Man Den Founder

One of the current Ask Me ambassadors also created the Man Den project in Waltham Forest. We asked her about her role in both projects and how both can make a difference to young people in Waltham Forest.

What made you decide to start the Man Den project?

I started the project because I was frustrated by what I saw as a lack of action being taken to deal with some of the issues which were being consistently mentioned as being reasons why youth violence was increasing. Time and again people said there was a “lack of positive male role models”, “no sense of community” and “cuts to youth service”. The only action I saw being taken at the time was the planning of marches and meetings. Whilst I appreciated the sentiments behind these, I just felt like more could be done. So, I just took action.

The idea of bringing boys and men together to play board games just literally popped into my head. There was no real design or planning; it was a split-second idea and I just went for it. I booked a hall, asked for old board games on a local Facebook group and advertised the space – the Man Den. However, even though it seems like the idea was a fluke, I realised that the Man Den was a culmination of my experience and knowledge of working with young people, organising mentoring programmes for other organisations and my cultural experience of seeing Trinidadian men ‘lime’ (which involves creating a tightknit community through boys and men getting together to play card and board games). All of these helped me see the ‘Man Den’ as part of the solution.

What impact has the project had on young people?

I have found that the project has had short-term and long-term impacts on the young people who attend. In the short-term, every boy has benefitted from not looking at their phone once for two hours! They get so engrossed in the games they forget they have technology. They also have a lot of fun. The release of dopamine when we laugh has proven beneficial effects on our mental and physical health, so I hope that all the laughter we hear is having a positive effect on the overall wellbeing of all our participants!

I was really surprised to see the impact the sessions have had on the participants’ home lives. We have had feedback from a number of families who have said they are now playing more board games at home together which they never used to do before. I never had thought about this as an outcome, but families spending more time together can only be a great thing and I have been so pleased that the Man Den has helped to achieve such a positive outcome.

What do you feel young people gain by joining the Man Den group?

Many of our young people do not have positive male role models in their lives; even for those who do, when spending time with other men who have different professional backgrounds, the young people are able to find out in-depth about different careers and the reality of those careers. We are a safe and supportive place but most of all we want our young people to feel they have gained an extended family.

What can local people do to support the group?

From attending a board game session to mentoring our young people, sharing our flyers and encouraging young people to attend and engage, there are several ways local people can support the Man Den project. We are very fortunate to have had board game donations from several local people and we have those who bring us snacks along. We also have those that support us with monetary donations or by sponsoring our events.

How do you think the Man Den and ‘Ask Me’ can work together? 

The Man Den is a hub for advice and information sharing in the community. One of our Man Den team is an Ask Me ambassador. This means that any of those who regularly attend, or those who just come along once or twice to one of our sessions, can speak to our resident Ask Me ambassador, who can signpost them to other services that may help them make a positive choice to steer away from gang and knife crime.

By working together in this way, we can bring young people together and ensure that more young people are provided with key information about support and services they may need. I know that conversations can make a massive difference to the choices young people make.

What advice would you give to others who want to help young people?

Just do it! Find out about local services who are working with young people and how you can get involved. There are many ways to help – find the way which works for you and allows you to use your strengths to help young people.  The new Ask Me Community Directory (https://ask-me.org/directory-category) sets out details of many of the services and support links that are available in Waltham Forest and there’s no excuse now for not being aware or engaged in the support the community offers.

What are the key characteristics of someone who helps young people?

Consistent, persistent and a great sense of humour certainly helps.

Have you got an example of a young person whose life has been affected by working with the project?

Many of the young people and the families have told us that they spend more time together playing board games as the project has re-introduced this as a family tradition. They have informed us that this has had a positive effect on their family wellbeing, helped get families talking again and building up their resilience.

To learn more about the Man Den, visit the Facebook page: www.facebook.com/TheManDen/ If you are interested in becoming an ambassador for Ask Me, visit our ambassador page