Former miner shows way for caring new men

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The Independent Online
BRIAN SLEIGHT is over six foot tall and well-built, with the strength of a man who had spent years in Yorkshire's coal mines.

Indeed, he still conducts what used to be Grimethorpe colliery's brass band. But these days, with the pits closed, many men like him moulder away in drinking clubs, their sense of purpose lost with redundancy.

Not Mr Sleight. He is at the forefront of work the Government this week set out to promote in improving parenting. With other men made redundant in declining traditional industries, Mr Sleight, 45, and a grandfather, has been training teenage school boys how to be good parents.

"It's been wonderful," he said of the project, sponsored by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and Relate, the marriage- counselling agency.

"Some of the boys have been captivated as we've talked about families and relationships. The lads surprised me. A couple of them have parents who have split up. They would explain how they cried when this happened and that happened.

"I was amazed that a 14 or 15-year-old would admit to crying over anything. Even now I would find it difficult to admit to crying.

"At one point we had a class about what you needed to get for when a baby comes along. We had a competition between the boys and the girls. The boys won, which really surprised me."

Alan Wall, another of the trainers and a former glass-industry worker, told the boys of his experience after being made redundant four years ago. "The changes around here have been a real eye- opener. The men used to come home, kick their boots off and tea was on the table.

"The wives stayed at home and looked after the kids. Now work here is predominately a female thing. The lads see the men just sitting drinking in the clubs. I was trying to show them they still have choices. My wife was out working and I was looking after our baby daughter. I could speak about the joys of bringing her up.

"So you don't necessarily have to stick to the stereotypical images. With so many single parents, some young lads believe that if a lass gets pregnant they have no responsibilities. We wanted to show them that they do."

Mr Wall, 36, is studying for a degree in care management at Bradford University. "I've chosen to get myself re-educated, another thing I can explain to the boys. So they see change may be hard, but it's not necessarily bad."

The training in relationships offered by the men over six sessions at Willowgarth High School in Grimethorpe was praised by Ann Harnett, head of personal health and social education.

"The boys identified with the men. They came from the same background and had credibility. The men did not look like teachers. Like other boys they have problems with under-achieving. But it is often difficult for boys to relate their feeling to female members of staff.

"Girls are typically much more confident talking about relationships. Boys are quickly overshadowed and embarrassed. Girls tend to shout out and say a boy has got it wrong. So separating the boys and the girls was helpful.

"The lads did not feel they had to be macho. And they could speak freely without fear of being put down by female members of staff."

Mr Sleight has, with his wife, Julie, two adopted children and they are fostering two others.

He said he and other men on the course hope that funding will now be made available so they can work with other groups of children.