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Pie, Conversation, and Camaraderie. Inside the Men’s Pie Club

December 2023 – George Lee

Theme: Food

Pie, Conversation, and Camaraderie.
Inside the Men's Pie Club

Six years ago, as the annual Movember campaign sought novel ideas to champion men’s mental health and combat social isolation, the team behind Men’s Pie Club created a concept that would invite men to gather, share coffee, chat, and cook. This Curious Life investigates. 

The idea struck a chord. “Movember loved the idea!” Chris exclaims, reflecting on the project’s success amidst a mass of global submissions. Men’s Pie Club secured funding. “We refined the concept, navigated the pilot stage, honing it into a robust framework,” Chris explains. 

Then, a challenge emerged. “Just when things were gaining momentum, COVID came knocking,” Chris sighs. Yet, undeterred by adversity, they persevered. “In 2021, we boldly relaunched with the original five clubs in the North East of the UK,” Chris proudly shares. The response was encouraging, leading to steady organic growth. “Today, Men’s Pie Club boasts 15 clubs across the North East,” Chris beams. 

At the core of the Men’s Pie Club lies simplicity and warmth. “It’s a haven where men find solace in sharing stories, and donning aprons,” Chris describes. The ethos is clear—to create an environment where men feel safe, where they can candidly discuss their thoughts and emotions without the weight of societal expectations. 

"The Pie is incidental. It's about brotherhood." B, Pie Man

When it first started, the idea for Men’s Pie Club primarily targeted older men facing social disconnection due to retirement. We created it for men who were losing that social thread post-retirement, Chris reflects. However, this was to change amidst the pandemic. COVID highlighted that loneliness and isolation can affect everyone, Chris adds. Suddenly, the club’s relevance expanded. We saw a surge in men working from home or managing independent parenting, struggling with the lack of friendships or reduced socialising,” Chris explains.

Men at a table cooking

The initial target demographic, ranging from 50 to 75 or even 80 years old, swiftly evolved. “Now, we have a diverse spectrum, including more men in their late 20s and 30s,” Chris notes. The shift reflects societal changes, with men adapting to varied work hours and remote setups, disrupting their usual social connections. “Each club forms its unique community, embracing a wide age range,” Chris shares proudly. “Our youngest member is just 19, while our oldest is a sprightly 86.” 

Loneliness, it appears, doesn’t discriminate. “It’s prevalent everywhere in society,” Chris observes. The club’s evolution, from initially targeting retirees to becoming an inclusive haven for men of various ages and circumstances, speaks volumes about the widespread need for such communal spaces. 

Chris acknowledges the nuances in how different generations and genders approach discussions on mental health. “I believe younger men have grown up more accustomed to the language of mental health,” he reflects. “They seem more open and ready to engage in these conversations. A testament to evolving societal attitudes and education surrounding mental health issues.” 

“Men’s Pie Club is a definite highlight of my week. It’s a great place to meet people from all walks of life.” R, Pie Man

However, Chris identifies a divergence between older and younger generations. “The older generations might approach these challenges differently,” he observes. “It’s not necessarily an unwillingness to share but more about how these conversations are initiated.” He notes that women may have an easier time engaging in conversations with strangers, while men, particularly at Men’s Pie Club, require a sense of belonging and trust before opening up. 

“The idea of the club is pivotal,” Chris emphasises. ‘It’s a safe haven where even the most vulnerable men can walk in without the fear of judgment.” Creating that secure environment is crucial for fostering dialogue and support. ‘Our aim,’ Chris continues, “is prevention, irrespective of whether individuals perceive themselves as vulnerable. By joining Men’s Pie Club, they’re taking a proactive step—whether it’s through cooking, chatting, or building social connections. It’s about preventing vulnerability from escalating

Three men at a table eating.

Chris believes that the Men’s Pie Club offers something distinctive in today’s context. He points out the existence of other initiatives like Men’s Sheds and Andy’s Man Club, which effectively engage large groups of men nationwide. However, he highlights a unique aspect of Men’s Pie Club—its informal space and absence of pressure to speak. “There’s no compulsion to share; you can simply come, cook, and take your time to build trust,” Chris notes, emphasising the welcoming atmosphere that encourages gradual engagement.” 

Chris identifies an unconventional aspect contributing to the club’s appeal. “Cooking isn’t traditionally considered a male space,” he explains. “This creates an opportunity for older gentlemen, especially, to explore cooking, which might have been unfamiliar to them previously.’ He elaborates on how Men’s Pie Club serves as an entry point for men who may not have actively participated in cooking or food-related activities before. “For instance, widowers who traditionally weren’t involved in cooking might find this as a way to reconnect through food,” Chris elaborates. 

“...I lost touch with my friends when I started a family. Pie Club is something I can do knowing full well I get a break…” S, Pie Man

Pies, Chris points out, serve as a familiar starting point. “Many of these men might have enjoyed pies at football matches or relished their wives’ homemade pies. This familiarity opens doors and sparks interest in cooking.” Another key strength Chris emphasises is the club’s open-ended nature. “We don’t set a limit; once you’re part of the club, you’re welcome for as long as you want to be,” he says, highlighting the club’s commitment to creating a sustained, ongoing community.” 

Chris details the diverse range of venues where Men’s Pie Club operates. “We host our pie clubs across a spectrum of community spaces,” he explains. “From community libraries to traditional community centers, tap rooms, and grassroots football venues.” The essence, he highlights, is to create a welcoming environment where men feel comfortable, enabling the club to set up on a regular weekly basis at consistent times.” 

Older man standing with a plate with a pie on top handing it to a younger man

On the topic of membership, Chris shares the current number of participants. “Presently, we have around 250 men actively engaged in the North East,” he reveals. “And excitingly, we’re on the brink of launching a new club in Leeds.” 

Curiosity sparks about the pies themselves. “Are the pies any good?” Chris chuckles. “Well, most of the time, I’d say about 80% of them turn out really good.” He quickly shifts the focus, emphasising that while good food is important, it’s not the primary focus. “We strive for delicious pies, but it’s secondary,” he clarifies. “Our main emphasis is on fostering togetherness, building friendships, and providing support.” 

When asked about the impact of Men’s Pie Club, Chris explains, “Like other projects under Movember’s umbrella, we track and measure our progress meticulously.” He proudly shares some of the positive outcomes they’ve witnessed. “Our efforts have showcased tangible results,” Chris states confidently. “We’ve successfully alleviated loneliness and isolation among our members, and there’s been a noticeable increase in overall happiness.” 

Yet, Chris is not content to stop there. “We’re eager to showcase even more,” he remarks. ‘That’s why we’re exploring the integration of more sophisticated tools to better monitor and demonstrate our impact.’ He emphasises the daily affirmations they receive about the benefits of the Men’s Pie Club. “Every day, we hear about the positive changes experienced by our members,” Chris notes. “I often catch snippets of conversations that reinforce the meaningful impact of our work.” 

“... it is good to get out and mix with others who may or may not be in the same boat…” D, Pie Man

Chris’s eyes light up as he delves into stories that have deeply touched him within Men’s Pie Club. “There are countless stories that resonate deeply with us,” he begins. “But one that stands out is when men, initially feeling isolated after retirement, join us thinking it’s merely a casual Wednesday activity.” 

He describes a powerful and moving journey, “It’s incredible to witness how, through the camaraderie and support fostered in our club, these men transition from viewing it as a casual pursuit to an integral part of their lives.” Chris highlights a member’s profound evolution, “One gentleman, reeling from the loss of his wife and a string of hardships, initially sought the club as a means to learn cooking skills and grab some free food,’ he says, a smile gracing his face. 

“Over four years, this individual’s journey has changed incredibly. “He has emerged as a key figure, aiding in establishing new clubs and becoming a mentor to newcomers,” Chris shares, awe evident in his voice. “His inherent soft skills, dormant in his prior work environment, came to the fore.” Chris’s voice resonates with pride, “To witness his transformation—from despair and isolation to becoming a beacon of hope—is truly remarkable. To witness such a profound metamorphosis, from a place of desperation to actively serving his community, is a testament to the impact we’re making.”

Chris talks about the commonalities across the members. “Financial disparities and societal letdowns, from inadequate benefit systems to housing issues, affect men from all age brackets,” Chris laments. “This necessitates support and sharing of skills.” Chris beams about the positive impact of mutual aid between younger and older members. “Younger men assist the older generation with digital skills, while older men impart life experiences and wisdom,” he explains. “It’s a reciprocal exchange; both groups benefit from each other’s strengths.” 

The richness of these intergenerational relationships extends beyond the club’s confines. “Friendships are blossoming across age barriers,” Chris notes happily. “We witness instances of members spending time outside the club, building connections beyond our gatherings.” He shares an example, “One club is planning a Christmas dinner, with eight members gathering outside Men’s Pie Club at a local pub to celebrate together.” 

When envisioning the global need for Men’s Pie Club, Chris lets out a hearty laugh. ‘Every place in the world needs a Men’s Pie Club,’ he exclaims. How are you going to make it happen, I ask? He reflects on their strategy. “It’s a gradual process,” Chris admits with a smile. “Post-COVID, our primary focus was consolidating our presence in the North East. Now, we’re eyeing expansions into larger cities like Leeds, the Northwest, and London.” Chris acknowledges the challenges posed by these diverse, densely populated areas and their unique dynamics. “The key,” he explains, “is figuring out how these hubs can effectively operate within such expansive regions.” 

Chris reflects on the profound significance of food in fostering connections. “Food holds immense importance in diverse cultures worldwide,” he muses. ‘” genuinely hope we’ve sparked a trend that highlights how food can bring people of all ages together.” Chris acknowledges the potential for food to transcend barriers, emphasising its role in meaningful conversations. “It might not be your family, but sharing a meal is often the best conversation you’ll have all day around a kitchen table,” he says. “It’s about sitting together at a collective table, where the perfection of chopping onions doesn’t matter—it’s the dialogue that counts.” 

Considering the innovative aspect of Men’s Pie Club, Chris emphasises its adaptable nature. “What sets us apart is our approach,” he points out. ‘We have a framework, yet we empower each club to create its own unique version and identity.” He also highlights their educational role in promoting healthier cooking methods. “We offer guidance on nutritious and sustainable cooking,” Chris explains. “However, our primary focus is not solely on the food itself. It’s about nurturing community, forging connections, and fostering friendships.” 

More Information

More about The Men's Pie Club

You can find out more about the amazing Men’s Pie club at: 

And you can watch the full Men’s Pie Club film here.