Recent events have shown that to achieve better relationships for everyone, it is vital to support children and young people in their relationship learning. This year International Men’s Day promotes practical action on positive relationships between the sexes.

Harvard research shows that early experiences impact our future relationships and life outcomes. Early intervention is key. By tackling boy’s and young men’s learning about relationships we can improve relationship ambition and attainment for all.

I spoke to Luke Medcalf, Boy’s and Young Mens Coordinator at Cornerhouse, a Hull-based charity working on healthy relationships and positive masculinity.

Tell me a bit about your work with boys and young men at Cornerhouse, in particular on how you support learning around healthy relationships.

Throughout my career I have worked with boys and young men to help them understand their behaviours, and their impact on other people. In particular, we work on understanding healthy relationships. My main work is with 11 to 16 year old males and providing early intervention if they show any warning signs of potentially perpetrating abusive behaviours. This project helps to address the gap on early intervention and appropriate responses to boys’ and young men’s behaviours.

I help boys and young men to understand themselves and recognise positive behaviours. We look at what they want and need in a healthy relationship and create some golden relationship rules. Everyone is different but they tend to include respect, trust, fun, sharing experiences. Using these rules they are encouraged to audit their relationships. They begin to understand that they deserve healthy and happy relationships just like everybody else. By recognising relationships which aren’t necessarily healthy, and instilling pride and confidence in themselves, they foster healthier relationships in the future.   

This year’s International Men’s Day focuses on better relations between men and women. How is masculinity defined by the young men that you work with?

Pressure. That’s the word that is most commonly felt by the young people I work with. These boys are squeezed from all angles – whether it is body image, mental health, drugs and alcohol, sexual health – into a shape that doesn’t fit what they actually are. They feel they have to adapt or not survive. Society is good at portraying an unreal male that is hyper-sexualised, hyper-aggressive, hyper competitive and these become rules that young men feel they have to live by. It certainly doesn’t help young women and it doesn’t help young men. It doesn’t help anyone in the LGBQT+ community either.

How has this definition impacted how you work with boys and young men at Cornerhouse?

A big part of my work is fostering an environment which removes that pressure and being a different voice. My role is to be there for them. Knowing that and that the sessions are at their discretion, really is a release for them. It’s one of the only times they are free from judgement. It’s important for them to hear positive messages. At Cornerhouse we don’t believe in time limits – my work with the young men isn’t constrained to say an 8 week programme. It shows the young people that we are committed to getting to know them. They really appreciate that.

A key part of your work with young men is around healthy relationships and “breaking the cycle.” How has your work changed young men’s understanding of masculinity, and therefore how they approach their relationships?

I’m able to present myself in a way that maybe they have never really seen men before. There is this idea of a father who would die for their children and that love is tied to aggression. I think for young men that is quite difficult to separate because they have never understood how to appear vulnerable, which in reality brings you more strength. One conversation doesn’t prove that. It’s through months of work with them where they will ask questions and will compare my response to that of their other male role models. 

Hannah is Fastn’s Education Programme Development Coordinator. Hannah coordinates Fastn’s delivery with relationships specialist organisations, relationships education partners and youth-led organisations.

Fastn is a charity dedicated to working with others to create healthy, dependable relationships.  Fastn recently launched The Principles of excellence in relationships education with twenty other organisations (including Cornerhouse and Future Men), a tool for schools and youth leaders to embed healthy relationships in their settings. 

Cornerhouse is a charity based in Hull that works with young people around sexual health and emotional well-being. 

Masculinity and building healthy dependable relationships: Part 2

International Men’s day 2021 is promoting practical action on better relationships between the sexes. Luke Medcalf, the Boy’s and Young Mens Coordinator at Cornerhouse, work with young men is just one example of the important work being done with young men around healthy relationships and positive masculinity. After discussing his work with young men at Cornerhouse, I wanted to learn more about what masculinity meant to him and what tips he can give us to support young men in their relationship learning.  

What does masculinity mean to you?

For me, the act of taking time to prepare and provide a meal for my family and sharing the time together to eat it, perfectly sums up the most important aspects of my personal view of what masculinity is. It is being loving, it is being loved. It is providing and sharing with those closest to you. It is being present in the moment and enjoying the most masculine of all experiences, fatherhood.

Aside from my personal life I look at how I promote masculinity with the boys and young men that I support. Being masculine means not allowing others to determine our behaviour. It is being proud of who you are and also being reflective of how you can improve and maintain yourself. Boys and young men have a responsibility to understand the way our behaviours can affect those around us. Our language, both verbal and non-verbal, can either make people feel safe or unsafe. Being masculine means providing a feeling of safety to those around us and this is the most effective way of protecting people.

Overall I believe that masculinity is an all encompassing desire to support, protect and to positively impact the world around us.

I understand that some of the young men you work with have been involved with the White Ribbon Campaign in Hull. Can you tell me more about this and how it came about?

I’ve been involved with White Ribbon for about 8 years. It runs alongside my project with the boys and young men. The majority of them sign the pledge – to never commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women. I also have 5 young men who are youth advocates, which is not as many as I would like! I run regular events and assemblies to get the message out to a wider audience – it’s not as big a part of work as I would like it to be. I use the pledge and the statistics from the campaign to show that it’s not about demonising men, it’s about recognising and seeing the issue.

 Based on your experience, what would you ask readers to do to help young men to form healthier, non-violent relationships?

It is important first and foremost to reflect on your own experiences. You need to reflect on the relationships you have and think about what worked well – what made you and the other person happy?  Also consider things that maybe didn’t go well – what can be learnt from these?

Use your experiences to provide real life examples for young people. It is important to show the light and dark of relationships. They are not all perfect, but there are real “no’s” that young people need to understand.   

Providing real examples will counteract the negative examples that are constantly drip fed into them from television, social media, music, everything.  

You can also support them to value themselves, understand what they want and what their needs are. Once they are able to do this they can learn to communicate their needs to others.

Finally, you can support them to create their golden rules and audit their relationships. You can help them understand that they are in control of who they spend their time with and see on social media. That’s an empowering message to give young people because quite often they don’t feel in control. They can understand that their time is valuable and they don’t have to put themselves in a position where they are not being treated the way they deserve to be.