Why pies?

04/09/18 . Blog

How did the Men’s Health Forum and Food Nation arrive at the idea of Men's Pie Club as a way of challenging male loneliness? And what's the academic basis for it?

Blog post 3 by Chris Stein, Men's Pie Club project team

Pie's the limit

So, who caught up with a friend to improve their health?

For those who do not know what I’m talking about, in the previous blog, loneliness as a topic was explored, what it is, who it impacts and how. The Movember Foundation’s Social Innovation Challenge was highlighted as a call to tackle loneliness.

This blog will look at the solution put forward by the Men’s Health Forum and Food Nation, why we felt this would work and what we did to test the idea. Keep reading because if you think innovation is all about tech, you might have a few preconceptions challenged.

Answering the Call

The first question we posed ourselves was “what is the fastest way to a man’s heart?” I jest, but we know guys like food and, therefore, the initial thought was to bring people together around food. Now this might not sound all that innovative, afterall in 1950, Elizabeth David (the Jamie Oliver of her time) presented a very simple path to psychological and physical health; come together to eat simple and great food. The innovation comes in applying the idea of producing food to address the challenges posed by loneliness among men or using something simple to address something complex. And thus, Men’s Pie Club was born.

The rule of Men’s Pie Club is simple; Do Talk About Men’s Pie Club! Working with the Men’s Health Forum brings together the regional with the national, Food Nation delivering the work in Newcastle and the Men’s Health Forum supporting the reach of the project across the UK.

Colin Mallen, Project Co-ordinator from Food Nation, says it best, “A pie club may seem odd given the bad press they receive for being unhealthy, but at the end of the day, who doesn’t love a hearty and comforting pie? The Men’s Pie Club will be a place of leisure where males can come together to informally learn about food, share skills and knowledge, achieve and socially interact”.

But, could Pie Club work?

Professor Steve Robertson, an expert in men’s health, went to Newcastle to find out what men thought about the idea and what they felt would work best. 34 men, from 19 to 65, across five sites and from various backgrounds gave their thoughts on the notion. There was a great deal of support, saying it was a “really good idea” and that “everyone likes food don’t they?”

Suggestions around where to deliver the sessions from focused on the need for them to be easy to access, “within walking distance”, even the possibility of using a pub, but certainly somewhere male-friendly while also realising the venues needed the proper facilities to make and cook pies. Views differed in regards to how often the clubs should be, some stating weekly was best, others monthly and some saying “start off establishing the group, keep it open ended”. Making it “men only” was seen as important, while opinions differed about whether to bring people from diverse backgrounds together or people with “similar interests … on the same wavelength”. Some focused on the idea of learning cooking skills, while others were keen on “Eating lovely pies!”

The general feeling was, Men’s Pie Club could work.

How could we make Pie Club work best?

In 2014, the Men’s Health Forum produced a practice guide on “How to make Mental Health Services Work for Men” based on the work conducted by Professor Steve Robertson (yep, the same person from above. I told you he was the expert!) and commissioned by the Movember Foundation. The guide provides an overview of principles and practice techniques that have been shown to be effective in delivering mental health services to men, a group often deemed “hard-to-reach”. You’re saying “but isn’t Men’s Pie Club about loneliness and not mental health?” and of course you’re right and while they are links between loneliness and poor mental health, we would not say they are the same, however we would suggest using some of the principles in the practice guide to effectively engage men.

A few of these ideas have already been mentioned, such as making it men only and making sure the sessions are delivered in male-friendly space. Men’s Pie Club makes use of these principles as well as many others.

  • Bringing people together around a shared activity - making pies - has been shown to be effective in engaging men possibly because it reduces the stigma for why the group is coming together.
  • The research conducted by Professor Robertson also shows that men prefer to be able to give skills while also taking advice which is made more possible when coming together around a shared activity.
  • We wanted to make sure our idea was a good idea and one that men, more broadly, felt could work, hence the work to engage groups of men for their thoughts, opinions and insights into what could work and what could support it to work as well as it could. This principle is called co-design and highlighted barriers such as travel costs and time that could factor into the delivery of the Club.
  • It is important to work with people in ways that respect their communication methods and men, as a group, are no different. Other work delivered by the Men’s Health Forum called “Mind Your Language” highlighted some common words and phrases that were found to be acceptable, across groups of men, for talking about mental health such as “overwhelmed” or “not feeling 100%” as opposed to more medical terms associated to mental health.
  • We highlight successes, whatever size, through our social networks to encourage the group to be proud of what they are doing and to encourage other men to think about their own situations and consider joining in.

In delivering Men’s Pie Club, we pay attention to these details to support men to feel comfortable and at the centre of the project. There are a number of other principles in the practice guide, but I won’t go on and on (“Too late!”). Having given an overview of what we’re doing and why, in the next blog, we’ll be sharing some of the things we’ve learnt so far. In the meantime, if you want to hear more about the project, why not sign up?

The Men’s Health Forum need your support

It’s tough for men to ask for help but if you don’t ask when you need it, things generally only get worse. Especially during a major pandemic like Covid-19. So we’re asking.

Men appear more likely to get Covid-19 and far, far more likely to die from it. The Men's Health Forum are working hard pushing for more action on this from government, from health professionals and from all of us. Why are men more affected and what can we do about it? We need the data. We need the research. We need the action. Currently we're the only UK charity doing this - please help us.

Here’s our fund-raising page - please chip in if you can.