Pat – Age 59

“A lot of people say you should respect your elders, but I think you should respect young people too. You have a bit more experience, but they have the energy. Being connected to nature is really important – I get grounded. I don’t wish I’d gone and made millions, not at all. I don’t have any regrets.”

If I were to give some words of wisdom to a younger person – there’s no one thing. Giving advice – it’s only coming from my perspective. You have to know that person’s story. You can reflect part of yours but you don’t want to project your stuff on to them. I would ask the person ‘What choices have you got?’ It’s multi-layered, like an onion and peeling off all the layers. You can share some of your stuff. You can say ‘That’s happened to me’ and it might still be happening. This extends to our lives – you’re never going to get it completely sorted. It’s all going to be a work in progress and you’re always going to have your demon. It’s just knowing where it is and knowing where your enemy is. Your biggest enemy is probably going to be yourself.

There’s quite a lot of men in the city that do mentoring here. There’s Beyond the Hero, which is for older guys and Quest is for younger men. The process is very similar – it’s a psychodynamic weekend. You don’t know what to expect when you go on there but it brings stuff to the surface and it is an incredibly bonding experience. We got accused of being a cult once, which it’s not. If you knew what to expect, it wouldn’t have the same impact. We’ve got so many different areas up and down the country – it’s expanding and we’ve got them in Cornwall, Oxford, Eastbourne, Crawley. It started in Brighton in 2008 – the core guys did it. I’m not always very good at being part of a system – I tend to rebel against it. Up here, there’s a slightly anarchic feel, which I really like. We’re all pirates here.

The thought of coffee is the thing that normally gets me out of bed in the morning. I’ve always worked in the natural world most of my working life, going back to 1979. I started as a woodsman and a gardener. Being connected to that world is really important to me and I come up here first thing in the morning and light a fire to boil the kettle. So, sometimes just the thought of that – I’m in a natural space. Once you’ve come off the bus and you’re in a natural environment, I get grounded. I do get a little bit heady if I’m inside for too long, if I have a weekend where I’m in the flat, because that part of Brighton is quite sterile and unnatural. There’s pebbles and stones. I start to feel it after a while where I’m longing for green trees and spaces. Doesn’t matter what time of year it is. A lot of the work with Band of Brothers is also nature connected. That’s what gets you up in the morning, and what you’re doing is positive. You’re never going to be a millionaire doing this but you are making a difference. We’re working with students who don’t normally get a chance. This is a different approach. Mentoring and therapeutic work are just as important as the educational side of it.

What I like is – this has happened in the last few weeks – I was just about to get on the bus and a wheel came across me and sort of blocked me, and someone said ‘Hello’. There was this big tall lad there and I looked at him, and then I saw in his eyes last time I saw him, he was about that big and he’s doing building work now. I was in the Bevy pub, someone called my name, and it was a lad that I’d worked with, helping him do a qualification a few years back. It was his 18th birthday and he was having a pint. It’s just really nice to see these guys again, but they’re all big and they say how much they enjoyed coming up here and asking how everybody is. That is actually brilliant – it’s a bit of gold. It’s nice to take that. I’ll own that for a while, because you made a big difference in a time when they were at school and they were on the edge of being excluded. This is a stable place, working with Phil and everybody in the garden. We provide them with almost a safety net. I don’t think schools always will value that because it’s hard to quantify.

I don’t have any regrets. I don’t wish I’d gone and made millions, not at all. Because I’m going out of this world exactly the same way as I came in – with nothing. My Nan used to say ‘There’s no pockets in your shroud’. All you’re going to go out with is your experiences really, and what you’ve given and received. I think a lot of that comes from working with the natural world for a long time – there’s a humility to it which you get after a while, which comes from the fact that you’re part of a much bigger thing.

Working with people with disabilities, especially in the gardening environment, creates very much a family atmosphere. When young people from the schools come here, they meet different types of people. So we’ve got adults with learning disabilities, we also may have students from the unis, we may have refugees. The effect of the garden is like dropping a pebble in a pond – it kind of resonates and filters into everybody in here. You can tell when we have lunches and dinner how integrated everybody is. Our young people get involved in that as well. It’s a really unique perspective, life-wise.

I play the Delta Blues. When I first came to Brighton, I did a lot of open mic sessions. I like jamming with other people more so. I was in heavy metal bands years ago – nobody you’ve ever heard of. My son is really into Pink Floyd and all prog-rock, and heavy metal, and I was sort of there when it all came out. Music has done that – it’s not that dissimilar now to when we were listening to it. I’m just waiting for that time in old people’s homes where you’re going to get people asking ‘Have you got a bit of Floyd, or a bit of Clash?’ and that’s going to be really surreal.

Working with young people does keep me feeling younger but I’m aware of my age and I’m quite happy in older age years. I don’t want to be young. It’s a funny one because we are who we are – it’s about keeping your personality. My youngest son, Alfie, is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met – we laugh hysterically. So, you’re looking for that same energy that made me misbehave at school and virtually get chucked out – it’s still there and I quite like that. Give me a place where you’re supposed to be serious and I can’t stop laughing. I don’t know what age I feel – I’m nearly 60 but I don’t particularly feel it. It’s a funny thing because my father died at 60, and I’m approaching that time. I’m not my dad, I have a different kind of outlook on life. I think I feel younger than he did at this age because I think my parents didn’t belong to a youth cult, whereas we all did. In their past they didn’t have that – they came through the war as children and I think was pretty serious at that point. We all experienced a youth cult so we understand, say ‘Yeah I used to do that’ or ‘Yeah I did that. I used to go out and get drunk and fall down escalators and stuff like that, and they didn’t. They became older much quicker. The downside of it is, our young men don’t have a rite of passage. They don’t know the division, whereas at that time you would have aspired to be like your dad or your uncles. People their own age – their peers if you like – they are their influences. It’s hard to get a middle ground.

You can get very serious as you get older – you wonder if anyone’s going to park in your parking space and it’s really good if you can deconstruct that. We left and moved to France at about 40 and we just laughed and left, and moved away. I remember clearing out the attic and it was really sad, because it was the memory of the house, but I’m glad that I detached from it because now I don’t have that attachment to that kind of thing. If you don’t have so much, it’s easier to call it the ‘f*** it’ factor and you think to yourself ‘f*** it, that’s it, I’m done’. It’s very liberating because we get caught up in ownership, how things should be, that person is doing this. We came back from Brighton to France and had to start again. I’m grateful for that because it’s fuelled- I’ve done so much in my 50s that has been challenging and I wouldn’t change that for anything.

It’s really important that our lives are cross-generational. It’s not healthy for old people to be together or all young people to be together. A lot of older people say ‘You should respect your elders’ but you should respect the young as well. It’s a mutual respect of what they can do – you’ve got a bit more experience but they have the energy. You can feed off their energy because young people don’t know that anything’s impossible. I think young people’s response to older people in Brighton is really good. I’ve never seen prejudice. I think it’s all down to attitude. Going to Glastonbury – I’m not doing that trying to be young – when I’m tired, I’ll go to sleep. I think that’s it and it’s amazing how you can sleep with that much noise going on. I love live music and Glastonbury isn’t limited to one generation, it’s open to everybody.

I enjoy the fact that on Friday nights, I don’t have to get up for work the next day. I can literally just veg out. Where we live, there’s a lot happening around us, so sometimes we might go out for a meal – you’re spoilt for choice. My favourite spot is Ephesus, which is Turkish, they do this kebab minced lamb wrap which is just the nicest thing I’ve ever eaten.

One thing I have missed in Brighton is that my children have all moved away. We don’t come from Brighton originally – we’ve been here since 2008, when we came back from France. When I was here, my son was here and so was my daughter. My middle son is still here and he’s autistic. I meet up with him every Saturday and go out for a coffee. I miss their presence because they’ve got lots of energy. My daughter was a tattooist while she was here. She’s in Cumbria now. I go up there and go climbing mountains and canoeing. My son and grandson live in Belfast.

If I was to give a young person a book that I’ve read, it would be anything by Terry Pratchett. The four books about Tiffany Aitken – Snuff or The Thief of Time. That guy hides so much in his books with his sense of humour. I recall one line where he said someone was annoying somebody. He said ‘It’s like you’re scratching your fingers along the blackboard of my soul’. That was brilliant. The dialogue is so funny and he kind of looks at serious stuff. I can read a Terry Pratchett book and I feel totally light when I come off. He has a great way of looking at life.