Olly’s Future was proud to donate £2,500 to the Support After Suicide Partnership recently. Ann Feloy, Founder, handed the cheque to Hamish Elvidge at one of their meetings in December 2019.
It’s been almost two weeks since I organised and co-hosted our third annual MENtal health open mic night, and I’m still beaming.
In March 2017, a month after Olly’s passing, I was faced with a challenge. I had met and had heard about other young people who were struggling with their mental health. Battling feelings of anxiety and depression, often triggered or made worse by their studies, students did not have an outlet for their emotions and kept things bottled up. It didn’t help that UCL’s mental health services were massively under-funded, and senior management seemed unwilling to accept or even acknowledge the university’s shocking suicide problem.
After Olly’s passing, I remember I approached UCL’s Student Psychological and Counselling Services seeking support. I’d never really dealt with bereavement before, not least the unexpected passing of a close friend. I emailed, explaining the situation, only to be told I had to wait six weeks to be seen.
This prompted me to think. Surely there were many more students like me who had no choice but to wait out the pain. I realised I was right. There were other students who had been bereaved, who were feeling anxious, depressed and even suicidal whom the university’s dire mental health provisions were failing.
People were bottling up their emotions, not because they wanted to, but because they had to. A six-week waiting list left you on your own to battle your demons. It just didn’t seem fair to me.
I wanted to create a platform for students to come together to speak up about their experiences, especially young men. To help them realise that they’re not alone. That there are people who care, and more importantly, people who want to listen to their story.
I collaborated with UCL’s Welfare and International Officer at the time, and we created Olly’s Future and Heads Up’s first-ever MENtal health open mic might in March 2017, aimed specifically at breaking the stigma around young men speaking up about their mental health. We didn’t know what to expect. We’d spent the weeks preceding the event telling as many people as possible to come along and share their stories, be it through spoken word, poetry, singing, or even just speaking their mind. We’d advertised the event on Facebook, through departmental mailing lists, and had plastered UCL’s walls with posters.
Around 60 people attended the open mic night, with the audience made up of students and young professionals. I remember looking out across the room, seeing people squished all the way to the back like sardines, who remained standing throughout the entire thing because there weren’t enough chairs for everyone that came along.
It was clear to me that there was a real need for an event like this.
And so we hosted the event the year after.
I remember a girl bravely coming up on stage, saying that she’d seen the event pop up on her Facebook timeline. At the time she wasn’t even sure if she was going to come, let alone come up on stage and share her story. She sat on the chair, and sobbed for a very, very long time. It was the first time she’d ever really acknowledged what she’d been going through. It was the first time she’d ever opened up to anyone about her mental health, not even to a friend or a family member. Yet she opened up to a room full of strangers.
That was when I realised the power of an open mic night.
By providing a platform for students to come together to speak, you’re telling them we’re here. You have a story and we’re here to listen.
This year we hosted our third MENtal health open mic night. And it was our most inspiring and empowering event yet. We heard mainly from male speakers who spoke on a variety of different topics including anxiety, anorexia and mental health from BAME and disabled perspectives, and from female speakers who spoke about depression, eating disorders and grief.
My heart warmed when one after the other, speakers ended their story with a Q&A session with audience members asking them how they had dealt with relapses and setbacks. It wasn’t a one-way dialogue. It was a conversation.
A male speaker who on the outset seemed typically “manly” (whatever that means…), opened up about how he had been battling with suicidal thoughts and had made several attempts on his life. He spoke with bravery, passion and eloquence. He told us that sport was an outlet, that jiu jitsu had saved his life. It allowed him to focus his negative energies on something tangible, on something productive. Here he had met his coach, who was now a close friend and a mentor, and someone who had experienced the same things that he’d been going through. He encouraged people to find their outlet. To find their passion, and to use it as an anchor to help them fight their darkest feelings.
On the surface many of our male speakers had typical “masculine” traits – tall, broad and bearded – characteristics that are often associated with stoicism. Yet together we had created an environment where these young men felt comfortable enough to open up, and even cry to a room of strangers. The courage and grace these young men had in opening up about their intimate experiences was so moving.
It made me think.
Perhaps the problem is not that these “macho men” are unable or even unwilling to talk about their feelings. Perhaps we’re the ones failing them by not providing them with an outlet to speak, to open up.
Hosting the open mic night for the last three years has opened my eyes. It’s made me realise that if you provide young men with a platform to speak, and if you create an open, non-judgemental and warm environment where they feel supported, then you will hear their stories. Every single last inch of the pain that they’ve been holding in up until this moment.
I came away from this year’s event feeling inspired, empowered and hopeful for the future. It made me realise that when people come together, we can change things.
Don’t wait for other people to act, not least the ones who are supposed to be looking after your best interests. Because often they won’t.
I’d encourage students to come together to organise initiatives like this. Open mic nights provide a rare and unique opportunity for students to speak up about their mental health. They’re invaluable.
Olly and I studied History together at UCL and he was such a huge part of my time at university, as he was to so many of his friends. Olly graduated with a First in 2016, and he was someone who sought opportunities wherever we went – from being involved in the Dance Society, to becoming fluent in French and German, and even taking on a compering role in the Jazz Society’s show at the Adelphi Theatre, among many, many other countless achievements!
After Olly passed away, friends and family were struck with a huge hole. Olly radiated so much love, warmth and positivity. It’s crazy how that can all be taken away in a split second.
We came together to form Olly’s Future to support young people who are experiencing similar things that Olly felt, especially young men, who are so often reluctant to open about how they’re really feeling. We want to show young people that they are not alone, that they’re never alone. By funding and delivering suicide prevention training, we hope to establish a strong framework of people all over the UK who are fully trained to provide young people with the support needed to help save their lives.
Olly’s Future is Olly’s legacy. And we hope to spread his Love & Light through our work, so that the love, warmth and positivity Olly radiated in our lives endures in the lives of others.
I opened up this year’s open mic night by saying,
“I know it’s a daunting prospect – the thought of coming up on stage speaking to a room full of strangers about how you feel. But look around. Every single person who is here today is here because they care, here because they want to listen to your story.”
We all have a story. And I believe we have a duty to provide young people, especially young men, with the space to open up.
To laugh. To cry. To heal.
It’s World Mental Health Day today. Hannah Taaffe, a great friend of Olly’s from UCL, is speaking to students at the University of Law in London about mental health issues, while Ann Feloy and Otis Kirby-Dunkley, who went to Christ Hospital with Oliver, is speaking on their home patch in Worthing.
Earlier in the week, Ann spoke at the first engagement meeting of around 50 pharmacists from across Sussex who play a key role in the community when talking to those who may feel suicidal.
Olly’s Future this week gave a cheque for £2,500 to Hamish Elvidge, Chair of the Support After Suicide Partnership, at its AGM at the CALM offices, Waterloo. We are very pleased to be working in partnership with this organisation to support those bereaved through suicide and to bring about national policy change.
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.
Today we want to celebrate Olly’s life and everything we have achieved two and a half years on at Olly’s Future.
Olly’s Future was formed out of a moment of great loss and sadness. But Olly’s spirit, warmth and compassion lives on through our work.
I’m so proud (and stunned!) to say that so far we’ve trained 822 people in suicide prevention (822?!), including staff at UCL and Christ’s Hospital, where Olly went to school.
Olly’s mum, Ann, alongside a team of other wonderful wonder women, is currently working in conjunction with the NHS and Mind on a project called Practise Hope. The project is working with 30 GP practises across the South East to improve GP support to young people who are suicidal or self-harming. Practise Hope aims to better equip doctors’ surgeries with stronger and clearer guidelines on how to respond to these vulnerable young people, who often turn to their GP first for support before confiding in anyone else.
Ann is also lobbying to change the NICE guidelines around prescribing anti-depressants – which doctors are currently able to do over the phone with no requirement of prior consultation with patients.
Two years ago, I came up with the idea of an annual Oliver Hare Altruism Award at UCL because I wanted to establish a legacy for Olly that captured his kindness and compassion – something lasting that would encourage others to be selfless in his spirit.
Anita Sangha, a Politics, Sociology and East European Studies student at UCL, is the winner of this year’s award. The staff member of the Students’ Union who nominated her said that in all her ten years of working in the role, Anita stood out because of her selflessness in the face of personal hardships.
Every year, I organise and host MENtal health open mic nights at UCL in collaboration with the Students’ Union where young male (and female!) students take to the stage to speak openly about their mental health. I always make a point to start by saying that, although the thought of coming on stage to speak about your mental health to a room full of strangers is pretty daunting, you should take comfort knowing that every single person in the room is here because they care, here because they want to listen to your story.
Students often perform spoken word, recite poems or just speak openly about what’s on their mind. This year, we celebrated the third anniversary of our MENtal health open mic night. For some, the event was the very first time they’d even tried to articulate feelings of anxiety and depression to their own minds, let alone to a room full of strangers. The courage and bravery of every single person who takes to the stage to share their intimate stories continues to blow me away. It reminds me that every one of us has a story to tell. And for young men especially, we need to tell them that it’s okay for them to share their stories, and I feel we have a duty to provide them with the platform to do so. And that’s what I hope our open mic nights do.
For those of you who’ve attended one of our open mic nights in the past, I’m sure you’re aware of just how powerful, moving and inspiring they are. For those of you that haven’t yet, watch this space and come along to our next one in March next year!
Two and a half years on, I’m proud to say that the stigma around mental health is slowly dissipating. More people than ever before are signing up to become Mental Health First Aiders. More people than ever before are feeling empowered to talk about their feelings – young men in particular. And we’re proud to be playing a small part in that.
Thank you so much to everyone who has joined us on our journey so far. And power to those of you who are struggling. You are not alone, and I hope we can support you as best we can.
Love and light, always,
Ayesha and the Olly’s Future Team
Read this story in the press here
On Saturday August 31st the South Downs were speckled with sparks of orange as more than 25 of Olly’s Future friends and family walked from Shoreham-by-Sea to Worthing in remembrance of Olly.
Over hills and along paths trodden many times by Olly, we arrived at his resting place – adorned by flowers and outlined with a halo of painted pebbles. He’s shining as bright as ever.
The 7 mile route took us along the Arun River, up to Lancing Ring, then Steep Down, Beggars Bush, Lychpole Hill and famous Cissbury Ring, which is an Iron Age Hill Ford and Stone Age flint mines. Chris, Olly’s dad, shared his knowledge of the history with us all along the way too.
Next years event will be on Saturday 5th September 2020 so make sure you have this date in the diary.
The Altruism Award was established in Olly’s memory for the very first time last year. The Award recognises UCL students who have demonstrated great commitment in supporting others. We know that a lot of UCL students do amazing selfless work on top of their academic studies that largely goes under the radar, so we established the Award to recognise and celebrate all their hard work.
We’re delighted to announce that Anita Sangha, a second year Politics, Sociology and East European Studies student, is the winner of this year’s Altruism Award!
Her nominee said:”While working at UCL for over 10 years in a student-facing role, I have had the pleasure of knowing many wonderful students. However, none have been so deserving of the Oliver Hare Altruism award as Anita.”
As well as having considerable caring responsibilities in her personal life, Anita has raised over £2,300 for The Brain Tumour Charity. She also founded a Cancer Research society at UCL, has campaigned on a range of issues she is passionate about and is heavily involved in the Students’ Union’s Zero Tolerance for Sexual Harassment campaign.
What stood out most for us when deciding on a winner was that as Anita noticed a change in her own wellbeing, she had the courage to take a step back and take time out for herself. Anita has clearly given so much time and energy into supporting others, but more than that, she stepped down when she needed to support herself.
Her nominee said: “Anita knows you cannot pour from an empty cup and she is concentrating on refilling hers. For this reason, she is an excellent role model.”
Huge congratulations to William Awdry, the winner of this year’s Oliver Hare Cup for the Best Musician of the Christ’s Hospital Marching Band! The Cup is presented annually by the Lord Mayor of London, who this year is Peter Estlin.
Olly was the Drum Major of the famous Christ’s Hospital marching band and led parades such as the Lord Mayor’s Show, Lord’s cricket ground and of course Beating Retreat on the last day of the school year.
Congratulations Anita and William, both very deserving winners!
On July 4th, a ground breaking initiative called ‘Practise Hope’ launched to help more young people get better support from their doctors’ surgeries. The 18-month pilot is a collaboration between Olly’s Future, Mind and Health Education England.
Thirty GP practices across Kent, Sussex and Surrey will be involved. They will be supported by three local Mind branches and each receive money to help implement new ways of working to bring about a culture change in primary care to better support distressed 10 to 25 year-olds. It is hoped the pioneering programme will be rolled out nationally after the pilot.
Of course at the heart of ‘Practise Hope’ is Olly, particularly because the Patients Care Lead for ‘Practise Hope’ is Ann (Olly’s Mum).
To find out more information about this project click here.
In May, two of Olly’s good friends Marcus and Otis ran over 240km from Worthing to Paris to raise money for Olly’s Future.
Donate to their Just Giving page here.
After two days in Camden, Olly’s Future have trained seven more people in ASIST including four of our own members: Ayesha, Caroline, Otis and Rory.
ASIST is an internationally recognised course that equips people with the skills to help those who are suicidal. The training was delivered by Ann alongside, Chukes, an ASIST trainer and former probational monk who also attended Christ’s Hospital in the seventies!
Our ‘newest’ Suicide First Aiders now join the two million trained world-wide. Together we are making a real difference.
In March, Olly’s Future held the second annual Love and Light party. This year we celebrated the incredible life of our dear friend, son and brother Olly sailing along the Thames past some of London’s most famous sites.
On Saturday night, almost 150 of Olly’s extended family and friends came together for a wonderful evening of live music and dancing with an epic view. There was also a wonderful raffle with plenty of money can’t buy prizes that raised over £1,000 alone in donations.
Thank you all those who came and made it such a wonderful night, remembering someone we clearly love so much. Oliver you live on forever in our hearts. Thanks to all those who were filmed for the documentary too.
Click here to see the full album from the night.
Be sure to save the date for next year’s party which is happening on Saturday 20st March 2020. More details to be revealed soon.
This year we celebrated the third anniversary of our mental health open mic night at UCL. Our courageous speakers spoke on topics including depression, anxiety, domestic violence and eating disorders.
The event was incredibly moving, and it was a real privilege to have the opportunity to hear people speak from the heart and share their intimate stories. We left the evening feeling inspired, empowered and hopeful for the future.
Pictured is Harees, a UCL Master’s student, who bravely opened up our open mic night and spoke about how he found a support system and an outlet through jiu-jitsu. Listen to Harees’ podcast, The Social Yeti, on iTunes and Spotify to hear about his discussions on topics such as mental health.
This was one of the most inspiring events I have ever been to in my life. A week on I am still so elated to know young men in particular, like those who spoke, have the courage to talk openly about their mental health and thoughts of suicide. That takes courage but by doing so they are breaking down all the myths and taboos that have prevented change and healing.Ann Feloy, after the event
A children’s book has just been published dedicated to Oliver and all money raised goes to Olly’s Future. It’s a beautiful book full of stories written by 120 Worthing primary school children with the opening sentence “It all began when the train stopped at Worthing.”
Ann had the enormous task of choosing the winner from all the entries. George Paoletti’s winning story about a dinosaur hunter called Jonathan is below.
Thanks to Dan, Lucy and Jonathan at Sawyers Estate Agents who came up with this enchanting idea. It has been so joyful to be involved. So far it’s raised over £375 for Olly’s Future.
For those of you who missed it, here is the BBC South Today clip featuring Olly’s Future on Thursday 13 September.
Ann spoke to Sean Killick about the work we are doing at Olly’s Future to equip people with the skills to help those who are feeling suicidal – so that Olly’s caring spirit lives on.