Dudes are doing it for themselves at Hackney’s ‘urban oasis’
For four years, the Hackney Dudes have been getting together to enjoy each other’s company, make new friends and try new activities. Now, thanks to new City Bridge Foundation funding, the social group for older men is expanding its activities and enabling even more ‘dudes’ to come together…
In the leafy surroundings of Dalston Curve Garden, the Friday lunchtime calm is punctuated by birdsong – and the hubbub of male conversation.
“When I first came here, people were a bit shy because they’d become so used to lockdown,” says 95-year-old Irene Lewington. “Now, just listen to the noise!”
The nonagenarian, who lists parachute jumping and wing-walking among her more sedate hobbies, is a volunteer and ‘honorary dude’ – a regular at the Hackney Dudes’ Friday meet-up.
The group, co-ordinated by Dalston-based MRS Independent Living, was formed in 2019, plugging a gap in the market for a social group aimed at older males.
“There are tons of groups for women but not many just for men.” says 71-year-old Stephen Adams, from Stoke Newington (pictured here with Irene).
“Men don’t want to talk about their problems with women – they’d rather talk to other blokes. Here, you can come and have a chat and feel comfortable doing it because it’s not a formal situation – you’re just chatting with friends.”
Originally based at Whitmore Community Centre, in Haggerston, it faced an uncertain future during the Covid lockdown, until Dalston Curve Garden came calling.
“Without the garden, we wouldn’t have been able to continue,” says project lead Vicky Harrison. “The first thing the Dudes wanted to do after lockdown was to get out and about and meet up with each other, because a lot of them had become quite isolated.
“We create an environment where they feel safe and can be open. It has a big impact on their lives.”
The garden opened in 2010 on the site of a defunct railway line, bringing much-needed green space to north east London’s urban jungle.
“This setting is just great,” says Leyton resident Paul Lejeune who, true to his name, is the youngster of the group at 57. “It’s a chance to relax, enjoy this space and interact with other people while doing something creative.”
Paul is a member of the Dudes’ weekly art group, made possible thanks to £60,100 funding from City Bridge Trust – the City of London Corporation’s charity funder.
“Hackney Dudes is a real success story,” says the trust’s chairman, Giles Shilson. “It’s grown over the past decade into a thriving community where men come together, socialise and support each other.
“We’re really pleased our funding is enabling the group to expand and allowing members to reap the physical and mental benefits of getting creative in the company of others.”
The group’s weekly Friday lunch get-together is the Dudes’ bread and butter or, on the menu today, freshly cooked ratatouille and polenta.
The final word, tucking into this Franco-Italian feast goes to Italian-born Remo Mongiat, 71, from Dalston.
“When I come here, I switch off,” he says. “The atmosphere and the relaxation is fantastic. You feel like you’re anywhere else but London.”