Hackney ‘Bros’ pick up award for unique take on tackling loneliness

Some of the Hackney Brocals Pic: Carers Trust

Loneliness in men over 50 is a problem not often spoken about — particularly not by the men themselves.

Hackney Brocals’ have found a unique way of starting the conversation, and it involves acknowledging that sometimes, men just don’t want to talk about it.

The group told Eastlondonlines that they reach out to ‘bros’ who are struggling with ‘bronliness’ – ‘the state of being a little bit isolated, and a little bit fed up about it, but also being too much of a dude to talk about it.’

Their unique work landed them the Doing Things Differently award at the 2019 Community Transport Awards in Manchester on Tuesday.

Anne-Marie Payne receiving the award. Pic: Carers Trust

The project, which is based at the City and Hackney Carers Centre, is the brain child of project manager Anne-Marie Payne. Part of what they do is provide ‘bros’ with free training to drive a minibus, allowing them to drive each other around Hackney and beyond — to film screenings, cooking classes and various other days out.

The project also aims to connect with men for whom driving was a big part of their pre-retirement life: lorry drivers, bus drivers, or car commuters, or men who always took the wheel of the family car.

Tom Jeffrey, marketing and communications manager for the Community Transport Association said: ‘The Doing Things Differently award recognises an organisation that is applying what’s great about community transport in a different way.’

He added that the judges were impressed with ‘the ambition to engage with the older GBTQ (Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer) community who suffer from loneliness and isolation at an even higher rate.’

A brocal meeting. Pic: Carers Trust

According to research from Independent Age and International Longevity Centre UK, men are more prone than women to become isolated from their friends and family, with almost 1 in 4 older men having less than monthly contact with their children, and 1 in 5 seeing their friends less than once a month. They are also less likely to want to talk about it.

Hackney Bros volunteer, Miguel, who asked for us not to include his surname, told Eastlondonlines about how he has seen men who have joined the project light up and laugh until their stomachs ache.

Payne told EastLondonLines about 65 year-old-Ben, whose name has been changed for anonymity. Living alone, Ben found it almost impossible to socialize or relax when meeting new people. But after being told about the group and introduced to a fellow ‘bro’ the two began to meet up regularly in the local cafe.

In a statement released by the Carers Trust, Ben said: ‘I’d quite forgotten how good it felt to just shoot the breeze about something and nothing and my fear of feeling ill at ease with someone who, until a few weeks before, had been a total stranger simply melted away. It’s made a big difference to my life, just knowing he is there. In such a short space of time he has become a genuine friend, which has been both a delight and a huge surprise. That one phone call – the one I very nearly didn’t make – has given me a different perspective on life. Amazing really…”

Miguel told EastLondonLines that despite the heart-warming work of the brocals, so much more needs to be done. He explained that loneliness in older men has only worsened in Hackney over the last 5 years amidst a breakdown of community spirit, which has left men without much-needed support networks.

When asked about how he felt about winning the Doing Things Differently award, Miguel said that despite his pride in the project, what they really need is more people to get involved.

He went on to stress his frustration towards the council for not taking the issue seriously: ‘I get so frustrated at the budget cuts. We are talking about human rights here. You shouldn’t have to put the happiness and wellbeing of a person into the hands of another citizen. It should be the responsibility of the council.’

Hackney Brocals said that they hope winning the Doing Things Differently award will allow them ‘to connect with local MPs and councillors to help bring these issues to the table at a local and national level.’

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