violent, women victims. My main response as I recall at that time was to say very little, and I think many men worked mostly at keeping our heads down. Later in the 1990’s there was the mythopoetic men’s movement. No I don’t understand that big multi-syllable word beginning with ‘m’ either! But I recall trying: 1. To get into my feminine side 2. To become more of a deep man with the help of Robert Bly, Joseph Campbell  and others. Then things seemed to go quiet around the turn of the millennium. There is still the ManKind Project, but I get the sense that overall we have not got as far as we might have once wished to challenging the authority or unpicking the assumptions of the “masculinity system”.

Men Beyond 50 is a social enterprise project whose main aims are to be a resource to meet the needs of older men and a gateway through which we can put men in touch with other organisations. As such I have no doubt we are participating in the Men’s Movement working alongside with like-minded others, and working to help 50+ men find their path to live happier and more fulfilled older lives. But could we be doing more, and – more to the point – should we? It is an open question and I invite your reponse.

Should Men Beyond 50 embrace activism on men’s issues? In particular, should we be challenging the social isolation of older men with the related problems of loneliness, mental illness, and their invisibility from political discourse. On the one hand, many older men seem angry. On the other hand, many men also feel frustrated. So they may speak out or rant in the pub, or write complaining letters to the newspapers, but in general they don’t appear to wish to mobilise. There’s the double-bind of course: to protest too aggressively or become activist may play us directly into performing the violence of the “masculinity system” we seek to change. So for the last few years at any rate, we have been indecisive about campaigning.

Are things changing? Events… events… events… and the ‘Crisis’ of the last 4 years: I am reading a 2012 Report issued by the J Rowntree Foundation, How can local authorities with less money support better outcomes for older people? . The Report begins, “Public spending cuts will have a major impact on social care, at a time when the ageing population is growing”, and goes on to describe the evidence of the rapidly growing gap between resources and older people’s needs. The Report champions “that bit of help” which engaged communities can bring to bear, and lists a number of successful and inspiring projects helping in healthcare, reducing social isolation, and promoting co-operative and mutuality-based approaches.

Well and good but two years since the 2011 report, the cuts are really beginning to take effect now and the gaps between the ice floes are widening alarmingly for older people, and of course it is the disadvantaged who are especially suffering. Disadvantaged older men are particularly those who are living alone or in isolated social situations, and of course those living in poverty. So are we older men going to speak out? Well – Are we? Are we prepared to do anything about it? And if we are, how should we go about bringing about change?

My feeling is that we older men do have to demonstrate our solidarity with our disadvantaged brothers. We have to speak out, and we have to act as elders, but without falling into the old traps of the oppositional “masculinity system”. How to do this? One example I find hopeful is demonstrated by the Circles Network. The methodology behind creating Circles of Support can be used both for individuals and for communities: inspiring leadership and empowerment, developing local initiatives, identifying the disadvantaged and providing support. I think it is a useful model and can be effective bringing about change. So far the approach has been successful bringing about social change. Does it have political potential? Yes, if we want to campaign (men and women elders together)… I invite the debate among us to begin so we can then to bring our collective voice to bear.

Elderhood in Action!

Jan 09 2013

The Men Beyond 50 project champions ‘Giving Back’ and ‘Speaking Out’ by older men. Learning from elders (men and women ebbs together) is one of the main ways this can happen and here is one of the most inspiring and practical projects we have seen:

                                                                   The Amazings !

The Amazings project offers “classes, course and wisdom from elders with amazing lifetime experience”.

The website is beautifully put together and features course programmes (from 4-10 sessions) given by about 40 different older men and women in the London area. Some of the courses are activities, some are about passing on skills and stories to inspire others, the main areas being Art, DIY, Craft, Health, Music, Activities, Culture.  It also has short videos showcasing all the elders and profile pages so we can get a good idea what is involved before deciding to sign up. There is a feedback ‘Wishlist’ page, and a ‘Forum’ community page.

The Amazings. Remember the name, and visit the website. We are adding it to MB50 Partners, and I am sure we will be featuring the courses and activities of the elders regularly here!

 

 

How can men beyond 50 make a difference? Exploring being an elder and giving back: FEBRUARY UPDATE

Mar 09 2012

One of my New Year pledges for 2012 is to research how maturing men can fulfil their potential as elders and be of service. This blog posting is both a progress report and a request to all of you reading this to share your ideas and experience.

One role where older men are uniquely suited is the mentoring of younger men. Crime, drugs and education are just three of many areas where young men have far worse problems than young women, and it’s clear that the lack of fathering and older male role models has been a major factor in this problem. However, it’s not just young men in trouble who need mentoring: there are plenty of other lads who need a bit of support too. So mentoring was an obvious priority for my research.

I have identified a few organisations already active in this sector, and have now had two promising meetings with Michael Boyle, founding Director of A Band of Brothers (ABOB). It is a smallish, newish educational charity, but it has run enough programmes to show that its methods work, and to earn praise from a number of police and youth service teams.

Back in the 1990s, I was part of a team at The Magdalen Project, the educational charity I founded, who tried to do mentoring for young men in trouble. We quickly found that well-intentioned but untrained amateurs get into problems very fast in this work. A good mentoring programme needs to engage the hearts and souls of those involved, but it also has to be well-organised, quality-controlled, and self-sustaining, to earn the confidence of the clients and the statutory bodies involved. The ABOB programme achieves this combination impressively.

The programmes which A Band of Brothers runs begin with recruiting a group of at least ten older men in one locality: these men could be in their 30s, 40s, 50s or older. To prepare them to be mentors, this group receive a combination of initiation and training: as Michael Boyle says, older men need to face and clear their own unresolved issues from when they were young men, before they can fully support others. This circle of older men continue to meet as a group: This makes the whole approach much more durable, since they support each other, and could step in if one elder drops out. Next, a group of young men needing mentoring in that same locality is recruited: they go through an initiatory process supported by this group of elders, with the aim of forming ongoing mentoring pairs between the older and younger men. Both age groups are also invited to weekly meetings, so that they all have the support of the circle.

One of the many impressive features of these programmes is that they recognise and fill the lack of rites of passages and initiation in our society, for both young men and elders. To do this in a way which is not manipulative or cultish, and which has been endorsed by the mainstream authorities, is an awesome and exciting achievement.

Another new charity offering mentoring for young men is Journeyman UK.  Their approach is a bit different from ABOB: they are using and adapting methods from a successful US programme, Boys to Men, they aim to support young men of all backgrounds, not just those in trouble, and they provide support mainly through regular mentoring circles, not one-to-one.  They welcome approaches from men around the UK wanting to bring this work to their area, and are also in need of funds to support their expansion.  I have made contact with Paul Howell, their Director, and we are exploring the use of Hazel Hill Wood for Journeyman’s initiatory trainings.  Sign up for this blog to receive further updates.

One of the tangible outcomes of my meetings with ABOB was agreement to collaborate on setting up a mentoring cluster in Bristol. This is a city where both groups know older men who are interested, and where there are many young men needing help. The venue for the initial training will be The Magdalen Project: this kind of programme fits with their charitable aims, and means that the training can use their beautiful 130-acre organic farm and woodlands. We have now fixed a date for this, October 19-21, and are now seeking contact with men around Bristol who would like to become mentors, and with opinion leaders in youth and social services, the Police and other organisations whose understanding and support will help the programme. If you are interested in taking part, please contact Alan  or Nathan at ABOB for details.

A Band of Brothers now have interest from many parts of the UK in setting up mentoring clusters, and they hope to expand their operations substantially to meet this need. The two main constraints are funding and the need for more outstanding facilitators who can guide these processes. If you can help on either count, please contact A Band of Brothers direct.

Facing the 2020s: a job for the elders? Creative simplicity or dismal austerity is a CHOICE!

Feb 24 2012

Most people I talk to, even the alert ones, are in denial or despair about the future.  I’ve been terrified, but I’m starting to feel hopeful.  Many of the threats could be blessings: all it needs is a rapid, radical, miraculous shift of attitude by most people…

The future I’m on about is the medium term: the 2020s and decades beyond.  Try to read this without denial or despair.  The challenges include: peak oil, climate change, crop failures, debt crises, economic contraction and lots more.  The potential blessing is a move to a more local, more sociable, less materialistic way of life.

A few months ago, I wrote a list of the crucial questions for the next twenty years: not only the challenges, but also responses to them which could maintain a fair quality of life.  Although many of these challenges are global, my questions focus on the UK, to keep the scope manageable.

In January 2012, I approached two of the leading UK organisations already exploring these issues, to ask what answers are currently available, what research they are planning, and how I could help.  It’s important that none of us feel useless or irrelevant in this situation.  I’m not an expert in global sustainability, but I do have some relevant local experience (see www.living-organically.org), and I have some funds in a charitable trust which could help pay for some of this work.

The response from both New Economics Foundation and the Transition Movement was rapid and positive, and in February I’ve had promising initial meetings at senior level with both organisations.

These meetings show that some useful data already exists, but there are major gaps.  For example, NEF tell me there are no good UK forecasts through the 2020s and 2030s for economic and social trends, especially taking account of commodity shortages (oil, precious metals, etc), and the global debt crises.

Based on these meetings, I am now exploring with NEF and Transition a joint research project, which may also involve other organisations or individuals.  The 3 phases of this are currently envisioned as:

  1. A UK forecast through the 2020s of the economic and other impacts of major global trends, including scenarios for the social pressures, eg unemployment, arising from them.
  2. Gathering relevant successful responses to these economic, environmental and social pressures, from the UK and elsewhere, including local Transition Towns.  Highlight issues where responses cannot be identified, and seek to create responses.
  3. Explore how the knowledge, skills and desire to use these responses could be encouraged in local communities around the UK, and among policy-makers.

If you’d like further progress reports, subscribe to this blog.  If you have relevant skills or funds which could help this project, please contact me.

Giving Back in Tough Times

Dec 15 2011

Here are two more inspiring ‘Giving Back’ ideas plus some joined-up thinking for Christmas:

1.) lendwithcare.org and micro-finance

Think things are tough here? Try living in Bosnia! You may think of it as a small war-torn country somewhere in a far-off place called the Balkans, but in fact by air it is only two half hours away. You also might think that some of the benefits of being in central Europe close to Germany might have trickled down to Bosnia in the last ten years. Far from it!  The unemployment level there is 40%, and in one of those crazy contradictions of normality the state levies an effective 70% jobs tax on employers. ITV News Presenter Alastair Stewart wrote on his blog last week of the shock of his recent vist there and finding communities “where they’ve virtually got nothing”.

Alastair Stewart was travelling to Bosnia with Care International in order to promote micro-finance project run by this charity called lendwithcare.org. Small loans make big differences, and on the lendwithcare.org website you can find out how:

  • There is no minimum amount to lend
  • These are loans not hand-outs
  • Money is paid back by instalments over six to twelve months

Micro-finance projects (say £800 to help a Srebrenica small-holder buy animals and plant crops) amalgamate our loans, and are carefully administered by the charity. In the vast majority of cases the loans are paid back in full and on time. As Alastair Stewart writes, “That’s pretty moving economics”.

2.) Less Stuff, More Happiness

‘Less is More’ – could it be true for older men? Could having less things to worry about and needlessly occupy us as we get older, be a recipe for developing some wisdom and contentment?

Here is a recent inspiring talk by a younger man arguing the universal and personal benefits of having less stuff (leading to less personal debt/ less C02 / less stress).

So how about putting these two bright ideas together this Christmas and see if they make us feel happier:

  •  take £20 out of what we were planning to spend on ourselves
  •  make a £20 micro-finance loan at lendwithcare.org

Personally, I am feeling hopeful – the feedback from people on the lendwithcare.org website suggests THEY are genuinely feeling happier!