Weathering the storm

Andy's Man Club

Having a tough time? Help is on hand from Andy’s Man Club, the nationwide men's suicide prevention charity, which provides support groups in Peterborough and across the UK. Laura Fanthorpe finds out why talking about your troubles can make all the difference.

Stuart Fawcett

Stuart Fawcett

When I sit down to speak to Stuart Fawcett, the Andy’s Man Club Project Development Champion for the region, it’s a bitterly cold winter evening and he’s had a tough day. Our interview has been pushed back, after a series of train cancellations delayed his journey home. Luckily, he’s still happy to talk to me. As he says, attending Andy’s Man Club group sessions helped him to “Get my voice back.”

We all know that winter and spring can be a particularly tough time for lots of people, and the cold is only half of it. The nights are long, summer sun feels far away, and financial pressures can pile up due to escalating heating bills and the increased cost of living. It’s easy to feel like things are getting on top of us.

So, where can we turn to for support when we’re feeling low? It’s an important question because it really does affect so many of us. Around a quarter of the UK’s population will experience a mental health problem each year, yet it’s something lots of us don’t talk about openly. In particular, men’s mental health is surrounded by deeply ingrained cultural stigma. On average, one man every two hours takes his life in the UK. To put it plainly, men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women.

Andy’s Man Club is a men’s suicide prevention charity that’s doing things a little bit differently. Running every Monday throughout the year (except bank holidays) it provides support groups across the UK and online. There’s no need to sign up, pay any fees or receive a referral to attend. You simply drop-in to sessions when you feel the need. The aim is simple: to help men through the power of conversation.

Talking matters. If men can open up about the storms affecting their lives, then they can share experiences, and overcome the fear of speaking out when they’re not coping. Stuart explains how prevalent the preference is for keeping quiet: “I certainly grew up in an environment where you were expected to pull your socks up, sort yourself out, and get out of bed. My brother went into the army when he was younger, and obviously he was surrounded by that stigma as well. Going to the Monday sessions, I see that attitude week in, week out.”

Taking that first step

Andy's Man Club LogoAndy’s Man Club takes its name from Andrew Roberts, a man who sadly took his own life in 2016 aged just 23. At the time, Andy’s family had no idea that he was suffering to the extent that he would do this, and as a result they looked deeper into the issues surrounding men’s mental health. Shockingly, they discovered that male suicide is actually the biggest killer of men under the age of 50. Something needs to change.

The founders of the charity were Elaine Roberts and Luke Ambler, Andy’s mum and brother-in-law. Together they came up with the idea of Andy’s Man Club, a group where men aged 18 and above can speak openly about their mental health in a judgement-free, non-clinical environment. In these groups, there is no obligation for men to speak. They can simply listen if they wish. The first step can be attending a group and hearing about other men’s experiences.

Back in 2016, Andy’s Man Club had humble beginnings. The very first session consisted of nine men meeting in a small room in the Yorkshire town of Halifax, with the aim of talking through their issues and helping each other deal with their mental health. This was the start of a movement that has grown faster than anyone could ever have imagined. Stuart explains, “The plan was to create 10 clubs in five years, yet within that time we actually achieved 50 clubs. Now, going into our eighth year, we’ve got more than 170 groups and 4,000+ men attending the weekly sessions. It’s incredible.”

Since launching in 2018, the Peterborough group is expanding its reach too. With 2,500 followers on Facebook and growing numbers attending its Monday night sessions, Andy’s Man Club in Peterborough is changing the lives of men in the city. Attendees know they can offload their worries at a session, in the hopes that their tomorrow will be better than today. Describing itself as ‘A bunch of blokes having a chat over a brew and a biscuit’, Andy’s Man Club simply wants to get men talking to prove that you’re not alone in how you’re feeling.

“It’s important to talk because it helps to bring that pressure pot down,” explains Stuart. “Like my day today, I guess, with the trains running late. Perhaps you got home, and there are bills on the doorstep. Maybe you’ve got a parking ticket, plus added stress from work. And all of a sudden that starts building up into something quite big for a lot of people.”

Pic credit: Noah Silliman

He continues: “There’s certainly still a lot of stigma around not wanting to talk to work colleagues, because we’re scared that if we do, we might lose our job. I think the important thing is having a safe place to go to for a cup of tea, a chat, and to be with other like-minded men. It really is that simple.” Having searched online photo libraries for this feature, using search terms related to ‘men talking together’, my endeavour came up fruitless. It seems men are only pictured talking in the context of business meetings (wearing a suit and tie, with clipboard in hand) or speaking to women. It certainly perpetuates the stereotype that men have no need to share and confide with each other.

I ask Stuart if he thinks men, in particular, find it hard to talk about their mental health. He responds, “Yes, simply for the fact that we’re still in that environment where we have to ‘man up’. We’re expected to be manly. We can’t sit there and cry or express our feelings. Because inside us, we wrongly believe that it’s not okay to do that.”

He continues: “I think sometimes we all need extra help. Andy’s Man Club is there whenever men need it, or for long-term support, because a lot of men use it as their Monday reset. It also offers a place where you can go in the interim, if needed. Other pathways might say it’s going to be eight weeks or perhaps six months before you can get on a particular programme. I think the clubs help keep that pressure down by providing support. When you’re in that dark space or going through your storm, we know it’s hard to find the help you need sometimes.”

Providing peer-to-peer support

Andy’s Man Club is unusual in that its groups are completely volunteer- led, with the vast majority of group facilitators having first interacted with Andy’s Man Club when they came through the door as service users. Now there are more than 900 volunteers working with the group throughout the UK, many of whom have felt the ‘first week nerves’ too.

Stuart explains: “None of us are trained counsellors. We’re all that guy who walks through the door of an Andy’s Man Club for our own reasons. I think that’s why it works. Because we’re all there to support each other and share our journeys, which is so powerful. You sit there and you share a bit of your story, and then someone across the room goes, ‘Yeah, I’ve been there too’. So you’re not feeling alone anymore.”

Pic credit: Julian Reinhart

Stuart’s story will certainly feel familiar to many first-time group attendees. “I’ve suffered with my mental health on and off over the years and been in some really dark places,” he says. “You know, to the point where you can’t see that future. I was self-employed as a painter and decorator, and it was at the start of the pandemic when I had a big wobble, because my jobs were being cancelled. I didn’t know where the money would be coming from. My anxiety built up, the panic attacks were coming back, and I felt myself spiralling. My girlfriend had heard about Andy’s Man Club, and I decided to give it a go. I haven’t looked back since.”

“I shared my story that first night and left with a smile on my face, feeling that bit lighter, and I became a part of something. Before that, I had been so socially anxious I couldn’t bear to walk into a supermarket, let alone go to something big like a concert. Then my confidence started to come back, and my voice started to come back too. And because I was talking at home, I was talking to everybody else as well. If I look back now it still makes me a bit emotional; the fact that two years ago I wouldn’t have been able to even have this conversation with you. It’s powerful stuff.”

Does he feel it’s important for a city like Peterborough to have an Andy’s Man Club? “Every city and town should have one,” says Stuart. “The idea would be to have a club within 30 minutes of every guy in the UK. We do have the online sessions too, providing support for people who are maybe socially anxious, have a disability, or haven’t got a club in their local area.”

As we reach the end of our conversation, I ask what he would say to someone having a tough time right now. The message is clear: “Go online and find your local club. Reach out, talk, come along and find out what it’s all about. Because Andy’s Man Club really is a special, safe place.”

Nearest locations

• Peterborough: Hodgson Community Centre, Hodgson Avenue, Werrington, Peterborough PE4 5EG
• Stamford: Stamford Rugby Club, Hambleton Road, Stamford PE9 2RZ
• Huntingdon: Stukeley Primary School, Wertheim Way, Stukeley Meadows, Huntingdon PE29 6UH
• Cambridge: Coleridge Community College, Radegund Road, Cambridge CB1 3RJ


• Free support groups run every Monday from 7pm, except bank holidays.
• Find local groups on Facebook by searching ‘Andy’s Man Club’ and the location.


Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.

Register an Account