PoetsINterview – Matt Barnes-Smith From ‘The Great Men Project’

We continue our familiar theme of meeting people of words, of writing and of mental health advocacy this week with an interview with a chap that has taken it upon himself to run groups for another charity ‘called ‘The Great men Project’.

His name is Matt, and we think you’ll like him and the charity.

So grab yourself a ginger beer and read all about him and it.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Matt, a northerner living down south. I’m currently a part-time youth worker and mentor for young people. In a previous life, I was a construction manager before and then I decided to change directions.

You run a regular men’s group. Tell us more.

I’ve spent a lot of time this year volunteering for a charity called ‘The Great Men Project,’ set up to challenge stereotypes of masculinity and to engage men and boys in the movement towards gender equality. Through this I was introduced to a men’s group based in London which inspired me to want to create a similar space closer to home. The vision and aim of the group is to offer a safe space for men to speak openly and honestly about life, and to challenge the male stereotype found in society, and sometimes reflected in ourselves. within us and society. We meet on the last Thursday of every month, and I’ve also set up a similar group for 18-24-year olds who meet on the second Thursday of every month.

Why just men – why not women?

Sometimes it’s difficult to talk about certain topics in front of the opposite sex. The group provides a safe space for men to talk together and in turn have better, honest, and open relationships with themselves, and all people in their lives.


The group provides a safe space for men to talk together .

What is your relationship with words and writing?

I have been, and sometimes still am, the stereotypical male who finds it hard to talk honestly. When I was younger, I tried writing the odd lyric or two, but is wasn’t until the past four or five years that I really began to explore other people’s words and writing, which encouraged me to try articulating my own. I read a lot, and have of recently been attempting to write poems, which admittedly have been very introspective, yet both are very helpful when trying to make sense of feelings that don’t have logical meanings and descriptions. In the words of Alan Bennet, ‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things, which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.’

Some of us write our best stuff when in a rage, heartbroken or fighting depression. Are you affected in similar ways and do you use writing as a venting mechanism?

Absolutely. My first poem came to me a few years back after seeking help from a counsellor. I remember a session when she was trying her hardest to get me to describe and visualise the metaphorical ‘barrier’ I kept mentioning to her which I was placing between myself and others. I couldn’t do it, I didn’t know how to! I clammed up and walked out of the session. During the drive home something clicked, so I pulled over, and poured whatever I had in me onto paper (or a text message on my phone) and sent it to her. Recently I’ve wrote poems around the father son relationship and the struggles some men face when trying to articulate their feelings to their partners.

If you could collaborate with anyone out there (alive or dead), who would it be and why?

Stephen Fry. His mind is fascinating, his voice and storytelling heart-warming, and he’s just an all-round beautiful human.

Stephen Fry – We all love him.

Communication is at the heart of what you do – so you must see the correlation between writing and mental health!

The best description of this I’ve heard was in a men’s group when one of the guys said that everyone should either been seeing a counsellor or going to a support group, simply for the fact that when we are given the space to say how we really feel, the once illogical and crazy thought we’ve been building up in our minds loses its weight and impact on us. I know that at times when I’ve been chasing the chatter in my mind, it is often when I’ve not found a way to express or say what it is I’m thinking. Over time this can result in destructive behaviours, which is why it is so important to find ways of communicating what we think and how we are feeling. The ‘simple’ act of communicating is the most proactive form of positive mental health engagement.

Who are your writing influences, heroes and villains poetically, musically or lyrically?

So many names could go on this list, it’s hard to pick one or two! Anyone who has the ability to transform the everyday feelings, thoughts and experiences of humans into writings, stories and songs, gets a high five from me; and I’d say whenever I come across this ability, it has, and will continue to influence and inspire me in many ways.

I’d say a singer song writer friend of mine I’ve known for a long time has inspired me the most with his words. Like many of us, he’s struggled with self-belief and has been through extremely tough times, yet he has found ways to transform these into the most incredibly real and raw music. It helps that he has a spine-tingling voice too! Only a handful of people will have heard his songs as he does it mainly as a personal hobby and form of expression, and I’m lucky enough to get sent his stuff. I hope one day the world will hear what he has to say, if he chooses to do so. I know I’m biased in this situation, but I think we all have a friend we connect with like this.


A singer song writer friend of mine has inspired me the most with his words.

What quote/song/poem inspires you the most and why?

“The less I search the more I find.” This helps to keep me grounded and present in a world which makes us believe we need to be more and have more.

How do you see the future of mental health in men?

The more men begin to realise that they do not have to buy in to the script society tells us we have to read from, the more they will be free to express and choose who they are and can become. This has to start from within, and the more places, books, groups, people that are having this conversation, I believe we will see more men embracing this and taking real responsibility for their emotions and feelings. This will have such a positive impact on society as a whole, not just men.

Man don’t have to be like this.

What’s next for you and your groups?

For the groups, just to keep meeting, keep talking, and see where this takes us. I want it to become whatever the need of the men going need it to become. We have a framework and structure to the sessions which has been created by those attending, and this allows for a very inclusive, flexible and dynamic space. You can find flyers for the group scattered around Hitchin or drop a note to emergemensgroup@gmail.com for more information.

For me, I’d like to streamline my work and collaborate more with others. ‘Part time all the time’ doesn’t quite work that well, and more people working together for a common cause gets better results.

Thanks to Matt for sharing this with us – we’re sure that you, like us, wish him and his groups the very best of luck. If you would like to feature as a writer, a mental health advocate or anything word or mental wellbeing-based then do please contact us at paul@poetsin.com

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