Friendly faces in familiar places

Local businesses get men talking about mental health

For many men, talking about their problems with friends or family can be difficult. While women are more likely to confide in someone or seek professional help, men often bottle things up.

According to men’s mental health charity, CALM, that’s one of the reasons why more men than women tragically take their own lives.

But here in Bolton a new initiative is seeing men of all ages open up about problems affecting their mental health.

People working in barbers, gyms, pubs and cafes across the town have signed up to become men’s health advocates, known as ‘Manbassadors’.

The Bolton Manbassadors project aims to tackle the stigma around men and mental health by creating an environment where men can talk to someone as part of their normal day. A Manbassador is very much a friendly face in a familiar place.

Since the project launched in June 2021, 25 men and women have become trusty Manbassadors, on hand to give support to customers when it’s needed.

Male suicide rising across the region

Bolton Manbassadors was created by Adam Warbrick, a Community Development Officer here at Bolton at Home.

Adam says: “Suicide is the biggest killer in men aged under 50 and the numbers are continuing to rise across Greater Manchester. For that to change, we must look at more innovative yet simple ways to engage with men in our communities.

“The Manbassadors concept comes from a similar project in Leeds where bite-size support is given at a very local level. I knew the same approach would work well in Bolton because of the community spirit we have in the town.

“It also fits with our commitment to helping residents overcome the barriers that prevent them from leading healthy and fulfilling lives.”

Adam says: “As well as offering one-to-one support through our Manbassador network, we run a number of community activities such as Men in Sheds. Here, men can meet in a relaxed environment and talk about all sorts of things. We also have a Manbassadors group on Facebook, with some really positive feedback from users.”

How Manbassadors help

One Manbassador who’s been involved since the project began is Fran Webb, from Franny and Clyde’s Barbers in Farnworth. “When Adam came into the shop to talk about Bolton Manbassadors, I knew straight away that I wanted to get involved,” says Fran. “My ex-boss, Clyde, sadly took his life in 2016 and I knew a few lads round here who’d done the same.”

Fran is used to chatting to men while cutting their hair and has around 20 customers a day. She says that talking about personal problems is seen as a taboo. “Men think it’s a weakness. They have an expectation of what a man should be and that’s not someone who admits they’ve got a mental health problem.”

With some initial training and helped by promotional posters for the shop, Fran began offering confidential Manbassador support to her customers.

“They notice the posters and ask what it’s about,” she says. “That’s what usually gets the conversation started. Of course, not everyone needs help so the chat often moves on. But for those who’re struggling, it’s a good ice breaker.

“I’ve known many of my customers for a long time. I went to school with some of them. So I can sense when someone is feeling low. As a Manbassador, I feel able to take the next step and offer advice if a person is open to it."

On average, Fran says she helps at least one customer a week. Some of the common problems are to do with alcohol, gambling or drugs.

“Many of the men I speak to have anxiety. Some feel overworked or have relationship problems,” says Fran. “I’m a listening ear but I also offer advice based on my own lived experience. For those who need further help, I signpost them to local specialist services or community groups where they can connect with others.

“Projects like this, along with the conversations we’re now having about male suicide are giving men a chance to break down their own barriers and seek help. Just recently, I got a lovely message from a man I’d helped. That was so satisfying and I’m proud to be a Manbassador.”

Our Manbassadors can help by:

  • Taking the time to talk to you and giving reassurance that you’re not alone;
  • Understanding your needs and creating a plan to help you move forward;
  • Signposting you to specialist services if needed;
  • Connecting you to community groups and social activities.

Where to get support

If you fancy a chat with a manbassador, visit www.boltonathome.org.uk/bolton-manbassadors

to find your nearest one, visit our Facebook page www.facebook.com/BoltonManbassadors

Or see an online map using this website link: https://bit.ly/3MTHohL

If you have a story to share, please email news@boltonathome.org.uk