CBeebies star assembles Dadvengers to help new fathers

Members of the Dadvengers Norwich peer support group in Eaton Park

Members of the Dadvengers Norwich peer support group in Eaton Park - Credit: Mark Stevenson

Becoming a parent is one of the most exciting things that can happen to anyone - and also one of the most frightening.

And dads often find they struggle when a tiny bundle of noise and dirty nappies arrives.

But now dads and expectant fathers can share anxieties in a pioneering walking group aimed to break down barriers to help men talk about mental health struggles.

Dadvengers, was set up at the start of the Covid pandemic, by father-of-two Nigel Clarke who is also a presenter of CBeebies programme Baby Club and Toddler Club.

It began with podcasts, web chats about issues fathers were worried about.

Members of the Norwich Dadvengers group during a walk in Eaton Park, Norwich

(From left) Alex Dancila with his daughter Emily, three, Dadvengers founder Nigel Clarke, Nick Falla with his son Teddy, four, and Dadvengers director Mark Stevenson with his son Grayson, four, at a Dadvengers walk in Eaton Park, Norwich - Credit: Sophie Wyllie

It also organises walks for dads to share concerns and meet other parents and Norwich is the first city outside of London where these outdoor sessions take place every two weeks in Eaton Park from 10am.

Mark Stevenson, 38, from Queen's Hills in Costessey, who has a four-year-old son called Grayson, became a director for the community interest company in 2020.

Mark Stevenson, director of Dadvengers, with his son Grayson, four

Mark Stevenson, director of Dadvengers, with his son Grayson, four - Credit: Mark Stevenson

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Mr Stevenson, who works for Liverpool Football Club, said: "It is about supporting people through the fatherhood journey from the initial point you find out you are going to be a dad and covers issues including coping with sleepless nights. Talking about mental health is a priority.

"Historically, men did not talk about how they felt about things and put on a brave face."

He added that when he went to a baby group with his wife, before the pandemic, he felt awkward and there are still issues with support being directed towards mothers and the language used towards men who are looking after their children including "babysitting" or "giving mum a break".

"Childcare is a team effort and should not all fall to one person," Mr Stevenson added.

But he said attitudes were improving and the stigma that men did not do jobs like changing nappies was changing.

Mr Stevenson added: "The parenting journey is incredible and we want dads to feel they can flourish. It is about breaking down barriers."

The dads and children in the CBeebies Baby Club programme, presented by Nigel Clarke

The dads and children in the CBeebies Baby Club programme, presented by Nigel Clarke - Credit: Nigel Clarke

Mr Clarke, 44, from London, said the Dadvengers idea came out of an episode including only dads and and he realised there were not many spaces for fathers to meet.

He said: "There are a high number of men that suffer from postnatal depression. There needs to be more organisations helping dads."

Cbeebies presenter and Dadvengers founder Nigel Clarke with his two children

Cbeebies presenter and Dadvengers founder Nigel Clarke with his two children - Credit: Nigel Clarke

The presenter hoped the walks would be replicated in cities across the country through council funding.

Visit www.dadvengers.com

Call for better support for dads

Fatherhood can be isolating and extra help is needed for helping parents going through mental health struggles, according to a support group for boys and men.

Andy Wood, projects co-ordinator for MensCraft charity which has its headquarters in Pitt Street, Norwich, said: "Dads can feel quite isolated if they are doing the childcare at home.

"We get a lot of dads coming forward with mental health issues. We desperately need specific support groups for fathers."

Daniel Williams, chief executive of Home-Start Norfolk

Daniel Williams, chief executive of Home-Start Norfolk - Credit: Home-Start Norfolk

Daniel Williams, chief executive of Home-Start Norfolk, which supports families, said: "We know the value of peer support for parents. It is fundamental. 

"There is greater equality now in terms of parenting and who provides what. Dads can be the primary carer. It is really important that men are able to play their part."