Nick Cooke, a 55-year-old part-time director of a construction and IT company, feels like a kid again. At least, he does when he spends time with nine-year-old Jake, finding fun things to do in London whether its exploring museums or just walking alongside the River Thames.
Cooke has become a volunteer mentor to Jake through the charity Chance UK. Once a week, Cooke spends between two and four hours with Jake providing a positive male role model for him.
The charity works with five- to 11-year-olds with behavioural difficulties and provides each child with a mentor for a 12-month period, during which time they work towards some agreed specific goals.
Since Cooke and Jake teamed up in March they have attended the last day of a test match at Lords, visited a Fleet Street newspaper to watch one of Cooke’s journalist friends at work, and gone to his allotment to improve Jake’s knowledge of food. Cooke says: “Jake’s a lovely, energetic and bright boy he’s far too bright for me!”
Volunteering in the social care sector, especially with children, is often regarded as something women do, not men. Women tend to be seen as naturally caring and nurturing – not attributes automatically associated with men.
Aware of this dilemma, the London-based charity Chance UK decided to tackle the issue by launching its “Man enough to mentor” campaign in 2002 to recruit more male volunteers to work with its young clients, 90% of whom are boys.
The charity started in 1995 as a crime prevention initiative aimed at children in Hackney and Islington. It is now set to expand its male mentoring programme around the UK, after signing an innovative partnership with children’s charity NCH.
Under the three-year partnership, launched last month, a Chance UK mentoring co-ordinator is now based in NCH family centres in Liverpool, Crawley, Inverness and Derry. Each co-ordinator will introduce the male mentoring scheme in their local area and recruit 20 mentors to help 20 children. Children can be referred for mentoring by their schools or local social services.
Charity chief executive Gracia McGrath says young boys need to have male mentors to teach them how to be a man. She adds: “Society portrays negative views of men and we forget what an appalling impact it can have on male children.” She admits that recruiting male volunteers to act as mentors has been challenging. One reason stands out above others for this: “Men are very nervous around children and how they may be seen. There is hysteria around paedophilia and this makes men uncomfortable.”
Chance UK overcame this by making sure its campaign to recruit male volunteers is targeted at where men are, such as at football matches at nearby Arsenal. According to volunteer recruitment officer James Bynner, it also ensures any publicity leaflets it hands out at social clubs or community events speak clearly to men in a direct way.
Bynner says it is vital to use language men use if they want to get them to volunteer, which is why they run specific men’s nights for them to find out more information. Over the past year and a half, Chance UK has run nine men’s events and trained a total of 73 men on its 21-hour training course. Successful mentors then complete an enhanced Criminal Records Bureau check before they are carefully matched with a child. Bynner says men who complete the training grow in confidence, which helps improve how they mentor.
For Cooke, the experience of mentoring so far has been positive. He feels strongly about being able to give something back now that his own daughters are adults. “I have life experience and knowledge, and it’s been fantastic to be able to pass it on.”
Jake also enjoys their relationship. As his mother has chronic back pain and a younger child to care for, she has been unable to take Jake out much, which is where Cooke steps in. Jake likes the change: “I get to go out to places. I get to see stuff, like cricket.”
How to recruit men
● Advertise for volunteers in places men go to such as in sports centres, pubs, at football matches and at festivals.
● Use clear and challenging language in your publicity, openly asking men to give their time.
● Ensure images of men with your clients are used in your publicity.
● Run specific men’s events, led by male workers, to recruit male volunteers.
● Recruit male staff to your organisation so a male volunteer does not feel he is alone among many women.
● Provide a point of contact within your organisation that men can go to for advice and answers while volunteering.
See what The Child Minder says about Children’s services issues
Anabel Unity Sale
This article appeared in the magazine under the headline “Digging for new recruits”