The groups are about mateship, developing connections, listening to other men and sharing joys, sorrows, achievements and hopes. By this, it’s hoped that members are be able to reduce loneliness, address issues that affect their lives, and enhance their health, wellbeing and lifestyle. Most importantly, members are encouraged to have a yarn and a laugh!
OM:NI men’s discussion groups have been running in New South Wales since 1999, and in Victoria since 2004; local groups are now found across Sydney, Melbourne, and in some regional areas in both states.
How the groups work
OM:NI men’s discussion groups meet monthly or fortnightly, depending on the group. In fact, because each group is managed locally, no two are identical; each has its own character. As an example, the Pakenham, Victoria group meets on the second Wednesday of each month as part of ongoing efforts to reunite and rebuild following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meetings are “very informal,” Beaconsfield member Ron Micallef told OneCOTA magazine, “and focus primarily on our core beliefs of acceptance, trust, mateship and understanding.”
“We are certainly not meeting to solve all the myriad problems that abound — we have politicians to do that,” he joked.
The groups are not political, they are not an activity or service group, and they are not anti-women. Sessions are held in safe spaces, and are always interesting, fun, and informative.
Each group meeting is guided by a facilitator – “a member of the group or is nominated and agrees to undertake the role,” Micallef explained – and is split into two parts.
The first section acts as a “catch up” from the previous meeting, Micallef said, followed by the “discussion of any general topics that arise and any feedback from COTA Victoria or the OM:NI Advisory Committee to be passed on to the members.”
The opening and closing halves of the meeting are separated by a coffee break before the group reconvenes to discuss “a topic agreed by all at the previous meeting,” Micallef continued.
“Participants can give as much as they want to, as there are no time restrictions,” he added. “All that is left to do is choose a topic for the next meeting and the meeting is adjourned.
More than just a meeting
“I remember my first meeting,” long-time Pakenham group OM:NI member, Ken McMaster, recounted to David Nagel of the Pakenham Gazette last year.
“I didn’t know what to make of it, but I was very quickly made to feel comfortable and welcomed by a very friendly group of guys,” McMaster continued. “I left work, retired, filled in 12 months of my time, but then I was a bit lost.
“OM:NI was recommended by a friend and I’ve been a member for 11 years now.”
Micallef detailed a similar start.
“I was introduced to my local OM:NI group via a good friend and neighbour,” he said.
“I wasn’t particularly looking to join a group, but his participation and the fact from day one that the group made me feel so welcome, sealed the deal,” Micallef continued.
“I came back for more meetings because my first experience was so positive. I felt things could only get better, and they have.”
“It’s all based on positive ageing; healthy ageing,” added COTA Victoria Volunteer Peer Educator, John Doutch, in a video that details the Narre Warren OM:NI group in action.
“We’re not taking about people with barbells, running 50 miles a day or something like that; we’re talking about people keeping their bodies fit and healthy,” he continued.
“Not just physically, but mentally, spiritually, and psychologically; making sure their twilight years are… the best years of their life.”
That positivity provides the chance to forge new bonds.
“I really enjoy [meetings] and the number one thing for me is friendship; we help each other,” added Berwick and Narre Warren member Brian Regan. “If I want help, I get help. If others want help, they get help. That’s what we do here.”
“You come in here, you’re relaxed; you make friends with a lot of people,” said a participant of a COTA NSW OM:NI group who detailed his experiences in another video.
“When I first joined, I knew three men a little bit,” he continued, “[but] now, they’re all mates of mine. Good mates. Friends.”
How to join a group, or start a new one
There are no formal membership requirements to join a group – to participate, simply contact the listed contact person for your local group.
If there is no OM:NI group currently in your area, COTA Victoria can support you to start a new group. COTA Victoria also provides guidance resources explaining the process, including a checklist of steps for setting up and promoting a new group, detailed information about how to lead a group and facilitate discussion, and a complete OM:NI information and resource manual.
Interested parties in New South Wales can also call COTA NSW on 1800 449 102 or email email@example.com for more information. Similarly, Victorians are encouraged to call COTA Victoria on 1300 135 090 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.