This blog was created by Phil Haigh and Jan Kenworthy of Glossop Rugby Union Football Club in memory of former player, Ben Stollery.

Back in March 2022, the committee at Glossop Rugby Union Football Club (GRUFC), was approached by one of its long-standing members and supporter of the club, wishing to anonymously provide financial sponsorship for the club with three main objectives in mind.

These were:

  • To create an existence and awareness of PAPYRUS within the club, which would help educate members on suicide prevention and advise on available support.
  • To provide equipment and funds to the Mini and Junior sections of the club.
  • and to create a lasting legacy for a young man who tragically lost his life to suicide, aged only 17.

And so, the seedlings of ideas were created, which inspired us as committee members to take up the challenge and see how this could be achieved.

In memory of Ben

Born in September 1996, Ben Stollery first began playing rugby at Glossop RUFC when he was 11, before continuing his journey at Stockport Grammar School where he played until he was 17. Ben played in the forwards, but most of the time he played at number 8 and was Captain for the last five years he played there. He was also one of the four Glossop players in his team selected for the Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire & Derbyshire (NLD) Schools of Rugby.

Standing at 6ft 4, Ben was exceptionally sporty, bright and sensitive. He had a wicked sense of humour and liked to make others laugh, which he did a lot from the moment he could speak. In the eyes of many, he appeared to have everything you could wish for.

Ben first began to struggle with his mental health when he was around 15. Still, like many young people experiencing internal challenges, he kept it to himself as much as possible due to the existing stigma. He was determined to find ways of helping himself to feel better.

However, sadly on 9 March 2015, Ben died by suicide at just 17 years old.

After his death, we accompanied Ben’s mum, Carol, at the PAPYRUS head office in March 2022 to speak about possible support, fundraising and our steps going forward.

We remember distinctively Carol saying, “I think the most important message is about not losing hope and knowing where to get help from; knowing that there is always hope. Struggling with mental health and suicidal thoughts is not uncommon, not something to be ashamed of and is widespread.  Latterly, Ben isolated himself to some extent from his friends, so again the message to friends is that just because someone is pushing you away doesn’t mean they’re ok.

Following that first visit, we left the PAPYRUS hub with a lot of mixed emotions, a much clearer understanding of the enormous family devastation caused after losing someone to suicide and an overriding anticipation of the difference that we could make within our club and community.

The seedlings had been sown.

We were full of respect, admiration and acknowledgement for the great work PAPYRUS do, and the support provided. We had the beginnings of ideas, the outline of an action plan and a bag full of leaflets, literature, pens, wristbands and flags ready to spread the word.

To do nothing was not an option.

In the following months, with full support from the club’s committee, we began to build a close relationship with PAPYRUS and received support from the charity with our goals. Together, the ground was being prepared to spread messages of hope and raise awareness.

What we wanted to achieve and how we raised awareness

As well as honouring Ben’s name, we wanted to ensure we could make a significant contribution to suicide prevention in our local community. As a committee, we agreed our aims were:

  • To educate people and raise awareness within our club membership and the wider community, by funding two PAPYRUS formal SPOT training courses within the first year, at which approximately 60 people attended.
  • We purchased two comma flags and a large gazebo, all of which had the PAPYRUS logo and were placed on our club pitches most weekends during games and training sessions. The gazebo was also taken to external rugby tournaments when the young players met other teams, spreading the name further afield.
  • We had a pull-up banner and a range of PAPYRUS resources on display within the clubhouse, including HOPELINE247 tear-off strips in strategic places for all to access. We also gave out PAPYRUS wristbands, pens and flags at several social events and featured them around the club.
  • We placed an advertising board alongside our 1st team pitch, which displayed the PAPYRUS logo and showed contact details.
  • We created an annual award for our Colts team, whose ages range between 16 and 18, to be given to a player chosen by their peers who best embodied the values Ben and his family held dear. Working closely with Carol, we set out these values and the award was given for Sportsmanship and Allegiance. This will remain a permanent feature at the club for years to come.

The roots were firmly planted.

Our ongoing mission

Since first pledging our commitment to making a difference, we have continued to raise awareness by promoting PAPYRUS and support from within the club at every opportunity. We have become deeply motivated to spread awareness, which saw us take on a number of initiatives, including An invite to the “Baton of Hope” movement last year where we represented PAPYRUS with banners and leaflets, and had many conversations with people looking for advice and support. Our subcommittee has also represented the club and PAPYRUS at several local events, highlighting mental health charities and raising awareness of support and help that can be accessed.

We participated in HOPEWALK events in October 2023, joined by most of our Mini and Junior teams (aged from two to 16), along with coaches, family members and friends. This raised vital funds for both the club and PAPYRUS, but more than that, it gave more people the opportunity to see the PAPYRUS logo, talk to us and learn what support is available.

We provided GRUFC rugby club socks to every member of our Mini and Junior teams, each given with a very positive message of how clean, dry socks help you feel good, warm and looked after in the same way that keeping an eye out for your friends and teammates also makes you feel cared for and supported.

We held a coffee and chat morning on 22 September 2023 to raise awareness and to spread the message that there is always someone to listen and help at the rugby club and to provide information on how else to get help and support.

It’s not only the committee members that have gotten involved with organising events to support the charity either. Our Under 11s team organised a sponsored walk up Mount Snowdon with family members and friends, sharing fun and friendship. They raised funds and awareness each step of the way, wearing PAPYRUS t-shirts and carrying collection buckets.

One of our young members, 8-year-old Dexter, told his parents that he wanted to take his PAPYRUS flag and t-shirt to school for his “show and tell” session, and spoke to his classmates about how important it is to help each other and look out for your friends.

Our Under 13 team, along with coaches, family and friends, decided to take on the challenge of walking around our local countryside while carrying a heavy weight that wasn’t allowed to touch the floor. They climbed over stiles and crossed streams and rough terrain, working together as a team to ensure they completed their task – showing that whatever the weight you are carrying, there is always someone to help and share the burden.

With the growing conversation within the club surrounding awareness, several people openly volunteered to talk about their issues with mental health and suicidal thoughts. They felt that they could talk about this openly now, which they hadn’t before, as a result of the trust that had been created between club members and the openness of the topic of suicide and mental health.

Importantly, we wanted to create a lasting legacy for Ben at the club. Working with Carol, we decided to plant two cherry trees, ‘Trees of Hope’, which would blossom every Spring after a hard Glossop winter. The trees represent that there are always signs of hope and new beginnings. The ground was prepared by members of the U13 team, and on 4 November 2023, the trees were individually planted and we were honoured that Ben’s Mum joined us to add the first spadesful of soil to fill the holes. We have since planted wildflower seeds and placed painted stones with messages of hope around the trees too.

With all this, the trees were nurtured and started to grow

We are proud to say that what started as a personal focus, has transformed into a community mission. We have built relationships with local primary schools and support them with resources; a local football team were inspired to organise awareness training courses for their own members, and we have formed a partnership with a local secondary school to enable more children to be introduced to rugby and the values of discipline and togetherness it brings.

When we first began our mission, it was clear there was a fear of the word suicide, and some found it a topic that shouldn’t be discussed in front of parents and children. However, after two years of gentle exposure to the work of PAPYRUS and from honest accounts from various members about their struggles with mental health, we’re now able to discuss this topic openly and our members feel empowered to open up and seek help.

What does the future look like for Glossop RUFC?

As a club, PAPURUS’s work is now an integral part of our structure, and more people are seeking to attend awareness training courses. Two members of our club’s mental health sub-committee have completed the two-day ASIST training to enhance their knowledge and serve as Club Champions, providing a focal point for anyone seeking help and advice.

Members, players, coaches, and parents continue to host fundraising events, as well as openly discuss mental health issues and suicide in a safe and caring environment. Suicide is no longer such a difficult subject to speak about and we have directly witnessed more people coming forward and seeking help.

The trees have blossomed, showing visible signs of new hope, and will be there for years to come.

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