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'After my marriage broke up, I tried to take my own life four times ... and then a kindly police officer gave me a reason to go on'

 

On the first anniversary of the murder of politician Jo Cox, Stephanie Bell talks to one man who has been helped by an organisation which those walking the country in her memory feel sure would have earned her approval.

Co Londonderry man Roy Brown was at his lowest ebb - homeless, starving and so deeply depressed he didn't want to live and tried several times to end his own life. Two years on and the 59-year-old from Limavady has turned his life around thanks to a new sense of purpose, friendship and a new "family" he has found at his local Men's Shed.

As the Great Big Walk and The Big Lunch came to Limavady to shine a light on the work of the Be Safe Be Well Men's Shed, Roy shared his story to show just how the service is changing and saving the lives of men suffering from loneliness and depression in the area.

The Great Big Walk visited the town on Day 10 of a 684-mile journey from Batley in West Yorkshire, where Jo Cox was MP. Part of an epic 21-day trek across the UK, the initiative launched by comedian Jo Brand has seen teams travelling home to every corner of the UK.

Walkers will finish simultaneously this Sunday, June 18, just in time to participate in The Big Lunch: the highlight of The Great Get Together set to be the biggest community celebration the UK has ever seen.

The Northern Ireland walk leaders, Noel Johnston and Olivia Cosgrove, have been visiting community projects all along the route to celebrate the good work people are doing behind the scenes to make life better for our communities.

They visited Limavady's Be Safe Be Well Men's Shed in an effort to draw attention to the outstanding work of the Shed team to improve the lives of the members and Roy was happy to share his story with them.

Roy is typical of the many men who have benefited from being part of the Shed. He has found a whole new sense of purpose since he joined it two years ago at one of the lowest points in his life.

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Roy Brown’s life has been completely transformed by Limavady Men’s Shed

Living alone in a cold caravan parked on a lay-by on the outskirts of the town with no food and no electricity, he says the isolation almost cost him his life.

Now he has his own key to the Men's Shed and spends seven days a week there, mostly honing his skills in the wood room.

When he joined the enterprise, Roy had been struggling with dangerous levels of depression and had tried four times to take his own life.

A local policeman started bringing him food and tried to help. He put him in touch with Men's Shed which Roy says has literally saved his life.

Originally from England, Roy moved to Northern Ireland nine years ago with his wife and baby daughter who is now nine.

He recalls how his problems started when his marriage broke up and his wife took their child back to England. He says: "When my relationship broke up I found myself with nowhere to live. I had nothing. I had to leave everything behind me. I went to live in a caravan we had. Shortly afterwards, my wife then left Northern Ireland with my daughter and went back to England and I haven't heard from them since.

"When I lived in the caravan, if it hadn't been for a very kind-hearted police officer called Eddie I don't know where I would be now.

"I had no heating, no lighting and some days I had nothing to eat. Eddie would bring me bags of food and fresh water when I needed it. I wrapped myself in four sleeping bags to try and keep warm.

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Roy Brown’s life has been completely transformed by Limavady Men’s Shed

"I was very depressed and could not see a light at the end of the tunnel. I tried four times to take my life as I had no purpose."

With the help of the local constable Roy moved from his cold caravan into a local Bed and Breakfast.

The constable urged him to go along to the Men's Shed and it took all his courage to make the move and introduce himself to the team but he hasn't looked back since.

He says: "I was at a very low point and found it tough going along to the Men's Shed on my own for the first time but they are a great bunch of people.

"I went in on a Friday and they welcomed me and told me they would be open on the Monday again. I turned up on the Monday and I haven't left since. It has given me a reason to carry on."

Roy is now a member of the committee at the Shed. Brought up on a farm, he says he has always enjoyed working with his hands. The Men's Shed has allowed him to go back to doing what he loves and most days he can be found in the wood shop where he makes models out of pieces of wood.

He started his career as a jockey but was involved in a workplace accident which cut that short. He then spent most of his life working on building sites but poor health forced him to retire early.

He says: "I grew up on a farm in Kent. I was used to horses and always loved them and years ago I was a jockey. That only lasted three years and ended when I was kicked through a stable door and after that I mostly did building work. I always worked with my hands.

"I'm now registered disabled and not able to work. I have a crumbling spine, asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Although I can't work I still need to be doing something and being able to work in the wood shed has been fantastic. I love to bake which I have also been doing again since joining Men's Shed.

"I am quite happy on my own now and I was lucky to get a flat just five minutes away from the Shed. Now that I have been elected to the committee, I have my own key and I would be in the shed most days.

"As long as I have something to do I can cope and Men's Shed keeps me busy. It has given me a sense of purpose and a reason to carry on. Without the place I wouldn't be here today and that is guaranteed.

"This is a lifeline for me. I would more than recommend it. If I knew someone who was in the same place I had been in, I would grab them by the scruff of the neck and bring them to this place. Without this place there would be far more people taking their own lives because they have nothing to do and no sense of purpose.

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Jo Cox

"I'm not proud of the fact that I tried to take my own life. When you are that low you don't think there is anything out there for you and you think nobody cares. I have made very good friends here and the staff are amazing. They are better than friends, they are like family.

"I've always suffered from depression and it still does get hard sometimes but when I feel down I just come here and I feel okay again."

Roy's support of the Northern Ireland leg of the Great Big Walk comes as the event culminates at the Holyland Big Lunch in Belfast this weekend.

Hundreds are expected to turn out for what will be a multicultural celebration aimed at boosting empathy between communities and celebrating the rich diversity in our society.

Peter Stewart, Eden Project executive director, sponsors of the event said: "The Great Big Walk shines a light on the positive impact that people coming together can have.

"We ask everyone up and down the country to stand together in their communities, support our walkers and cheer them on their way and join in on Sunday, June 18 to be part of the biggest community celebration the UK has ever seen."

The Great Get Together event marks the first anniversary of the murder of Jo Cox MP, and is inspired by her maiden speech to parliament when she said: "We have more in common and are far more united than that which divides us."

It will be the biggest community event across the UK since the Diamond Jubilee. Up and down the country, get-togethers are being planned - big and small - from Big Lunch street parties to barbecues and games of football to bake-offs.

The Northern Ireland event will culminate with the local walkers returning home to Belfast. They are one of five groups with the others finishing in Scotland, Wales, Cornwall and London.

The local walkers, Noel Johnston and Olivia Cosgrove, kicked off the event by meeting Jo Brand in Batley on May 29 before walking across England and then all around Northern Ireland, visiting local communities.

Their marathon walk took them to projects in Templepatrick, Larne, Belfast, Cushendall, Cushendun, Rathlin, Portrush, Portstewart, Limavady, Derry, Strabane, Sion Mills, Omagh, Enniskillen, Armagh, Newry, Newcastle and Millisle.

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