Alvaro's story

Mens’ Group by Alvaro

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I have been volunteering at the CRC for the last 18 months, where I help to run the Men’s Group. We meet every Tuesday afternoon from 1pm till 4pm. When I started I felt a bit apprehensive not knowing what to expect. I had never done anything like this before. But I felt I was ‘called’ to do this.

At first we (Gordon, the other volunteers and I) played it by ear. Slowly but surely with time, the number of men attending grew. We had no more than 5 people coming each time the first few weeks. But we persisted and believed that if we were consistent by being there every Tuesday. We hoped that people would hear about the Men’s Group by word of mouth, and that eventually more people join. And they did.

We believed that we had to offer a happy, pleasant and relaxed place to be, where the men could meet and socialise through practical and enjoyable activities. At first we had a table tennis table, and a pool table to offer, plus darts and some board games.

Later, we started organising outings. The most popular outing which was repeated several times was the ‘canal boat trip’. Last summer Gordon’s friend Wally offered us his boat, so we went and had a fabulous time. On the next occasion I decided to take my ‘djembes’ (African drums), with a view to bringing something different to the experience. Ever since that day, every time we go for a canal boat trip the group members tell me not to forget my djembes! You can tell by the pictures enclosed that we have a great time.

Early this summer we contacted the Belgrade Theatre to see what they could offer. They came and delivered this fantastic drama and poetry workshop, which was very much enjoyed by everybody. Another success! Then I contacted the Herbert Gallery, and they came to the CRC to organise a ‘history workshop’, which was well attended and greatly enjoyed. Last month, they invited us to have a tour round the Herbert Gallery, and we spent a whole afternoon learning about the history of Coventry. On another occasion we went to the Transport Museum, which was another valuable experience for us all.

As a spin-off from the Djembes on the canal, and the enthusiasm of the Men’s Group we were invited to play at the Cathedral for the 10th Anniversary of the CRC. Enthusiasm was such that I started a ‘Drumming Club’ just two weeks ago. It is in its early stages still, but we meet every Tuesday from 5pm till 6.30pm. Only last week we were invited to play at the Council House as part of the Coventry Peace Festival on the 2nd November.

Personally I am getting so much out of this ‘volunteering experience’; I am meeting very interesting people. Some (if not all) of them have had very tough lives, they hardly have anything, they are not allowed to work, they are not acknowledged or recognised by anybody, and still they show a positive attitude, humility and dignity. It makes me feel so privileged to meet people like that. I hope that just by being myself I am able to help and support them. What I have learnt about myself is how well I am able to connect and relate to people of such different cultures and different life experiences. By knowing their stories and what they go through I feel a lot more able to empathise and understand their situation.

I feel I am helping by offering, apart from the activities, games, etc., my friendship and affection which grows from understanding them as individuals. I have also found out that ‘giving’ gives me as much if not more satisfaction than receiving.

Our clients are benefiting from coming to the Men’s Group in various ways:

  • They meet and socialise with other guys in their same situation
  • They have a relaxed and enjoyable place to go every week
  • They can have interesting experiences, such as the ‘canal boat trips’ (an example of British countryside and life)
  • They can visit interesting British institutions such as Museums, Theatres and others
  • They can connect and sometimes help each other by for instance having a positive approach to life (They are an inspiration being in the situation they are, and yet doing voluntary work helping others). It is so humbling!

We have had 50 people coming through our doors (the Men’s Group) since we started 18 months ago. Many have been relocated to other parts of Britain. New guys keep coming in. The work goes on.