Gavin Burke

48, Primary School Teacher

How did you find out about abob?

I was in a men’s group with other men who were involved with abob. It sounded interesting and different in ways that I wanted to explore more.

What attracted you to abob’s work with young men?

I wanted to use the skills and some of the insight I had gained from being in a men’s group to support young men in ways that I hadn’t experienced growing up. I remember in my twenties really yearning for an older male role model, someone who might help me to find myself. Not necessarily personally, but as a group I feel we can offer something like that to young men.

How was Beyond the Hero for you?

Truly life-changing. I realised that I still had plenty of work to do on myself. I’ve had a lifetime of struggling to accept myself , accept that I am OK. To many people I can appear very confident and at times I feel that way but there is also another side, the absence of a deep rooted confidence. Through BTH and subsequent involvement with abob I have come to see that not only am I okay but that, often, I am the perfect man for the job and that helps me to see the same in others.

I genuinely now feel that we all have our own wonderful talents and that if we can co-operate we fit together like cogs in a great machine. We can all make changes to better ourselves- and that’s our job I believe – but whether these changes happen or not, I still have value. That has been massive for me and the more I feel it, the more quickly I find I’m able to make the changes I want to make.

Are you a father?

Yes, I‘ve got two amazing daughters and a wonderful son. My 15 year old son Malachy gets involved with many of the abob activities like the sponsored Night Walk and also the abob boxing. All three of them got involved in cooking and serving a meal for some of the vulnerable elderly a couple of years back. We all had a blast!

One of the advantages of abob for me, is that my kids see me in situations where I’m not primarily their father and I think this offers them a different perspective on me. My son and daughters now know many positive, mature, male role models. My son particularly has a ‘village’ of older men in the community available for him to talk to, in addition to me, and that feels invaluable. I remember as a teenager feeling like men my dad’s age were like another species, totally alien to me but because Mal has grown up surrounded by so many men he is very relaxed and confident around them.

What about mentoring?

It was a very useful experience and good to develop a relationship with a young man from that age group. It helped me understand this particular young man, and the culture that these young men spend their time in. Because of abob I now I know a few young men in Eastbourne and this has helped me feel more a part of the community and less intimidated. Rather than feeling threatened by groups of young men, I’m saying hello to them.

Tell me about the Midsummer Night Walk as a fund-raiser?

Older and younger men walked together through the night, which was a stretch for us all but particularly some of the young men. Sometimes that kind of physical stretch is such a good thing, it sends the message to ourselves that if we are willing to push ourselves we can achieve great things and enjoy ourselves. I find that some of the best conversations and the closest bonds are had and made whilst sharing a physical stretch. I wonder if perhaps that kind of physical team work is almost coded into our DNA as men. We walked over 12 miles from Seaford to Eastbourne and raised over five thousand pounds for abob.

And what about the Community Days?

For me personally, the most valuable one was when abob came to the school I teach at, Oakwood Primary Academy and we built a dipping platform, a pond and tidied up the ‘wild area’. It has had a major effect, now the children use that area, for art, for fun and for learning. The wild area is a place in the school where the kids can genuinely experience awe and wonder; they love find newts, frogs, toads and particularly slow worms. We’ve planted lots of insect friendly shrubs and plants. The school is on an estate so many of the children don’t have gardens and the wild area offers them an opportunity to interact with nature in a real and respectful way.

What effect has abob had on your life?

It’s helped me to feel a part of the community rather than an observer of the community. I have made friends who I know I will have forever and with whom I can discuss anything and that for me is massive. My experience of being a man has often been that there is stuff that you ‘just don’t talk about’ and that can be a very lonely place to be. Abob has helped me to see and understand a little more the very real challenges – from lack of work , fear of violence from their contemporaries, poor housing opportunities to police harassment – that these young men often experience every day.

I’m less inclined to label young men now, more inclined to listen. I go to the weekly meeting regularly, there’s a very real sense of community there, it’s truly a place for us to gather together and share what’s going on for us and often that’s enough to really help. Just to be heard and witnessed and accepted can be a very powerful and healing experience for older and younger men alike.

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