A local network supporting men’s health is celebrating this week having been awarded over £300,000 by the National Lottery, as well as being nominated for a national Project of the Year award.

Men’s Health Unlocked (MHU), a partnership between four local charitable bodies (Barca-Leeds, Forum Central, the Orion Partnership and Touchstone) and Leeds City Council, has received two years’ worth of funding from the National Lottery Reaching Communities Fund, to support the health and wellbeing of men across the Leeds area. It will feature free data-enabled tablets for isolated men, a city-wide men’s magazine, a directory of local activities, and, to mark Leeds City of Culture 2023, a Northern Man Festival, featuring both local and national organisations, artists and academics.

The boost for men’s health in the city comes after a successful first 12 months of the project, which has seen the network make waves at a local and national level. It has delivered 100 tablets to socially isolated and digitally excluded men across the city – half of which were men from ethnic minority backgrounds. It has also set up a men’s helpline and recruited “Manbassadors” in local shops, such as W2 Barbers on Easterly Road, who have regular chats with men to help point them towards activities and services.

In supporting the burgeoning men’s health work across the city, it has linked up groups to work together on projects, as well as providing academic and professional support to those who are looking to support and promote men’s health.

Joining together for Men’s health

Men’s Health Unlocked Coordinator, Damian Dawtry, said, “The continuation of this network is fantastic news for the city. It has come at a vital time as men, and men’s health, need support. They are dying 3.5 years earlier than women, they are more likely to suffer from Covid and from most of the major illnesses that affect all genders. Sadly, as many of us are aware, men are more likely to feel that this life has nothing to offer them any more, and are taking their own lives at an alarming rate.

“We need a joined-up approach to tackle these issues. This network involves key players both nationally and locally – leading groups such as our delivery partners Barca-Leeds, Touchstone and the Orion Partnership, as well as vital smaller organisations such as Leeds Dads and Circles of Life. We’re working alongside one of the world’s leading authorities on men’s health, Professor Alan White, as well as leading figures from the Public Health team and from the regional health authority. We’re on board with Women’s Lives Leeds and looking at some exciting joint work, and have received valuable support from national organisations such as the International Men’s Day and Mankind Initiative, to help address the nationally low uptake of domestic abuse victim services by men.

Key Support

Key figures from Public Health are also helping to drive this network forward, including Public Health Chief Officer, Carol Walker FFPH. “We have been delighted to work with and support MHU. Their invaluable work has been recognised locally, and now nationally through this additional funding from the National Lottery”, she says. “We look forward to continuing our work with MHU partners in this important work that focuses on men’s health which will support men in all communities across Leeds.”

Tim Taylor, Head of Public Health Localities and Primary Care Team, adds. “There is lots of great work going on across Leeds for men, which really makes a difference to their lives. This partnership brings together lots of this work and will allow it to be even more effective. The joint working with women’s organisations in the city is really important too and will lead to improved outcomes for all.”

A Leeds network with national acclaim and influence.

Men’s Health Unlocked was also a national finalist in the Project of the Year category in the Men and Boys Coalition Awards. “We were nominated for our innovative approach”, says Damian. “Ultimately, we lost out to Prostate Cancer UK, and there is no shame in that – to stand alongside a national charity was something that we are all very proud of.”

Professor White has also shown his enthusiasm for the network, saying, “Leeds has shown that by meeting the different health needs of men and women they can have a more efficient and effective service provision.  This benefits everyone. Currently, there is a push for a national men’s health strategy and Leeds is a prime example of what can be achieved when the health of men is taken seriously.”

Giving men a say in their health.

The network is keen to keep men at the heart of what they are doing. “The support from funders such as the Lottery, and the combined vision, passion and dedication of a wide variety of organisations and bodies, has been absolutely vital, but it would mean nothing without the men themselves being on board, says Damian. “That’s why many of our activities are about including men in what we are doing, and giving them a voice. We will recruit some as volunteers to promote men’s health issues and develop campaigns. It’s men who will be designing the magazine, it’s them who will co-curate the festival, and it’s them who will be sharing health messages with other men online. Indeed, it’s them who will bring innovation and true connection to the work that we are doing.

“Taking a gendered approach to health is an excellent way to find really powerful solutions – solutions that work for men and solutions that work for women”, says Damian. “We’re keen to talk to men, to listen to them, and to help them take positive steps to making themselves, and consequently the loved ones around them, healthier and happier.”

Much of the work will begin in April, but in the meantime Men’s Health Unlocked continues to support local men’s groups, inform strategic meetings and promote collaborations, hold workshops, and support projects such as a men’s redundancy support package and a Men Supporting Women’s Safety project (with Women’s Lives Leeds and other partners).

Connecting isolated men to the internet

One of the strands beginning in April will be delivered by Barca-Leeds, who will be providing the tablets with free data attached. “We are proud to be partners in Men’s Health Unlocked, a ground breaking men’s network here in Leeds”, says Bill Owen, Operations Director at Barca-Leeds. “We will be delivering the ‘Unlock Online’ strand, providing much-needed digital inclusion for men across the city. With the pandemic heightening issues of digital exclusion, as well as exacerbating social isolation and impacting metal health in men, the need for people to be digitally connected has never been greater.

Building on our successful pilot, we will, through the provision of free online access, connect men with other people and services and unlock the digital barriers that many face. Men will able to access vital connections such as men’s clubs, or services covering a wide range of areas including mental health services, addiction services and financial inclusion. Thanks to the support provided by the network, we hope that Unlock Online can have significant impact on the lives of the men involved in the project, including improving mental wellbeing & physical health, increasing social skills and enhancing financial literacy.’

To find out more about Men’s Health Unlocked, visit www.forumcentral.org.uk/mhu or contact Damian Dawtry at Forum Central on 07985 442630