Joy and Phil Heal – Uttoxeter Group

We were very fortunate that when we lost our son to suicide in May 2011, someone noted details of Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide in their condolence card. This meant that we attended meetings at Ilkeston quite soon following our loss.

My husband Phil decided very quickly, that we should open a group local to where we live, as soon as possible.  We waited the 2 years recommended and held our first meeting in June 2013.

The first issue was to think of a third member to join our group. Our sister in law with her P.A. background seemed perfect, but in the end, she found the prospect too upsetting which we obviously appreciated as she loved Jonathan very much.  Luckily Jonathan’s best friend Jane stepped into the breach and is an invaluable asset to the team.

We started to look for premises a good 6 months before we planned to open. It was very difficult to find suitable premises that met the recommendations of the charity, at an affordable price, that would be available on the same day each month and within the insurance cover agreement.  Fortunately, we did eventually find our premises with disablement access, large car park, private access to our meeting room, toilets and kitchen area.

The next challenge was to advertise our existence.  A lady who lost her husband to suicide got in touch with Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide headquarters offering help to support us. She works for the Local Authority and managed to get our group details put on the GP Agenda. This has meant that every GP in Staffordshire has been given our details. To date we have had two GP referrals from different parts of Staffordshire.  She also managed to get me an invitation to join the Stoke on Trent Prevention of Suicide Strategy Working Group, were I can influence the agenda from the Survivors points of view.

Prior to our first meeting we drove around Stoke on Trent dropping posters and leaflets off at Health Centres, GP Surgeries and asking retailers to display posters in their shop windows.  We contacted several local free papers and they all published articles free of charge. We contacted the main local Newspapers who also published articles on our group free of charge.  I was invited to talk on BBC Radio Stoke before and after the first meeting which was very nerve racking.

Jane set up a Facebook page and email address for our Uttoxeter group – we have been contacted by several survivors via these medias.  At the meetings we have two very dear friends who provide us all with tea and coffee, biscuits and homemade cakes free of charge. They come to every meeting and make drinks as Survivors arrive at 7pm and make another drink around 8pm.

This means we don’t actually break the meeting and the Survivors always seem ready for another drink. It works for us. I personally worried a lot about actually facilitating our meetings. I have attended a few different meetings and each had its own way of doing things.

I still worry about people not turning up, I spend a lot of time speaking to newly bereaved on the phone. Some come to meeting, some are not ready or are not interested or are able to attend. I write to anyone I hear about being bereaved by suicide (provided I can find out their contact details) and enclose SOBS details.

We fundraise not only for funds but to keep our group in the local media.

Running a group is not easy, it is time consuming and as an emotional cost to yourself. However, the rewards of reaching other Survivors, some who are in a desperate state, to bring some comfort to fellow survivors and to meet and listen to some truly amazing and inspirational survivors means that we receive more than we give. To be there for someone else is our way of paying back the help and support we received and continued to receive from Eric and Geoff at the Ilkeston Group.

Did we appreciate just what we were taking on? Probably Not.  Would we do it again?  Definitely.

Good luck if you are thinking of setting up a group. Head Office will hold your hand and support you all the way.  If you want to talk to me then don’t hesitate to contact me.