Solopress first encountered Andy’s Man Club through our shared involvement with Southend United Football Club. When we had the chance to work directly with Darren Smith from Andy’s Man Club, we were keen to learn more about this fast-growing mental health charity that’s got men talking to each other at venues all over the country.
The Andy’s Man Club story starts in a sad place, but ultimately demonstrates the amazing things that can be achieved when people come together to help each other.
Who is Andy?
Andy Roberts was a popular young man from Halifax, described by those who knew him as a sociable, bubbly personality and a doting father. In April 2016, Andy took his own life at the age of just 23.
The impact of the tragedy was profoundly shocking to his family and friends, with whom Andy had been discussing future plans right up until the day before he died.
In their efforts to piece together what had happened, Andy’s loved ones were struck by the lack of warning signs. It had been a bolt out of the blue for them, but clearly, Andy must have been suffering in silence for some time.
They couldn’t help feeling that, if Andy had been able to discuss his feelings, his death might have been prevented.
Andy’s Man Club is born
Among those Andy left behind were his mum, Elaine Roberts, and his brother-in-law, Luke Ambler. Luke was a prominent professional Rugby League player whose career included spells with Leeds Rhinos, Salford Reds, Harlequins RL and Halifax, as well as international duties for Ireland.
Elaine and Luke recognised that they had an opportunity to allow some good to come of Andy’s passing. Together they co-founded Andy’s Man Club as a place where men could come to talk about their feelings.
With Luke’s profile as a sportsman, Elaine’s determination and a growing number of supporters, Andy’s Man Club grew from a meeting of nine guys in Halifax to a nationwide movement. It now has 76 active face-to-face clubs and even more meetings online.
“It’s OK to talk”
So what exactly happens at an Andy’s Man Club? We caught up with Darren Smith, South Essex’s local Facilitator, who was able to explain:
“Meetings take place from 7pm to 9pm on Monday nights, and it’s a safe place for men to talk and to listen.
There are no professionals or outside experts present, just a group of men in the same boat.
To help organise meetings, members assume the roles of Facilitator, Co-facilitator, and Sweeper. The Sweeper is on hand to greet members and guide in the newcomers, while the Facilitator and Co-facilitator help to bring structure to the meeting.”
The meetings follow a simple format every time, as Darren explained:
“In each meeting, we ask five questions. Three of those questions stay the same every week. They are:
- How’s it going?
- Give us one positive from your week
- Have you got anything you need to get off your chest?
The remaining two questions change each week. One might be geared towards helping members appreciate their value, like ‘How could you positively impact someone else this week?’
The final question will often be something light-hearted, like ‘What animal would you be?’ or ‘What is your favourite biscuit?’
The Facilitator and Co-facilitator are the first to give their answers, which helps to kickstart the meeting and get the chat flowing.”
It’s a format that allows men to speak freely among their peers in a safe environment. This spirit of openness is summed up by Andy’s Man Club’s slogan and hashtag – #ITSOKTOTALK.
Who is Andy’s Man Club for?
Simply put, Andy’s Man Club is for any man over 18 who feels they want to come along and talk.
That covers all men, regardless of background or experiences. Essentially, anyone who has a struggle in their lives is welcome to join a group and discuss what’s bothering them. As Chairman and Co-founder Luke Ambler says,
“You don’t have to have had suicidal thoughts, you don’t have to have had a mental health condition. You might just want somewhere where you feel a part of something.”
Andy’s Man Club doesn’t position itself as an alternative or a replacement for professional mental health services. It’s a welcoming place with no waiting lists and no forms to fill in – just somewhere to meet with friends that are experiencing similar struggles.
At Andy’s Man Club, members talk about going through ‘storms,’ and it was in such a moment that Darren Smith decided to reach out for help.
His experience was typical of many men in his situation. He came across long waiting lists for professional mental health support. He also found that local self-help groups tended to focus on specific issues, such as older men experiencing grief. He struggled to find help that was both available and appropriate for him.
The good news for Darren was that he discovered Andy’s Man Club online. But the bad news was that his nearest club was nearly 100miles away in Peterborough!
Andy’s Man Club comes to Essex
Not to be discouraged, Darren contacted the admin team at andysmanclub.co.uk and set about starting his own club. Soon after, he established the meeting at Southend United’s Roots Hall Stadium. After starting out with four or five guys in the first couple of weeks, the Southend meeting now attracts over 20 members per week.
The Southend meeting has become a huge help, both to its members and to Darren himself, but he remained concerned that the rest of Essex was still severely lacking a place for men to go to share their feelings. As a result, Darren decided to establish a second meeting.
Andy’s Man Club Chelmsford launched on 29 November 2021, with meetings taking place at 7pm every Monday at Writtle University Centre for Health & Sport.
In line with Andy’s Man Club’s ambition to put a meeting within 30 minutes of every man in the UK, Darren is now hoping to help set up clubs across Billericay, Basildon and Harlow.
Spreading the word
As an active facilitator for Andy’s Man Club in the South East, Darren has appeared on air on BBC Essex Radio and in the pages of the Southend Echo newspaper. He’s also active on social media, as administrator of Facebook pages for the Southend-on-Sea and Chelmsford groups, and running Twitter accounts for AMC Southend and AMC Chelmsford.
Darren also sought to promote the Southend meeting with a printed Banner, which is how Solopress was able to become involved. As sponsor of the North Bank and print partner for Southend United FC, we’re often to be found at the Roots Hall Stadium, which is where the Southend-on-Sea AMC meeting takes place.
It made perfect sense then, that we should team up with Darren to produce the advertising boards. Now, when supporters file into the ground to watch the Shrimpers at home, they’ll become aware that Andy’s Man Club is there for them when they need it. And if just one guy sees it and gets the help that he needs, we reckon that’s worthwhile.
Join the club
If you or anyone you know might be interested in Andy’s Man Club, there are plenty of ways to learn more.
For any queries regarding the meeting or press enquiries, Darren himself is available at [email protected].