Twenty-eight men from a walking club called The Proper Blokes Club set off Saturday morning last weekend to walk 17 miles from Bognor to Worthing to tackle men’s mental health.
Men from all four of the club’s weekly walking locations in Greenwich, Wallington, Woolwich, and Southwark, came together for the first time.
The group was initially set to walk over a marathon distance of 27 miles, from Brighton to Bognor, but had to re-route their journey due to a fatality at South Croydon station.
A man had walked in front of a train and was pronounced dead at the scene. His death was not treated as suspicious.
Dan Nichols, 42, a sales account manager, is a regular Wallington walker and took part in the 17-mile hike.
Dan said: “To conquer that kind of distance and to get to the finish line with everyone who started the journey was a great feeling and it was great to share that achievement with everyone.
“The very start of the day underlined why we were doing the walk in the first place, for me that was very poignant.
“If someone could have gotten to that person a week beforehand, would that have happened?
“There seems to be a lot of people who suffer in silence.”
Joe Lawrence, 34, works as a box office assistant in the West End theatre and is a fellow Wallington walker who participated in the big walk.
Living alone and feeling a little isolated, Joe joined the Club to get out of the house and meet more people.
He said: “A walk and talk does wonders, it’s easy for the little things to pile up on you.
“Mental health is not like putting a plaster over a cut, its affects people in very different ways and the group provides that day-to-day shoulder.”
Scott Johnson, 34, created The Proper Blokes Club to encourage men to come forward and chat, after he started struggling with his own mental health.
Scott said: “In hindsight, if we had done the original walk not everyone would have made it, it might have been a bit too far, so what happened, us being re-routed, enabled us to come together and finish as a team.
“When a few lads in last few miles were struggling, a lot of the lads rallied around them and pushed them through to the end.
“It was a moment that brought us a bit closer together.”
Last week, the club celebrated its one-year anniversary, as on 15 September 2020, Scott posted on a local Facebook community page with an invite to walk and talk, meeting at HMS Belfast.
He explained: “One lad turned up, we went for a walk, and we must have been together for eight or nine hours because there was so much to chat about it, it was amazing.
“From there we’ve grown into four different areas with over 100 lads a week attending, it’s been an amazing journey.”
For Dan, who joined the Wallington group during lockdown, meeting other men in the same boat was a reassuring experience.
He said: “I don’t generally suffer with mental problems as such but at that point in time I was getting a bit cheesed off with life in general.
“My up-bringing was very old fashioned – grit your teeth, bite down on the gum shield and crack on with it.
“It’s always been quite difficult for me sharing that I’ve struggled at home when I’m supposed to be the big strong figure head of the family, whereas this has opened my eyes and I now have a much more transparent relationship with my wife and my children.”
Dan is now teaching his own kids about the importance of mental health and sharing.
Scott, who worked as community sports coach, is making a career change, now training at Lewisham college to become a counsellor and continue spreading awareness.
He also hopes to further expand the club, first as a community interest company, and then as a registered charity in 5-10 years.
Scott said: “The group has taken on a lot of lads, and there is a big need for it because we are getting messages from men all over the country asking if there are walks there.
“I would say to men who are struggling: in theory you’re never really alone.
“Once you feel that weight, reach out straight away. There is help out there and people will help you.”
Dan said to men thinking of joining The Proper Blokes Club: “It’s not like a commitment, don’t be afraid to come and have a talk, come for a walk, you don’t have to share.
“It’s an escape from real life for an hour and a half of your day, and you never know, you might just enjoy it, simple as that.”
The Proper Blokes Club meet on Mondays at 7pm at the Cutty Sark, Tuesdays at 6:30pm at St Mary’s Church in Beddington, Wednesday at 7pm at Woolwich Arsenal Pier, and Thursday at 6pm at HMS Belfast.
Featured image credit: The Proper Blokes Club