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

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.