“Hurt people, hurt people – so what we do is try and help them overcome the issues that have dogged them for much of their young lives so they can develop into young men that make a positive impact on the community.”
So speaks James Wong, the front man at A Band of Brothers, or ABOB as it prefers to be known, the charity which has been commended in recent months for the positive changes it is making in the lives of young men, who often need that extra helping hand in the difficult transition into manhood.
James is the project lead and one of a number of male mentors at Eastbourne ABOB, formed in 2014 when a group of local men responded to an advert asking for mentors to help young, male ex-offenders in the local area.
The first group of mentors trained in the February and by the summer there were enough men to run a first mentoring cycle.
The group includes men from a wide variety of professions, including two teachers who have first-hand experience of working with teenagers in the Eastbourne community, and who see the challenges they face every day.
“A Band of Brothers works with young men involved in the criminal justice system, providing them with the support they need to make the transition to an adulthood free of crime, and full of connection, purpose and meaning,” said James.
“We do this through our Quest Programme which brings young men and adult role models together in an intensive contemporary rites-of-passage experience and an accredited mentoring programme.
“The young men we meet have often experienced or witnessed domestic violence.
“They may have been abused or else kept someone else’s abuse a secret. They may have experienced neglect.
“They may have grown up where drug and alcohol abuse is commonplace and where positive adult role models are in short supply.
“Our focus is to link adult male role models to these young men, giving them experiences that challenge them and support their growth, and providing them with a lasting community that supports them.”
Among the mentors is former Eastbourne policeman with more than 30 years experience Trevor Perks, now retired, and Nick Carling, whose day job is working with adults with learning disabilities.
Nick says he enjoys being in a guiding role.
“I wanted to be in a position where I could support young men in a way I would have liked to have been supported when I was a younger man and wasn’t. In our culture I see young men struggling but there is no guidance.
“When the results come through with ABOB they’re profound. But as with all things, there are times when the young men don’t want to engage. It’s not always the case and disappointment is built in to what we do.”
Some of the group’s successes were celebrated at a “homecoming” event just before Christmas in front of an invited audience and Eastbourne mayor Pat Hearn.
Members spoke of their lives, their experience and their successes.
All had completed a Rites of Passage as part of a 12 week quest.
“Rites of Passages is a term that describes important transitional periods in a person’s life,” said James.
“One such period is the transition from childhood to adulthood. For the last 10,000 years or so, traditional cultures have recognised the value of providing a meaningful ROP for young people in their communities.
“Sometimes referred to as the Hero’s Journey, a ROP holds within it certain key elements such as the Call to Adventure, Crossing the Threshold, Meeting a Mentor, Challenge, Transformation (Death & Rebirth), Integration and the Return Home.
“It begins with a hard hitting, deep diving and challenging residential weekend – the start of the 12 week programme that continues with weekly hourly meetings with their own mentor and weekly ‘circles’ where the whole community gathers.
“The ROP presents the young men with a series of often challenging physical, emotional and psychological experiences that invite each man to step out of the comfort of his everyday existence; for them to take a step back from the current ‘story of themselves and their lives’ and into something different.
“And along with the support of a community of men, begin to explore, discover and craft a new story – a new way of being that not only better serves themselves but inevitably the community as well.
“An African proverb says ‘If we don’t initiate our young men, they will burn down the village just to feel the heat’.
“For some, that is a fitting analogy for what is currently happening in our society.”
James say that what makes ABOB unique is the commitment to building community.
“Even though our programme is contained within 12 weeks, the young men know they can turn up at anytime to the weekly circles thereafter for further support and/or to celebrate their successes,” said James.
“We have seen an 82 per cent reduction in the severity of offending behaviour after the Quest programme.
“We also see ourselves very much a part of the wider Eastbourne Community and look for opportunities to be of service.
“In the last three years we have worked alongside many local organisations.”
These include a planting project with Edible Eastbourne; feeding the elderly and revitalising green space for Eastbourne Homes; running a boxing programme in partnership with Eastbourne Boxing Club; providing a soup kitchen at Cornfield Tea Room over Christmas for local homeless people; and supporting the BoHo Light festival in Seaside.
The charity has its supporters and relies on funding to continue its work, which was given the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2015, similar to an MBE for charities.
James said, “We have received substantial funding from the John Jackson Charitable Trust and our police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne.
“This funding, along with the goodwill of all the mentors who give up their time to be in service, means that over the last year we have been able to support 11 vulnerable local young men and continue our efforts towards creating a more connected community.”
Anyone interested in getting involved with A Band of Brothers can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call James on 07882 429 914.
For more information visit www.abandofbrothers.org.uk