James Newman is probably best associated with bread making in the Knowle West community as well as the work he has done as a Men’s Engagement Worker.
But after nearly four years he’s leaving Knowle West for the New Forest – having proved himself an excellent baker with a knack for getting the community involved in activities.
It all started in 2013 – when he was invited to be a volunteer at the Bread Café by the Health Park. It had been set up by local Baptist Pastor Mike Pearson, working with Whisk, as a way of engaging people in the community.
James explains: “This was an opportunity for people to come in early and make bread and form a group…I hadn’t learnt before and didn’t have a background in it.”
After six sessions of training the group was on a roll, and started selling everything from focaccia to cheese bread on a Thursday at the Health Park.
James says: “Because we were all volunteering we could try new things and also go to different community centres and support different events. It helped establish yourself and get known by the local community.”
At the end of that year there was a post available for the Men’s Project at the Health Park – a pilot project funded by Public Health.
James explained: “The bread group was engaging men already and they asked if I could incorporate this in the Men’s Project. I got different organisations together to see what they could do for men in the area and also carried the baking on…”
Then in 2015 the project Man Alive was set up at the Health Park to help combat social isolation in the area. It included activities such as swimming, woodland skills and fishing trips. James established Rising High to keep the bread project separate and as Whisk café closed the group started using kitchens at Inns Court Centre.
James says: “Man Alice was all about health and wellbeing and getting guys involved who were available in the community, during in the week. Finding out what they wanted to do which would improve their health.
“A lot has been about confidence-building and helping people connect with their community and then going beyond that to play a part in it and being needed. There’s a pride that comes from being asked to take part in things…”
He cites his highlights as “pulling off events we never thought possible from teamwork and people being able to stick it out.” At the Health Park Fun Day for example they catered for and fed over 200 people.
Another memorable activity was the group helping to build the roundhouse on Springfield Allotments where a monthly men’s breakfast and meeting was established to catch up and decide on activities for the week.
James says he will miss “a real sense of togetherness” from doing events, ‘baking bread and seeing people enjoying it and “relationships with people in the community”.
He says: “I would encourage people to keep at it. The monthly men’s breakfast will continue, it’s a place to meet new guys over a bacon buttie at 10am the first Friday of the month… and Man Alive is still going.
“I’m moving to the New Forest for family health reasons but would love to come back and visit and see how things have been developing.”
For more details about Man Alive contact Knowle West Healthy Living Centre on 0117 377 2255.