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A Band of Brothers: journey to manhood

When A Band of Brothers was established in 2009, it was plain to see that struggling young men would never access profound and revolutionary mentoring work if they had to pay for it. This would be the charity that was going to make it accessible for them.

Head of education and training, Hugh Newton, speaks about how the charity relies on the vital support of donors to continue shaping lives for the better

ABOB provides support to young men through a hard-hitting rite-of-passage weekend run by trained volunteers from their community. The volunteers are from a diverse range of backgrounds and some are ex-offenders themselves. We call our programme the ‘Quest for Community’. During the residential weekend, set in nature away from the everyday distractions of normal life, the young men are provided with a safe space to challenge the underlying causes of their behaviour. They start to develop a new life full of purpose, meaning and connection. Over the weekend, each young man chooses a mentor for the next three months.

The ‘Quest of Community’ is followed by a 12-week mentoring programme in which the young men are provided with the support they need to transform their lives. Each has a weekly mentor meeting and joins the group meeting for two and a half hours. He continues to look very closely at himself and has many opportunities to heal his dysfunctional behaviour and look at how he wants to live his life going forward.

A key point that sets us apart is that we create a lasting community and build ongoing relationships. Male volunteers from within the young men’s communities run this programme. Once the young men graduate from our mentoring program, they join our permanent community circle. Many stay involved for years and become future mentors and leaders.

The male volunteers are often the first positive male role models the young men have encountered, and the first time they have experienced mature masculinity. We work with young men in particular because we know that there is an undeniable problem among this group. We stand alongside younger men, supporting them to create the life they want to live. We model how to be a mature, successful man.

We were able to hold our first ‘Quest for Community’ in the city this year. This marks an important moment for us. It was a deep and impactful process where the transformation in the young men was obvious to all who came to the ceremony to celebrate their graduation. This time, 25 older Bristol men, all trained to be mentors, took four young men and six older men through our weekend programme. Apart from three leaders, all men gave their efforts voluntarily. All new younger and older stayed for the full weekend, despite it being very challenging.

During the pandemic, we have continued to hold our circles over Zoom. As a group we have supported each other though this time. All men in our group have a support circle as we face the difficulties in our lives.

Volunteers are often the first positive role models the young men have encountered, and the first time they have experienced mature masculinity

Hugh Newton

Covid-19 has stopped us meeting in person. It has also stopped us meeting with our next batch of young men. Donations will help us to start to engage with our next group of young Bristol men who need our help. The donations will help us to prepare for our next rite-of-passage weekend, which we will undertake as soon as we are safely able to.

The pandemic has meant that trusts have a lot less money to distribute to charities, and it also means that a lot more charities are reaching out for this reduced funding. Any donations and support will help us continue our work at a time where traditional sources of funds are much reduced.

Overall, 903 men have participated in our weekends and, of these, 295 young men have been through our ‘Quest of Community’ cycle. I hope one day there will be A Band Of Brothers circles in all cities in the UK.

For me, our proudest moment is having three graduates attend the leader training so they can not only lead our rite-of-passage weekends but support young men in the local community too. Our greatest challenge is to work consistently with struggling young men who have had a very difficult start in life, and who need steady and patient holding.

One young man, Dan, said: “I first became aware of ABOB when I was living on the streets, addicted to heavy drugs, and a lady, giving out food to the homeless, gave me an ABOB card with a phone number. I contacted James and met with him for an hour. I couldn’t believe how much I got off my chest during our conversation. At our first meeting, I took the incentive to quit drugs. After our second meeting, I went out and got a job and decided to go on the ‘Quest for Community’ weekend. I am now attending the 12-week mentoring sessions and have found a flat for myself. It’s hard going, but I haven’t looked back since joining ABOB.”

Read more about A Band of Brother’s work and help young men grow, develop and improve their lives in the communities they live in – abandofbrothers.org.uk