Mental Health is an important topic at the moment, it’s important any time, but when faced with periods of isolation from family, friends and loved ones, as COVID restrictions are placed upon us, it jumps a level in priority.
Paul Oxborough is a man from Chesterfield who works in organisations that make a change and when he lost a close friend to suicide, he decided it was time to get busy.
“My background is in youth and community work,” says Paul. “I started my professional career at a comprehensive school in Milton Keynes, I was the interface between the formal education in school and the things that the students got up to outside of school. We ran a youth club that brought children together and helped find ways to engage them in education when things weren’t going as well at school.
“We had around 120 children each night in the club and I became good friends with many of the families, staying in touch via social media after moving away from the area.”
“One of the group had qualified as a vet but suffered from a condition called Marfans Syndrome, an inherited disorder that affects connective tissue - the fibres that support and anchor your organs and other structures in your body.
“In his 30s, he took his own life using veterinary drugs to administer self-euthanasia. Although most people with the condition live into their 70s, he didn’t want to be a stress on his family and those around him.”
Unfortunately, with suicide this is a common theme, people not wanting to be a burden on anyone. “It’s a shocking fact that so many brilliant people take their own lives. I was chatting to a close friend of mine, Jay Lucas, and we decided something had to be done,” explains Paul.
Paul’s background in youth and community work, presently with the EU Erasmus programme, equips him to help make a difference, plus he’s been a keen motorcyclist for over 30 years. Paul and Jay developed the Mental Health Motorbike project and set about launching it in March… just as COVID struck.
“We went to a bike show in December 2019 with the idea and were overwhelmed with the response,” says Paul. “We had a number of other events planned that were cancelled so decided to take it online. We set up a members-only Facebook group so people could talk openly, it’s fast become a vibrant space for nearly 700 people to talk about their mental health. We promote it in a positive way and have a sympathetic group of moderators who ensure things stay on topic, no wandering off into online arguments or inappropriate discussions.
“In April, the group quickly grew to around 400 members for a few weeks then seemed to snowball after this. We’ve had about 28 people present themselves at point of suicide since March, the group is set up so we can spot key words and in these situations we can take people off into a one-to-one chat to get them to a more stable state before involving other support agencies.
“At the moment, many people are feeling isolated and the group helps people find a place to come, the love of bikes is the glue that holds us together it brings people together to chat, arrange ride-outs and meet ups. It’s a lot more than a simple Facebook group, it really has saved lives already in its short existence.”
Paul was keen to explain that not everyone involved has a bike but it’s this connection that brings them together. The group now has over 2,500 members, 12 moderators, 52 Ambassadors and another 2,800 people involved with fundraising. It’s been so successful it has the backing of Bennetts Insurance, one of the biggest names in motorcycle insurance cover.
“We have a ‘virtual rideout’ on Sundays at 7pm, a chance for people to get together, we usually have a theme or guest, such as Motorbike Milly, a dog who travels on a bike, biker celebrities like this help us spread our reach for MHM and what we’re doing,” explains Paul.
In parallel to the group, MHM member Andy Elwood, previously a military helicopter medic, runs the MHFA England mental health first aid course and since September has trained 26 new first aiders.
It’s a blended learning course run through Zoom and throughout 2021 the group aims to train a further 250 people to be part of the first free national dedicated mental health support service for the biker community.
The trained first aiders are then added to a database and an interactive map which will eventually cover the whole of the UK. Today 52 ambassadors are in place. “The group is about the long-term wellbeing of our members, getting to the root cause of issues, isolation and providing long term opportunities as volunteers once they are in a better place,” says Paul.
Next year in May, MHM plans a 3000+ mile baton relay event involving 1000’s of bikers and celebrities across the UK, calling in at bike dealerships and related businesses where they hope to get companies and organisations to sponsor the Mental Health First Aid course for their staff. The Mental Health First Aid course saves lives by giving a sympathetic ear and support for people in need.
It’s exciting times ahead for the group and if you want to see what they’re all about or could volunteer your assistance they can be found at: