Inside Lads Lunch, Where Men Find Community

March 2024

On the border of South Wales, where rolling countryside meets pockets of deprivation, The Bridge Church Chepstow is home to a warm space for men, led by Rachel Norman.

The story began during lockdown when the church received local funding to renovate its kitchen, installing a proper cooker and converting it into a functional space. Recognising the opportunity to engage the local area, the team decided to put the kitchen to good use in the community. They secured additional support through the National Lottery for a year's worth of funding for a feeding programme.

Local Research: Identifying Unmet Need

Once the funding was secured, they launched a space design process that included research about their local context, as well as conversations with their community. Initially, they were unsure where to best target their provision but once they started doing the research a gap became apparent.

Rachel wrote; "In the first week, we did a prayer walk and noticed that there seemed to be a good number of men out and about in the area during the daytime. Local data suggested that single men were an increasing number of the users of free food provision in the area. We have good provision locally of temporary accommodation for men and have seen increasing isolation, relationship breakdown and loss in this demographic since COVID. National data suggests that mental health issues are increasing for men yet support can be patchy. It’s a long-term national issue that mental health issues amongst men are missed, and men in their 20s to 40s have high levels of self-harm and suicide.”

From these observations, Lads Lunch emerged—a Warm Space with a 5 rating from the Food Standards Agency. They registered as a Warm Welcome Space in November 2022, and collaborate with local businesses and food banks. The Space extends a warm invitation to guests, providing free meals prepared from a blend of tinned goods and fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Typically, a team of two volunteers handles cooking duties, while an additional three volunteers welcome guests and engage in conversation as they arrive.

“We want to be somewhere that feeds people and offers a Warm Space, but also to offer community and relationship. We have little photo frames on the tables which read  ‘Warm Welcome, Warm Food, Warm Words’. We hope that this is exactly what we offer to the guys that come and share lunch and community with us” Rachel said. Around fifteen men between the ages of 30 and 80 gather once a week for a meal.

Designing A Men-Friendly Space

We asked Rachel how she crafts a welcoming environment for men. She said she drew inspiration from Andy's Man Club; for example, she learned that having men on the welcome team is a key element to fostering a sense of belonging.

It’s also simple things that count, like the touch of nostalgia woven into the space. “We have silly things; a magazine has been out since the 1970s called ‘Commando’, little story books that guys would remember from their childhood. When someone new comes in, that helps to break the ice.”  

Having board games and a weekly “very competitive” game of dominoes keeps the space energised. Not to mention, “feeding people works, especially for men," she noted.

In adapting to the digital age, a Facebook page has become a vital tool for outreach. "We share what we're doing and what other local organisations are doing. A lot of Facebook posts are being liked by ladies, and one guy was sent by his wife.” Perhaps this illustrates the broader community's support for the space, and affirms the impact that dynamic and inclusive hubs where men can find connection and community can have on people beyond the physical boundaries of a Warm Space.

Even after the National Lottery funding concluded, the church remained committed to funding Lads Lunch.

Lads Lunch exemplifies the transformative potential of spaces crafted to address unmet needs, while embracing inclusivity and challenging preconceived ideas about who needs support. Grounded in thorough research and community engagement, this space underscores the vital role of understanding local contexts in creating impactful solutions.

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