Leeds: Supporting men with a dedicated network and health coordinator

Men’s Health Unlocked launched in late 2020 with National Lottery funding and backed by Leeds City Council and the voluntary sector.

Leeds has a long-track history of a gendered approach to health inequalities. The State of Men’s Health Report in 2016, a joint initiative between the city council and Leeds Beckett University, was the first of its kind in the country. The State of Women’s Health followed in 2019.

They were key factors not only in embedding gendered approaches within health and wellbeing support in Leeds, for example by making it part of the Leeds City Council commissioning process, but also in the development of two bodies that are driving this agenda forward – Women’s Lives Leeds and Men’s Health Unlocked. 

A network to boost men’s health

Men’s Health Unlocked launched in late 2020 with National Lottery funding and backed by Leeds City Council and the voluntary sector through the umbrella group Forum Central.

A coordinator – Damian Dawtry – was taken on to work with the existing network of existing health and wellbeing services and activities such as walking groups, social clubs, sports initiatives and projects tackling issues such as gender norms or fatherhood.

The network also includes public health officers, local NHS strategic and community representatives and academics as well as representatives from national organisations such as Mankind Initiative and the Men and Boys Coalition.

Mr Dawtry said: “We have a lot of men who are living on their own and isolated – in some tower blocks 80% of homes are occupied by men living on their own. A combination of bereavement, separation and those who have remained single means there are significant numbers who are isolated.

Their health – both physical and emotional – suffers. The pandemic has just made this worse and will continue to do so. 

“Men’s lifespan is nearly four years less than women’s. They are more likely to die from nearly every disease that is common to all genders. In Leeds, they are five times more likely to die by suicide.” 

‘It’s tough for men’

The aim of Men’s Health Unlocked is to help bring together everything that has been developed other recent years and identify new areas of work. 

This includes a webpage containing relevant information and research, a directory of local men’s health and wellbeing activities and latest news from the network. The coordinator also attends regular council-run and NHS-run meetings to help bridge the gap between third sector projects and the men within them with the latest strategic and statutory developments.

A number of new projects have also been launched, including a network of “Manbassadors”. These are local businesses, such as barbers, fish and chip shops, newsagents and others, which have shared health and wellbeing messages with their regular customers.

A leaflet was produced promote the work of Men’s Health Unlocked and the shop staff were encouraged to have conversations with their customers about how they were feeling. 

Jayne, a local pharmacy assistant, who is part of the Manbassadors network, said the importance of having a chat cannot be under-estimated.

“It’s tough for men, especially the young. That pressure to be strong – man up, hold your own. But there’s other kinds of strength – the strength to reach for another’s hand and let them in. I’m at the counter and it’s close to home with me. I see them coming, stressed and unhappy. Be kind to treat everyone equally - it all goes so much further in the world than an uncaring word and takes far less energy.” 

‘Our ambitious plans for the future’

A digital inclusion project was also run whereby 100 wi-fi enabled tablets were provided to men who did not have access to the internet. Half were delivered to men from ethnic minority groups. Support was provided to help them become familiar with using them. Nine in 10 reported it had helped reduce isolation. 

“It made a major difference to these men. They used it from everything from banking, playing games and to connect with friends,” added Mr Dawtry. 

Men’s Health Unlocked is also working with Women’s Lives Leeds to run workshops about women’s safety. Women’s Lives Leeds has gathered testimony from women about what makes them feel unsafe and their experiences of abuse. Actors have been used to relay these on film, which are played at the workshops and the issues raised discussed.  

Leeds is now looking to build on this work by putting in a bid for more Lottery funding. This will involve men’s health and wellbeing advocates and a project “Exploring the 21st Century Man”.

A Northern Man Festival is also being planned to champion the work taking place, to celebrate the positive aspects of being a man and highlight the health issues that are particular to their gender.

If the bid is successful, there will be three delivery partners from the Third Sector– Barca-Leeds, Orion Partnership and Touchstone.

Mr Dawtry added: “Our network has so much drive behind it. To have the official support of the council, to have the backing of top-level research, the involvement of one of the most senior health and wellbeing academics and the sheer passion and commitment of projects working first-hand with men who are presenting with a whole host of physical and mental wellbeing issues is a very exciting and powerful place to be.

“These ingredients, combined, give us essential gravitas and a certain official blessing which gives us more advocacy in the work that we do.”

Contact details

Damian Dawtry, Coordinator, Men’s Health Unlocked [email protected]