Men of Hope Cooks Up Community Connections


When Kevin Newton was invited to join a new men’s group set up by the mental health support team at UnitingCare West’s (UCW) Outer North Hub in Merriwa, his first reaction was, “no way, I don’t do groups.”

Two years on and ‘Big Kev’ not only looks forward to going along to the monthly meetings of the ‘Men of Hope’ (MoH), he has just been recognised by UCW for his volunteer work, teaching fellow participants how to cook.

MoH was set up by UCW’s Recovery Options team in 2016 when it became clear there were very few groups in Perth’s outer north designed to bring people together and connect them to community.

The team, headed by Community Connection Officer Gerhard Rousseau, established a men’s group, which became known as the MoH and invited participants to be part of a co-design process – to shape how it would work, their shared goals and vision.

Kevin reluctantly agreed to take part after his Case Worker suggested it would be a good idea to help him with issues around social isolation and to support his long-term recovery goals.

“Honestly, MoH has totally changed my life. I wasn’t interested one little bit, but my Case Manager said you have to give it a go, so I reluctantly went along to a barbecue at Quinns Rock Beach and was stunned,” Kevin explained.

“I was welcomed and for the first time in years, I was treated as an equal. From that day on I’ve only missed the group if I’m in hospital. I love it, it’s very social. If you want to talk about your problems, you talk about your problems, if you don’t want to, you don’t have to – it’s up to you.

“At one of the meetings, Gerhard asked was there was something else we’d like to do, and having a hospitality background, I suggested cooking.

“I said look, we’re all on pensions, we’re all on low incomes, so how about we do cooking to a budget and what to buy cheap, so we can prepare good food, rather than just eating takeaways?”

Kevin now runs the cooking group fortnightly, preparing the menu, method sheets and talking “a lot” about health and safety, food types and general food-orientated education.

“I’ve worked in the hospitality industry all my life, it’s my trade, but I can’t go back into mainstream work because of my disabilities, not only with mobility, but with mental health issues,” Kevin said.

“I really enjoy the fact that this cooking group has allowed me to pass on my skills, knowledge and passion for food to such a great bunch of guys and all the team at the Merriwa office.

“I’m actually hoping that we’ve reached the stage where the men can do a Certificate III in hospitality, so they can get work anywhere in catering. It’s up to them whether they want to do it, I’m not pushing anybody, and we’ll do it online – I’m just there to guide them.

“My thanks to Gerhard for pushing the cooking group to help change the health and wellbeing of the men  who come along – we have some great plans and ideas for the future!”

Gerhard said Kevin’s work had made a significant impact on the MoH group, teaching them important life skills and improving their self-confidence.

“Most importantly, it’s created an opportunity for the men to simply come together and share a meal, have a yarn and enjoy each other’s company in a safe, welcoming space,” Gerhard said.

9 October 2019