Michael James Fitzgerald, Man Health CIC

Michael James Fitzgerald, founder of Man Health CIC, with friend Paul Bannister

In a nutshell…

  • Founder: Michael James Fitzgerald
  • Organisation: Man Health CICprovides peer support to men suffering from depression
  • SSE programme: Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Start Up Programme 2016-17
  • Business model: Currently grant-funded by Big Lottery with a three-year plan to move to an income-generating model
  • SSE school: SSE North East
  • Regions: Durham

The beginning

The breakdown started in 2014. I’d do 12-hour shifts at work and then sit in my car for hours just crying. I couldn’t understand what was going on, I thought it was stress. I couldn’t tell the wife or my friends, and I couldn’t go on the sick from work – I felt too guilty. So I just put a brave face on and kept going.

Eventually I bumped into a friend I hadn’t seen for years, Paul Bannister. We started going for walks and I just told Paul everything. I told him my whole story, everything that was happening to me, until he turned around and said, “Michael, I’ve got depression” – and told me his story.

The programme

The concept behind Man Health came out of this relationship. We thought, if we can talk about it, then we can set up some peer support groups and help other men. We’re not doctors, but we’ve lived the experience of depression – that’s the idea.

Paul suggested I join the Lloyds Bank and Bank of Scotland Social Entrepreneurs Start Up Programme, and when I saw the grant to set up I thought, champion! But that’s not why I did it; I did it to get my confidence back. I used to do presentations in front of 10 to 30 people, but I’d lost all my knowledge – my confidence was shot.

I’d never considered starting my own business before and the thought was daunting – I knew little about business plans, marketing and finance! But the course helped me focus on my skills and got me working with groups more. It helped me get my life back on track.

“the course helped me focus on my skills and got me working with groups more. It helped me get my life back on track.”

The future

We’ve been working with men in the community on a one-on-one basis so far. We’ve helped around 10 men through peer support, exercise and well-being – we listen to their issues. It’s good to talk as a lot of men bottle up their feelings until they reach crisis point.

In February we’re opening a centre in the city. We’ll have a Play Station, pool table, exercise equipment, tea and coffee – it will be somewhere that men can come and make new friends, and, if they want to, talk about how they’re feeling.

“In February we’re opening a centre in the city.”

We’ve also been funded by the Big Lottery Fund to create 21 peer support groups in and around Durham, and that’s what we’re working on now. We’ve got so many ideas, so many plans on how to make it sustainable so we can just keep rolling on and on! Because what we’re doing is needed, and it works.

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