We All Have a Story - Volunteer at Men's Talk
This Black History Month we are shining the spotlight on our wonderful black colleagues, volunteers and clients that make us who we are. We recently caught up with Norman, a volunteer at Community Links Engagement and Recovery’s Men’s Talk project.
Men’s Talk is a creative advocacy project focusing on theatre and film to encourage men to speak about their mental health, make connections and learn new skills.
How did you start being involved in Men’s Talk?
I started volunteering with Men’s Talk in early 2018. Initially, I was running two men’s groups at Community Links in Dewsbury and Huddersfield. A new engagement worker, Stuart, came on board and he had a background in theatre. Stuart said he wanted to create a short film about men’s mental health and asked the lads in the group if they wanted to be involved.
This gave the lads an opportunity to meet others as a lot of them were isolated. There was one lad who was anxious about going to a new place and didn’t want to go on his own. He asked me if I would go with him, so I did. I now volunteer with Men’s Talk and have built a good relationship with Stuart. The lads are comfortable and feel at ease now too.
What do you enjoy the most about being part of Men’s Talk?
I love helping the men get the most out of the group. I notice how men come to the group, reserved and timid but then in a few months they want to engage and get involved. We have fun but we are always happy to sit down, support and offer friendship when one of us needs it.
What has been your favourite performance?
We did a performance in 2018 for World Mental Health Day. We thought it would be a small performance but there was 350 people there. We went on a tour with this performance too, around Yorkshire, in hospitals, job centres and schools.
One of the best performances was in a job centre, a lady cried because she realised that she was looking at people as numbers on a piece of paper and not looking at them as a person. A few of the workers there asked us questions and said that they now had a better understanding of what their loved ones were going through.
Using performance can help us to express our feelings and the performance was delivered as a way into the mindset of the men’s mental health issues from drugs to suicide. We used the stories from the men in the group to write the performance.
What has Men’s Talk meant to you?
If I am helping someone else, I am helping myself. I was diagnosed with PTSD and sometimes I struggle to process what happened. Bringing it up can cause hurt, but the more I work with others the more it helps me come to terms with what happened to me.
In 2020, we were meant to open a new performance but then Covid happened. This was when Men’s Talk Digital came about. As a mental health group, we could still meet in open spaces. Throughout the summer and into winter we went out to forests and campsites, we took pictures and learnt how to use cameras and our phones. We received a grant and were able to buy equipment for film editing and made video diaries throughout lockdown. This made sure that we had daily check ins and kept in contact. Now, the lads have developed new skills, we do videos for other mental health groups and some of the lads go and interview and shoot their own videos.
This is a great group of lads, and it is rewarding volunteering with them. Once they have completed their time with Community Links and they don’t come back, it shows they are doing well, but there will always be a space for them here.
October is Black History Month, what does this mean to you?
In the 60s and 70s when I was growing up, I came up against racism and we talk about this in the men’s group. We were the first black family to move in and I had people I fought with, but now some of these people are my closest friends. Nobody is born with racism; we learn this from others. The things I have been through, have made me who I am today.
I think the past is the past and we should look at what we can do now, actions for today and the future.
To learn more about Men’s Talk, you can check out their Facebook page