In September 2020, the 35-year-old thought about trying to 'set something up to reach other lads who might feel how I feel'.
Simply put, Scott Oughton-Johnson avoided discussing his emotions. Not throughout their subsequent custody dispute or when he divorced his children's mother 10 years ago. In 2017, after a decade of holding his own worries inside, it all became too much. “I was in and out of court for the best part of 10 years,” the community sports coach told The Guardian. “It was a nightmare. I bottled it all up. People would say, ‘I don’t know how you do it.’ But inside, it was terrible. The stress and anxiety were killing me.”
Oughton-Johnson saw his doctor and utilized the NHS to acquire cognitive behavioral treatment, but they can only “offer a limited amount of sessions,” so Oughton-Johnson wanted to find something to keep him OK even when he wasn't in therapy. “And one thing I enjoyed was walking,” he shared.
In September 2020, the 35-year-old thought about trying to "set something up to reach other lads who might feel how I feel". He set up a Facebook page that was open to the public and posted a video of himself discussing his mental health. He invited men who would like to accompany him for a walk and declared his plans. He said that he “hoped it would help other people out” in talking about their mental health.
Just one guy, or as Oughton-Johnson likes to call them, lad — turned up. “I was disheartened at first,” he shared. “I thought hundreds might turn up. But we were together for eight hours that night. We had so much to chat about.” But the following week, two more boys turned up to join him on his walk. “It kept growing and growing,” he says. He decided that limiting the program to his neighborhood would be self-serving, so he hired "walk leaders" to organize walks in nearby boroughs. It was the start of the Proper Blokes Club.
Through the club, walk leaders plan walks so that participants can walk and talk about their struggles from Monday through Thursday all around England. In Greenwich, Finchley, Wallington, Southwark, Sutton, and Woolwich this week, walks and discussions are taking place. The walks last between an hour and two hours. “People can peel off when they want,” he says. “They don’t have to stay until the end.”
Oughton-Johnson shares that the men are all added to a WhatsApp group, where they do a check-in each day. He shares, “We say, ‘Good morning. Hope everyone is all right. Have a good day.’ We’ve had incidents where people say, ‘I’m not in a great place; is anyone about?’ And people have gone and met them, or called them up.”
What an amazing message from an amazing bloke.— Andy Ward (@AndyWardITV) July 20, 2022
It’s very rare to find players these days who care about their club as much as Christoph clearly did.
He gave absolutely everything for #ncfc, both on an off the pitch, and remained humble throughout. Proper class act! https://t.co/RgcwtQiOkC
The club is meant to be a space for men to “have a safe environment to talk about things”, he says, “without the potential judgment you might get from friends and family.” It sure is working, members of the club say. “He’s helped so many people in such a short space of time,” says Nikki Spencer, who came across the Proper Blokes Club after seeing a poster during her GP surgery. “It’s not just the men themselves: having this outlet makes a difference to their families, too.”
The Proper Blokes Club has members ranging in age from 19 to 75. Unavoidably, friendships develop. “People have gone to each other’s weddings and birthdays,” says Oughton-Johnson. “Sometimes I take a step back, and think, this group of lads never knew each other a few months ago, and they’ve found lifelong friends out of it. It’s amazing.”
In the long run, Oughton-Johnson wants to incorporate the Proper Blokes Club as a community interest corporation, spread it over all of London, and ultimately make it available nationwide. “I get lots of messages from people saying they want one in their area,” he claims. “but logistically, I can’t do that at the moment. So I encourage them to start their own groups. Some women’s groups, and groups around the country, have started walking groups off the back of it.”
Oughton-Johnson offers a suggestion for his treat when asked about it: a trip to Paris. He had previously visited and had fallen in love with the place.