A group of young men are busy in the offices of the St Michael’s Fellowship setting up a community group with big ideas – they are the Lambeth Dads and they want to give support and voice to young fathers in the borough.
The more contact a father has with his children, the better adjusted they tend to be, the less likely they are to have a criminal record and the better they do in education. We know there are too many absent fathers in children’s lives in the UK and yet services to encourage the engagement of fathers are few and far between.
The Lambeth Dads want to do something about that and on June 16, fathers’ day, they will launch with the 100 Dads Walk to Brockwell Park. “We want 100 dads to walk into their childrens’ lives instead of walking out”, says 21-year-old group leader Kieran Hutchinson.
I met four of the Lambeth Dads, all aged 19-24, in their current base at the St Michael’s Fellowship, where they had just started their two-hour weekly meeting and were working on plans for the Dads’ Walk, as well as funding applications and future ideas.
They all met at the fellowship and got together with the support of Scott Colfer from Young Dads TV. He has helped set up similar groups in Hackney and Brighton, but the idea is that the dads are self-sustaining and organize themselves in the way that suits them best. Young Dads TV provides training and advice, but otherwise the dads have to get their own funding, promote themselves and organize their own events.
The main aim of the group is to connect new or expectant fathers with the Lambeth dads who can give advice and share experiences. They also want to link dads with services ranging from education and first aid courses to legal help for custody issues and, “if there isn’t a service, then we’d create it ourselves”.
“We want to welcome a lot of mothers and informally educate them to appreciate the differece between a parental relationship and a physical relationship”, explains Kieran. “Some partners might break up and not really know how to deal with things. We want to show what a difference it can make to a father if they don’t see their child. We’ve spoken to some fathers who have had mental issues if they don’t see their child – really depressed, some suicidal – because they’re really engaged, really pumped up to be a dad and they’re being denied that.”
Kieran is clear on what young fathers need precisely because, with two boys under the age of two, he has been through it all himself. This peer-to-peer work is why he thinks they will be a success where professional services fail, often alienating young, nervous fathers because they are geared towards the mother and can be intimidating.
“As soon as I thought that I was becoming a dad I got really scared”, says Kieran. “I thought that I wasn’t in the right place for myself to become a dad, because I wasn’t in education, I was living in a hostel. I felt I wanted to have a big car, a big house, but you know one thing you need to be is realistic. You have to accept at first that you have to make the best of the situation you have.
“A lot of dads basically they get scared when they find out they’re going to be a dad – so much emotions are running around them. They might be anxious of the fact that they haven’t finished college or haven’t got a full-time job, but I think one of the most important things to tell a father is, ‘it’s OK, you know. You’re gonna get through – we did and we’ll support you.’”
Kieran is critical of government action here, where he feels that a lot of criticism is doled out at fathers while not enough is done to encourage them. “The government are holding back on it because they don’t have to do it, but it will tackle issues like crime, unemployment, education. Dads are so important to society, for primary socialisation, and the government should be injecting a lot of money into projects like this.
“I’m excited. This could go really far. I don’t think it’s been done before. I feel that it’s really effective in bringing families together. Making situations easier or accessible for other young dads makes me feel good within myself that they might not have to go through the things I’ve been through.”
The 100 Dads Walk is on 16 June, starting at 1pm outside the Ritzy cinema and ending up in Brockwell Park. There’ll be card-making, T-shirt designing and family photos in the park too. More details can be found here.