Darren joined The Proper Blokes Club for an evening walk through London, and learned about their walks for mental health
Last week I went along to visit The Proper Blokes Club for a lovely walk from HMS Belfast near London Bridge along the Thames and through the regenerated wharfs to Surrey Quays.
A friend of mine asked me what a ‘proper bloke’ is these days, so here’s what I’d like to tell him!
The Proper Blokes Club is a charitable organisation set up during the July of lockdown.
It’s a walking meet-up group where men from all backgrounds meet up to walk and chat for mental health; it’s that simple!
Scott Oughton-Johnson set the group up on Facebook in 2020 and it has grown organically since then, picking up some nice media coverage along the way: The Guardian, Apple Podcasts, and Positive News.
Where are the walks
There are now six weekly regional walks in London and a seventh on a Sunday, with about 12-15 men joining each group each week. You can join a walk in Sutton, Southwark, Woolwich, Finchley, Wallington and Greenwich, with more walks being added all the time.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, or even if I had anything to add. I’d had a good day and was feeling good and wasn’t sure if I’d want to open up to a group of strangers.
We ambled through areas I wouldn’t usually visit, like the old docks and wharfs of Canada Quays and Russia Dock which is now a reclaimed woodland, and my trip was enriched by a man who had actually worked in the docklands before it was all closed down.
I kept having the Specials Ghost Town lyrics in my head:
This place is coming like a ghost town
No job to be found in this country
Poignant, but it gave me a lovely feeling gaining insights to an area that I wouldn’t normally have, straight from somebody with real lived experience. I felt inspired by my Slow Ways colleague Saira who always seems to manage to get the lowdown.
What is there to talk about?
The great thing about walking and talking is that there is always something to talk about, even to complete strangers, and the group dynamics kept changing as different people chatted to each other as we wound our way alongside the historic Thames.
Towards the end of the trip I stopped to take a photo and wondered what the passersby thought of us, a group of 12 men walking together. We all stopped to talk about about our place in the world and how we hoped we’d be considered a force for good.
Unsurprisingly, although it is not necessarily an essential part of the walk, we ended up in the pub at the end and we chatted about beer, food and our home lives.
It reminded me of a question I was asked when I joined a dads’ group when I was looking after my young children: What on earth do you all talk about? I bet it’s all football, isn’t it?
Well, it was just like talking to anyone else. Sure, there was a little football banter, but also there was real genuine interest and compassion about each other’s lives. And that’s what counts, to understand you are not alone and you will always have somebody to talk to. Even if these people on the walk are the only people you speak to that day.
Who is the group for?
So, returning to the question posed by my friend: What is a proper bloke?
A proper bloke is someone going through a divorce, somebody who has been unemployed for three months, a retired person whose spouse has died and is feeling lonely, a person who is struggling with his health, somebody who is struggling with work, and a person who is having problems with their partner.
Or just a person having a bad day.
He’s the person you walk past in the street who you think is OK; he’s all of us.
And he isn’t always OK.
As I started to say goodbye to everyone I knew that I was one of them too, and so are you.
The Proper Blokes Club meet for group walks at various times of the week in locations across London, with intentions of spreading outside London too, in the next few years. For more info join their Facebook group or have a look at their website.