The QT

Thursday 20 June 2024

In pie crusts men trust

Sara Jane March looks at the expansion of a mental health initiative targeted at tackling social isolation among men
  • Charity set for further expansion having opened 13 in the North East and three in Yorkshire
  • Clubs rely heavily on volunteers and funding from the Movember charity
  • Customers tell how the clubs have created safe havens to talk and make new friends
The pie’s the limit for this group of men honing their culinary craft

Men’s pie clubs have proven quite the recipe for success since the first one opened its doors in Byker, Newcastle six years ago.

Their number has grown to 16 with further expansion planned across the region. The latest club in Sunderland is already full up and, like most of the others, has a waiting list of eager customers.

It is a remarkable success story where the humble pie is the focus for men struggling with mental health to come together.

The Men’s Pie Club describes itself as a brotherhood – albeit built on pastry crust and tasty fillings. It’s a place where you can ‘drop in and drop out’. 

Programme Manager, Chris Smith, said: “Our members are very proud of their clubs. Their willingness to support what we do never fails to surprise me. This really does reflect the impact Men’s Pie Clubs can have upon the lives of our Pie Men.”

For some it’s the ‘highlight of the week, something to look forward to and a chance to get out the house’.

Men’s health charity, Movember, funded equipment, including pie makers, to enable the first Men’s Pie Club to be held at Food Nation’s community centre in Byker. 

As more people reach out and become involved in what we do, Men’s Pie Club only becomes stronger

Chris Smith, Programme Manager at Men’s Pie Club

There are three members of staff but Men’s Pie Clubs are predominantly volunteer-led. “We have over 20 volunteers who support activities on the ground and keep us going,” explained Chris. “We are still funded by Movember but we are always looking for further funding to cover the costs of each club. 

“This initiative is a simple model and engages men from all walks of life. Our waiting list attests to the need across all our communities because our work resonates with people. We have expanded because we want to offer more men the opportunity to be part of the club.

“We’re really keen for every club to reflect the community it serves and to have their own take on things. For example, McColl’s Brewery in Bishop Auckland have their own pie club and they even have their own Pie Club beers. The stout was the 2023 choice and there’s an IPA doing the rounds this year too. A portion of the profits from each one goes towards sustaining the club.”

For many customers they are a lifeline.

One member said: “I have been retired for a couple of years and was in ill-health last year before I came along to Pie Club. I was getting tired of staring at the same four walls. In the group there is camaraderie, we have a good laugh and nothing is taken too seriously. I really look forward to the next one.”

“It’s good to talk to people with different backgrounds and exchange ideas on food,” said another.

“It’s a great place to meet people from all walks of life in a fun and relaxed environment. And there’s something really satisfying about learning new cooking skills and recipes,” said another seasoned Pie Man.

Pairing an oatmeal stout with a freshly baked pie is a firm Pie Club favourite

 “We have developed the project along the way, but the essence has remained the same,” said Chris. “It all began when Movember charity responded to Food Nation asking for unique ideas to engage men in activities to reduce social isolation and support with mental health.

“We welcome participation from those just learning about Men’s Pie Club for the first time.This can take many forms such as signing up as a member, becoming a volunteer, hosting a club in your community or sharing a project across your own networks.

“As more people reach out and become involved in what we do, Men’s Pie Club only becomes stronger.” 

There are 13 Men’s Pie Clubs across the North East, seven clubs in Newcastle, two in Whitley Bay plus Throckley, Chopwell, Sunderland, and Bishop Auckland.with a recent expansion into Yorkshire makes a total of 16. More are planned for South Tyneside, Gateshead and Teesside.

The initial idea was for up to 10 men to meet up once a week to each make and bake a pie then sit down together to eat them and thus combat social isolation.

“The initiative teaches skills to cook nutritious food but, more importantly, the Pie Clubs are an opportunity to build social relationships with each other,” said Chris.  “The reason this matters is because research has shown that many men don’t have enough of the kinds of friendships that can act as a protective factor against anxiety and depression.

“Being socially isolated is known to be a key contributory factor in those who take their own lives. This is a major issue that needs to be addressed as the North East has the highest suicide rate in England and Wales according to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).”

Good conversation and an even better pie could be the secret to boosting men’s mental health

Oh, and they ‘don’t just talk about pies!’. 

The Men’s Pie Club have their own mantra which says:

The Men’s Pie Club is a place where we talk about things that really matter. And things that don’t. It’s somewhere to get stuff off your chest and put something in your belly. Men’s Pie Club is for all sorts of guys – whether you’re living alone or feeling alone. 

Whether you’re looking for mates or looking to learn. It’s where we can look out for each other. Be kind to one another and just be ourselves.”

Who knows what Men’s Pie Club will cook up for their next projects, but whatever it is, it can only be packed full of goodness.


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