John Pye – Helpline / voicemail volunteer

Early Years – Born in 1950, I grew up on a council estate 5 miles from Liverpool, near to a town called Huyton. I had a great education, and in secondary school I was always in the “A” stream. I stayed on school for an extra year in order to gain what were then “GCE’s” at “O”, (Ordinary) Level, and also one “A”, (Advanced) Level. My subject strengths seemed to be practical, which led to me serving an apprenticeship in Mechanical Engineering. Those readers old enough to remember will know the company I worked for from 1966 to 1973, the biscuit company Huntley & Palmers Ltd. They were a great company to work for as they believed in family values. Originally they were set up by a family, and the factory I worked in had many family members working there.


During my teenage years I, like most others, worked hard and played hard. Employment was easy to find, and with a little bit of money in your pocket at the end of the week you wanted to have some fun. Quite often that meant heading toward the big city lights of Liverpool where there were many pubs and clubs for entertainment. You don’t realise when you are that age, but Liverpool was the second largest port in Britain, and as such was visited by ships from all over the world. In those days there were far more sailors than there are now, and I think every second family I knew had a member who was a seafarer. It was quite common to be in the city centre and see sailors from the countries of South America, Asia, Australia and Europe. I recall the buzz in the city when the US Navy visited. The “Yanks” always had a higher standard of living than us Brits, and I am sure our girls took great pride walking down “Church Street” with a US Navy sailor on her arm.


I missed out on The Beatles era by a few years, but Liverpool was basking in that fame. So you went to the locations where they had played along with the other groups, The Searchers, Jerry and The Pacemakers, The Fourmost, The Swinging Blue Jeans, The Merseybeats and so on. The weekend was what everybody looked forward to after a hard week’s work, to go out, be entertained and let your hair down. But Liverpool had to cater for workers from all sectors, so there was entertainment laid on during the week for those who were busy at weekends. If you so desired you could go out every night of the week to different venues and never see the same group or act twice. The cinema was very popular, as very few families had their own television, and the hours of televised programs were limited to evenings. I recall no less than seven cinema’s in a stretch of two miles of the A57 road leading out of the city. Many big employers such as Otis Elevators, English Electric, Plessey and my company had their own social club. Then there were the political parties who had several social clubs throughout Liverpool, and very many churches both Catholic and Protestant also cashed in by having their own social clubs. So as you can see, I was spoiled for choice. Then of course there was Chester, Southport and Wigan not far away, with Manchester and Blackpool an hour or so drive.


Being a large city we always had two big football teams, Liverpool Football Club, and the Liverpool Reserves. For those readers who think I have forgotten another club, they are the ones, (Everton) the red half of the city never mention unless we defeat them. It is true that when I was growing up, the big money club was Everton who were able to attract big name players due to their wealth. L.F.C. were promoted to the top division in 1964, won the F.A. Cup for the first time in 1965 and were 1st Division Champions in 1966. Those heady days when Bill Shankly was manager, The Spion Kop roar could be heard up to three miles from Anfield, and that tightly packed ground could hold 72,000 fans. I loved the atmosphere before, during and after the football matches, and I attended as often as I could. I had a season ticket for a few years, but because of my work patterns I was unable to get to many midweek matches and buying a season ticket wasn’t cost effective. I believe I have seen the best of the best players for Liverpool, and the teams who visited over those years. Stanley Matthews, (in his late 40’s), George Best, Bobby Moore, Dennis Law to name but a few. And the Liverpool greats Peter Thompson, Roger Hunt, Ian St. John, Kenny Dalglish, Kevin Keegan, Emlyn Hughes, John Toshack etc. etc.


Middle Years – Marriage, children, houses, cars, holidays, family, friends and all the things which are really important in life came along during those years. Aged 23 and now a fully fledged tradesman, I changed my job and went to work for Ford Motor Company in Halewood. The car industry paid well, was relatively secure and the conditions were reasonably good. During my 13 year employment, I decided that I needed better qualifications. I had gained a City & Guilds Certificate during my apprenticeship, but I always thought I could have achieved more. I embarked on a course of study with The Open University over a 6 year period and gained a B.A. in Technology & Science. Several years later I would convert this with 2 more years study to a B.Sc. Hons. Degree in Technology & Science. My degree opened doors for me, and I was fortunate enough to study for a P.G.C.E. in Technology at Liverpool Polytechnic College thus enabling me to become a teacher. Alas, this was put on hold for a few years because of my family situation, but I eventually took up my first teaching post at a school near Maidstone in Kent and remained there for 11 years. I refer to part of this period as my second apprenticeship as I learned so much, and I had such wonderful colleagues who selflessly shared  with me their “good practice”.


I commuted from Kent to Liverpool every weekend during my first year to see my family. Just in case you are unaware, teachers holidays are quite good, so I was able to be at home during holiday weeks to make up for my absence. I had to have somewhere to stay from Monday to Friday, and it was my good fortune that my niece had married and was living in Orpington, Kent, a 20 minute drive from Maidstone. My niece had been brought up by my mother, so we lived in the same house for a number of years and we were very close. Alas, like us all, I have had my happy and sad times in life. It transpired that I lived with my niece permanently for a second year before moving closer to Maidstone. After 20 years in teaching, I was retiring in 2009 when my niece took her own life. She was 43 years old, had two children, was clever enough to get herself a degree while working, had many friends, was funny and the life and soul of the party type. She had so much to live for, but the illness depression was to end her life. Time helps, but my life has never been the same without her. She was like my little sister, and I loved her dearly.


Present – So I retired, and became self employed for a few years until my state pension could be claimed. I often wondered how I could turn the experience of my niece’s death into something more positive. In 2016 while “Googling” on my computer, I came across SOBS and decided to apply to volunteer on the “Helpline”. The rest is history, and here I am in 2021 hopefully helping callers find some comfort when they speak to me. I am sure my niece would be proud of what I am doing. I believe that the people who volunteer for SOBS are unique. They have a life experience that nobody else would prefer to have, i.e. being bereaved by suicide. Volunteers however realise their experience can help others cope with what can be devastating for many individuals. Collectively, I can’t think of another group of people so caring, selfless and dedicated to what they do. I must also add that without the support of our wonderful staff at head office, we couldn’t do what we do.

I am sure my niece would be proud of what I am doing.

I have had several house moves in that period, and now live in the little town of Westgate On Sea, near to Margate, Kent. I never wanted to live by the sea, but now I do, I don’t think I would want to be away from it. All of my house moves seem to have been further south and east. If that continues, my next move will be to Calais.