A band of brothers

Suicide is the second most common cause of death among men under 35. This must change.

When you look at the data about the lives of men in comparision with women, the statistics paint a clear picture. Starting at the most extreme end, of the 6,045 people in the UK that took their own life in 2011, 4,552 of them were men. This works out at over 12 men per day. More men under 35 died from suicide in the UK than road accidents, murder and HIV/Aids combined.

In education, there is a well-documented gap between boys and girls; both in performance and aspiration. In 2011 the gap between the proportion of girls gaining A* or A grades at GCSE and that of boys hit a record 6.7 per cent, up from just 1.5 per cent in 1989. Just 30 per cent of male school-leavers applied to university in 2012, compared with 40 per cent of their female counterparts. Boys are "permanently excluded" from school at a rate four times higher than for girls.

As for crime, men are perpetrators of over 90 per cent of violent crime in the UK. If you believe, as abandofbrothers do, that "hurt people, hurt people" and that violence is a manifestation of prior psychological woundings on the part of the perpetrator rather than the expression of an inherent evil, then this too points to the disadvantage of men and boys.

As a society, can we ignore these statistics? We face huge challenges in the world on almost every level – economic, ecological and social. If male and female are indeed the two wings of humanity, can we afford to keep flying round in circles? Can we continue to ignore the cost of damaged men? This cost is felt in economic terms (if men were to commit crime at the same levels as women we would save £42bn a year based on Home Office figures) and also in a unmeasured and immensurable social cost.

"If the young men are not initiated into the tribe, they will burn down the village just to feel a little heat." – Ancient African Proverb.

Arguably, where masculinity is most in crisis is amongst young men at the bottom of the socio-economic pile. Abandofbrothers would argue that this is a failing on the part of society. The "job" of giving young men a sense of purpose and meaning, so that they feel connected to (rather than resentful of) those around them is crucial, and one that cannot be done solely by employees of the state.

At abandofbrothers, our mission is to offer young men a rites of passage experience and mentoring to help them make the difficult transition into healthy adulthood. We give them a place to heal, to explore and be encouraged not just to "become a man" but to become their own man. We do this by creating empathic communities of older men who will give themselves in service to mentoring and supporting young men who need it.

To create these communities, we connect potential mentors to their hearts, enable them to find a resolution to their own emotional traumas so that they can better attend to the needs of their communities, and especially, the young.  It is time consuming and emotionally difficult. It’s also the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life.

My own first son is due to make an appearance in the world in the next few weeks. When he asks me what I was doing in the early part of the 21st century, when it became apparent that we faced huge challenges in creating a sustainable future, I will be proud to say I was one of the few, the lucky few, who were engaged in trying to create connected, resilient and joyful communities that were better equipped to weather the storms ahead.

For more information on abandofbrothers, please see www.abandofbrothers.org.uk

A man alone on a backstreet in Liverpool. Photograph: Getty Images.

Nathan Roberts is the Chief Executive of abandofbrothers.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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