The Proper Blokes Club Exhibition
I interviewed members of The Proper Blokes Club (TPBC), a men's mental health 'walk and talk' group in London which I belong to.
The objective was to find out how the group is changing lives by encouraging men to talk openly about their mental health issues.
Myself and fellow writer Geoff Saunders wrote the men's stories for a photography exhibition covered by the BBC.
Here, I present some of the stories.
All photos were taken by Colin John Clay.
Scott, 35, is an ex-gambler, proud dad to two young girls and the founder of The Proper Blokes Club. After a relationship breakup, he started going on walks and videoing himself talking about his issues. It struck a chord with men across London.
We might not be able to solve a problem but we are creating a space where you can talk.
"I started the walks in September 2020 during the Covid lockdown. I was doing my local walk and videoing my experiences, and I thought hopefully it would resonate with someone watching it.
Originally, it was meant to be for dads who were finding it difficult getting access to their children. I know how it feels getting access to your kids and I was in a position where I could give something back to people.
As more lads started getting involved and coming on the walks, we got a wider range of issues like being a dad, being out of work, taking drugs, drinking, relationships and stress at work.
I would be lying if I said the group had not been beneficial to me. It’s been an amazing support and I have met some lads that are going to be best pals for life. It’s helped me immensely."
Marine & Logistics Manager
James is married with a young son. Twenty years ago, he was diagnosed as a manic-depressive, now known as bipolar disorder. After years of therapy, and feeling isolated during lockdown, he saw a walk and talk video on Facebook by Scott Johnson, founder of The Proper Blokes Club.
"The pandemic did a lot of things to people. You didn’t get to see anyone. All of a sudden, it got snatched from everybody. People are more isolated now and I could see that happening to me. I went for a walk with Scott and it was exactly what I needed. That kind of environment suits me best – meeting and walking and talking. It’s better than being in a stifling situation with someone who is paid to listen to you.
It has given me purpose.
I thought it’s such a great opportunity to get out there, not just for myself but for other people. I have had ten years of therapy and I may be able to listen. When you are bipolar, it’s good to have something positive in life to extend the good part of the condition. Having something to focus on is therapy in itself. I have loads of brothers now. It’s like a brotherhood."
Greg, a big Arsenal fan and former DJ, is married and has a stepdaughter, two grandchildren and a sausage dog. He discovered The Proper Blokes Club when things were spiralling downwards. The group helped him get back on track.
My wife has noticed the change in me.
"I was suffering quite badly when I joined the group. I had had a couple of knee operations and I was going back and forth with my doctors about what to do. I also had problems with gambling and things were taking a downward spiral.
The receptionist at the doctor’s recommended The Proper Blokes Club. It's been great for me. I am not jumping from one thing to another any more. Now I am really focused. It’s given me consistency and drive.
Since I have started walking more with the group, my knee is starting to feel a lot better and I don’t need to take so many painkillers, so health-wise and in terms of mental wellbeing, it’s helping with both.
When I moved to the area, I had no friends here. The group has enabled me to meet life-long friends which has also had a positive impact on my life."
Geoff, 60, teaches adults with learning difficulties. He is also a playwright, works on indie movies and recently produced a podcast on men’s mental health. Much to the amusement of his Greenwich walking pals, he prefers pie and mash with gravy, not liquor.
I thought, ‘Not only can I benefit from this group but I can also be useful’.
"One of my colleagues does a lot of work for mental health and she flagged up this group. I didn’t consciously think I needed to meet new people and get some help; I just thought it could be interesting and that I could be helpful in some way.
I was having a bad time at work and various things were happening in my life; subconsciously, I’m sure, part of me thought I could do with this group for myself.
The WhatsApp group is important because people are checking in on each other. The walking group is also good because you can have longer conversations with people about normal life or more heavy issues.
As an established member of the Greenwich walk, I take the responsibility of asking, ‘What brought you along?’ when someone new turns up and it’s a good way to get the conversation going."