Northern Man Festival 2023
A festival, which put men’s health and wellbeing issues centre stage, highlighted the need to create safe spaces for men to talk, and the importance of finding inner strength to overcome adversity and trauma.
The Northern Man Festival, attracted around 1,000 visitors over a week of activities. It was part of a Leeds city-wide two-year funded Men’s Health Unlocked project, and was produced by Space2 in partnership with Zest, BARCA , Touchstone and Forum Central.
The event was initiated in response to the wave of public interest in men’s issues and the worrying rise in male suicide. It offered opportunities to find out more about men’s health and well-being, with a whole week of activities, from snooker to football, bushcraft activities, gigs and open mic events.
The final Festival Day at Leeds Playhouse hosted a range of national speakers in addition to performances, arts activities, and a ‘booted and suited’ area where men could treat themselves to free clothing and haircuts.
Key speaker, former Leeds Rhinos Captain Stevie Ward, talked about the value of being authentic and really believing in yourself:
“I think it’s important that men don’t allow themselves to be pushed into doing things that they don’t want to do,” he said. “Sometimes we feel as if we don’t have a choice, that we have to win at all costs. But what does that cost look like?”
“Anything you want to do in life has got to come from the heart. If your life is about conforming or adapting yourself to what others expect of you then I’m afraid you’ve lost.”
Inspired by the mantra ‘what we fear most is what we usually need to do’, Stevie set up his own men’s health charity Mantality, after suffering a series of concussions from playing Rugby League which left him with constant headaches and depression. He eventually left the game to concentrate on his own health and wellbeing.
Issues discussed at the Festival included resilience, fatherlessness, being a victim of male sexual abuse, overcoming fear and anxiety, social expectations of men, the need to create safe spaces and redefining men’s health.
Using performance to tell their stories, Barber B and Seki Lynch told how Barber B overcame adversity to become a ‘Barber for the Stars’ and of his new journey, battling with a brain tumour and turning performer in order to raise awareness.
The Festival also played host to Andy’s Man Club, which is a national organisation offering a confidential space where men can be open about what’s going on in their lives.
Bob Morris from one of the Leeds’ branches said:
“Without Andy’s Man Club I wouldn’t be here. I joined at a point of crisis in my life when I felt suicidal. Twelve months on and I’m a totally different person and trying to help other men who are in the same boat.”
One visitor, Irfan from Batley, attended numerous events during the Festival week:
“I just wanted to try something new,” he said. “I wouldn’t normally do any of this stuff and I really enjoyed the day in the woods, doing bushcraft.”
John from Bramley went on a map reading course at Malham Cove in the Dales:
“Having something to look forward to is so important when you live alone,” he said. “It gives you a bit of structure.”
Lawrence Glyn, Space2’s Men’s Engagement Officer, and Festival Organiser, was delighted with the reaction to the event:
“The Festival was the culmination of 18 months hard work by all the partners, and it was great to see them all represented.
“The performers, academics and speakers of our Saturday Showcase were remarkable, sharing their stories, some very personal, with courage and with passion, to educate, motivate and entertain those listening.
“Those tales and journeys created a safe space, inspiring many attendees to reach out on the day, and improve their knowledge of men’s services here in Leeds.”
To find out more about activities and groups specifically aimed at men in Leeds go to: https://forumcentral.org.uk/mhu/#whatson