It is some years now, and I wrote about it in my book: “Outside the Camp” and in my “Missing Communities Report”, when I had some involvement in the setting up and running of the “SOS Men’s Group”. Part of my remit at the time was to reach out to those on the edges of our communities. We identified a group of men, some Muslim, some of BME origin, some with mental health issues, some with alcohol issues, some who were homeless or with housing needs, some having issues around immigration status, who typically hanged around in groups, in places like Warrior Square, often not doing all that much that might be considered constructive.
We set up a group in response to the need as we saw it with the cooperation of the men. We decided to meet once a week, on a Thursday, between 1pm and 3pm, at the Balmoral community centre. The idea was it would provide a setting to socialize over tea and cake and an opportunity to address issues. Often games would be played. Often we had guests who may talk about something relevant. We even ran a few courses – one memorable one was Arabic. And the group is still meeting. While my involvement is less now, I still try to go along when I can. I have just returned from one of those visits. Strangely, I feel quite elated. While it is sad to observe some of the struggles and disappointments, it is also good to see progress and feel part of the group. Today, besides catching up with “old friends” and enjoying a nice cuppa, while some played dominos and others chess, I played draughts with an Eastern European guy I hadn’t met before, and it ended up honours even.
As I consider the needs of those who might be deemed to be on the edges of society because of their circumstances etc., I am grateful for the opportunity the likes of the SOS Group provides to engage with such folk. I feel it a privilege to be a small part of their lives and duty bound to look out for their welfare.