Home East London The ‘army of men’ supporting each other as ‘bros’ to combat loneliness

The ‘army of men’ supporting each other as ‘bros’ to combat loneliness

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Men of all ages sometimes find it hard to express their concerns regarding their emotions.

For older men, this emotion could be a feeling of loneliness and isolation. This is sometimes brought on by the loss of a partner, friends moving away or changing circumstances.

There are 6.8 million men aged over 60 living in the UK. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), this number is projected to reach 9.6 million by 2030.

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Research conducted in 2012 found that older men are less likely to engage with seemingly ‘gender-neutral’ projects designed to tackle isolation and loneliness than women.

In some cases, they also show that they experience greater levels of isolation and maintain fewer social connections later in life compared to women.

Anne-Marie Payne didn’t want to see older men feeling alone and isolated. She set out to change that

The paper suggested the reasons for this could be the stigma around asking for help as a man and that men are more resistant to seeking help than women.

That is why in 2018, an East London woman went about creating a service that specifically helps men and tackles the risk of them being isolated.

Anne-Marie Payne, 50, is from Tower Hamlets but has worked in Hackney for years.

She came up with the idea for ‘Hackney Brocals’ because of her experience as a carer.

She said: “I befriended a man named Reg when I worked with Age UK. He was lovely but really isolated.

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“He was really lonely, his wife had died and his friends had moved away. I would go around and he’d hold my hand saying he was lonely. I wondered to myself, how can someone so nice and friendly be so lonely?”

That is when Anne-Marie had the vision that we see today.

“I was sure there was something we could do about helping Reg, like get him some mates.

“So I envisioned an army of guys driving each other around on trips and meeting each other.

“They would be combatting bronliness together.”

Hackney Brocals aim is to combat loneliness that older men may be suffering from

Hackney Brocals aim is to combat loneliness that older men may be suffering from

‘Bronliness’ is the word bro and loneliness joined together. Brocals is bro and locals together. They are the two main points Hackney Brocals want to get across.

To help local men stop feeling isolated and alone.

Bronliness is the state of “being a little bit isolated, and a little bit bothered by it, but being too much of a ‘bro’ to talk about it.”

Hackney Brocals is managed by City and Hackney Carers Centre and is run by Anne-Marie.

One of their biggest activities was working with artist Angela Groundwater to design wallpaper depicting the bros’ lives. Each bro had a drawing done of themselves, told stories about their lives during and before lockdown.

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All the images now form the ‘Brocal wallpaper’ which can be seen at Hackney Museum.

The ‘Bros’ meet up weekly and do art activities together. They meet up at an art studio to create pieces, go on trips, drive a minibus, which they also get trained to drive for free.

This year they’ve been on a trip to Epping Forest and got food together at Toby Carvery.

If we put on a coffee morning, they wouldn’t come. That is why we put on activities.

That’s why we say come and learn to drive a minibus, teach other bros, help other people who are more lonely and that appeals to them,” she added.

The bros consist of younger bros who are men aged 50 to 75, older bros are 75 and over. They are then supported by volunteers who can be aged 18 and over.

There are also befriending pairs. One volunteer will pair up with an older man who is housebound and be a friend.

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Befriending became a big part due to the pandemic as access to older men was impacted.

A ‘buddy’ as they are called would have telephone conversations or meet up for walks, just so they were able to know they weren’t alone.

Ryk Morgan, 60, is a volunteer at Hackney Brocals.

He joined in 2018 and at first, he was just looking for something to kill time and keep his mind clear.

He said: “I went to the voluntary centre and was told about Brocals and Anne-Marie. I was told it was for isolated men who were lonely.

“I don’t consider myself lonely or isolated, if anything I’m rampantly sociable. But that’s why Brocals is so good.

One of bros drawn and designed with bespoke wallpaper designer, Angela Groundwater

One of bros drawn and designed with bespoke wallpaper designer, Angela Groundwater

“As men, we are told from young that you’re weak if you cried in school. You just never know how much it affects men because people aren’t as open about their mental health as me but I feel a lot of guys are just lonely.”

Ryk has been on trips with the group and helps out with the admin side for Hackney Brocals. For him though, when he goes on the trips it brings a sense of happiness.

“They’ve lost their partners and they’re on their own. When you go on the trips, everyone’s laughing and joking with each other. There’s like a solid dozen people who would come along on the trips and they’d all be chatting.

“There are blokes who come along every time and honestly it helps them.

“It has helped me deal with my challenges as well as getting to know and help out other men” he continued.

Hackney Brocals is always looking for volunteers and plans to meet up next on the 10th January 2022 (Covid permitting).

Bulend Murad volunteers at Hackney Brocals as well. He has also seen clear benefits in what they’re doing.

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He said: “I was diagnosed as Schizophrenic just over 25 years ago and most of that 25 years has been spent living in isolation because of the lack of support that was available.

“It’s hard to explain in words what life is like when you wake up every day and sit there with nothing to do. The negative impact it has on one’s mental and physical wellbeing is not something anyone should have to go through.

“Being part of the Brocals Project has given a positive impact on my mental and physical wellbeing. It’s given me a reason to wake up in the morning and make myself presentable and it gives me the opportunity to go out and share my lived experience with men tackling loneliness and isolation.”

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