Walk & Talk members…

I arrived at the Maddermarket Theatre on a Friday morning a few weeks ago with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I’d only been in the building twice before: once to discuss the possibility of becoming a MensCraft trustee, and the second time as part of the Board. This time, I was joining one of the regular Pit Stop “Walk and Talk” activities, not as a trustee but as myself: a middle-aged man going through a rough patch.

I’m quite new to Norwich, having moved here with my young family last year. The transition’s been tough for all of us. I didn’t realise just how much we’d miss the network of friends and family we’ve left behind, how exhausting it is to not know where anything is, or how stark the differences would be between village and city life, for better and worse! It’s been more stressful than I could have possibly imagined.

Self-employment can be lonely at the best of times, but I haven’t worked much for the best part of a year now. Initially, that was a choice – take a break while we move and be around to help the kids get settled, which I appreciate is a privileged thing to be able to do – but for the past few months I’ve been looking for work and drawing blanks. It’s led to some dark thoughts and soul-searching about my career and the future more generally. I feel like I’m at a crossroads and all the signs are blank. Joining the Pit Stop walk felt like a good way to see the MensCraft programme in action and shake the monkey off my back at the same time.

A handful of people were waiting at the meeting point when I arrived. It was clear from the easy banter that the men in the group all knew each other to some degree. Soon enough, Peter from Menscraft, who was leading the walk, joined us and introduced himself. About a dozen of us set off towards St Andrews Street, me trailing the pack with my camera. We hadn’t gone very far when M, an 84-year-old retired youth worker, fell in step with me and started making conversation. With six children and many grandchildren, some of whom live close by, M isn’t without company or help but he’s determined to maintain his independence. He loves coming on the walks as they give a bit of structure to his week and offer him the opportunity to get some exercise and talk with others. M told me bits and pieces of his life story – his difficult first marriage, his sadness about his second wife’s passing, his interesting and varied career, his pride in his children – and it felt remarkably easy to share some of my own recent trials and tribulations with him, and in talking about my family I was able to appreciate some of the good things in my life.

As we walked on, I got chatting with K, a man about my own age. He’d lived abroad for several years and had fairly recently moved back to Norwich, in part to be closer to his ageing parents. We chatted about feeling “placeless”, something it’s easy to experience when you’ve moved around a lot or are new to somewhere and without connections. We’d been to some of the same far-fling places on our travels, which bonded us in some small way.

The walk took us to places in Norwich I hadn’t yet been, and I was able to draw on the knowledge of others who knew the City intimately; it was like a free guided tour! I made smalltalk with some and didn’t share a word with others, which is also fine as there’s no need to do anything other than be present.

We arrived back at the office about an hour after we left, having travelled about three kilometres. The route was accessible to all, including a powered wheelchair user. Everyone sat down to tea, coffee, biscuits and more banter, having stretched their limbs and felt the sun on their skin in the company of others. I left feeling lighter about my situation and with the realisation that all of us, whatever our background or experiences, can benefit from the transformative power of human connection.

Tim Arnold

Our route on the day…