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3 November 2022

‘We could have saved a life or two’ – father’s multiple marathon challenge to save lives through mental health support

In 2019 Simon Jones tragically lost his son, Tim, to suicide. He was just 17 years old.

Tim was a popular member of the horseracing community and a member of the team at Micky Hammond’s training yard in Middleham, North Yorkshire. Since the tragedy, Ripon-based Simon has taken on various fundraising challenges to support Racing Welfare’s Mental Health First Aid courses, raising more than £25,000 to date. His latest challenge has seen him take on seven marathons in a year. Having completed London earlier this month, he now sets his sights on the iconic TCS New York Marathon on Sunday 6th November.

Simon said: “More than three years on from losing Tim, I’ve not lost sight of the ultimate goal which is to have a trained Mental Health First Aider in every workplace in the horseracing industry.  It’s amazing knowing that more than 500 people have received mental health training, and almost 250 are now qualified mental health first aiders, since I began my fundraising just two and a half years ago, but we know there is more to do.

“This year I set out on my multiple marathon challenge to build on the fundraising I’d done since Tim’s death, to fund access to even more training places. By the time I get to New York, I’ll have covered 1,500 miles in training, burnt 160,000 calories and taken over 3.6million steps!

“I’m really looking forward to taking part in such an iconic marathon. I’m driven by the success we’ve had so far with this training programme, and the thought that we could well have saved a life or two by getting so many mental health first aiders in place in racing’s workplaces.”

With one in four people affected, mental health awareness is a concept the horseracing industry must embrace and embed into its working culture 365 days of the year. Racing Welfare is working hard to achieve this through its programme of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England accredited training courses.

The charity runs heavily subsidised Mental Health First Aid and Mental Health Awareness courses up and down the country, both online and in-person. Usually priced at £300 for the two-day first aid training, and £125 for the half-day awareness course, those working in the racing and breeding industries can book for just £80 and £30 respectively – thanks to Simon’s fundraising efforts.

Racing Welfare’s vision is to have a Mental Health First Aider in every workplace in the horseracing industry. A Mental Health First Aider is trained to recognise the early warning signs and symptoms of a person struggling with their mental health. The training also helps individuals build confidence to start up a conversation, offer support and, if appropriate, signpost to professional help.

Hayley Clements, secretary at Micky Hammond Racing, completed Racing Welfare’s Mental Health First Aid course in the months after Tim’s death.

Hayley said: “I completed the course in Middleham over two years ago. I found the training very informative and helpful, enabling me to identify when work colleagues are acting differently and how to approach and ask the right questions or just to listen so they feel reassured and at ease. I also learnt to always let new and existing work colleagues know I am always here if they feel they want to speak about anything, however big or small, and that what they say remains confidential. We have a policy at work that we check in on everyone every day just to ask if they are ok. If they have any worries we encourage them to come and talk about it.”

This policy has already greatly enhanced the working environment and culture at the racing stables. When Caitlin Nellis started working at the yard in early 2021, her first full-time job and the first time living away from her family, she found herself in need of emotional support, she says:

“I was only 16 at the time, and I was missing home and finding it hard to socialise. It’s such a supportive working environment at Micky’s that people quickly picked up on how I was feeling. Everyone here checks in with each other every day, it filters through the whole team from Micky and the senior staff through to everyone on the ground. That’s how they identified that everything wasn’t quite as it should be with me, and the assistant trainer put me in contact with Racing Welfare so I went to the Middleham office for a few chats with Gail (Welfare Officer).

Caitlin received emotional support from Racing Welfare’s local welfare team.

“Without that intervention, and the ongoing support I’ve had in the workplace, I’d no doubt have left the yard and the racing industry to move back home. I’ve now been working for Micky for almost two years and am feeling much better about things. I know if I am struggling I have people I can turn to at work and at Racing Welfare.”

Simon Jones reflects on this year’s fundraising efforts: “I set out this year to complete seven marathons, but to be honest New York is going to be my tenth since Tim died, and I can’t see myself stopping! I’ll complete this seven-marathon challenge in Seville in February, but then I already have my sights back on Paris again in April. I’ll need to stock up on trainers!”