Death of beloved son inspires Hope for Life event in Harrogate

A new conference will look at why more men are taking their own lives. The organiser lost his son and one of the speakers was saved by a stranger. Catherine Scott finds out more.

Jordan Phillip from Horsforth whose death two years ago saw his father Steve pledge to raise awareness of suicide in young men

It is two years since Jordan Phillip took his own life.

The 34-year-old, from Horsforth, had battled with depression for years.

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Within days of his son’s death, Steve Phillip decided to write about what happened and in February 2020 he launched The Jordan Legacy.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with former patient Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn (left) during their visit to St Thomas' Hospital in London while promoting mental health issues and to highlight the help available for those who threaten to take their own lives.

He made a commitment to help prevent suicides through collaboration with local communities and workplaces by encouraging practical actions which could save lives.

Now Steve, from Pannal, near Harrogate, has organised the first Hope for Life conference, in Harrogate, aimed at raising awareness of suicide in young men in particular and what can be done to reduce the growing number of men taking their own lives.

“Our mission is to improve people’s mental wellbeing and the support available; to reduce people’s sense of social isolation; to encourage the development of a kinder society; and help people feel a sense of achievement and contentment because of who they are not what they have or don’t have,” says Steve.

“In Jordan’s memory we will help those I know he would have helped if he was still here.”

Steve Phillip from Pannal who is organising the Hope for Life conference in Harrogate in memory of his son Jordan

Steve has assembled a number of speakers to talk at the event, among them is Jonny Benjamin MBE, an award-winning mental health campaigner, film producer, public speaker, writer and vlogger.

At the age of 20 he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a combination of schizophrenia and bipolar.

In 2008 Benjamin’s life was saved by a stranger who talked him out of jumping from a bridge.

A few years later he decided he wanted to raise awareness of mental illness and suicide and in 2014 he launched a social media campaign with Rethink Mental Illness to #findMike – an attempt to find the man who talked him out of jumping off a bridge when he was suicidal.

Adventurer James Ketchell will be speaking at the Hope for Life conference in Harrogate

Benjamin said: “I thought I probably wouldn’t find him and if he did whether or not he would want to meet me.

“I didn’t even know his name and years had gone by, but I thought it was a good way of raising awareness and to try to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. I had no idea how it would take off.”

The campaign went viral and the man who saved him, Neil Laybourn, came forward.

“It was unbelievable, really,” says Benjamin. “It was his fiancée who saw it reposted by a friend of a friend of a friend on Facebook.”

Jonny Benjamin who will be speaking about his battle with mental health at the Hope for Life conference in Harrogate

He says the reunion was very emotional for both of the men. The moment was all captured on film the story of the campaign was made into a documentary film, The Stranger on the Bridge, which was released in May 2014.

“I just wanted him to see how far I had come since that day on the bridge.”

The pair have since combined forces, with Laybourn, a personal trainer, giving up his day job to help Benjamin in his quest to help people, particularly the young, who have mental health issues,

In 2016 Benjamin launched ThinkWell, a mental health programme for schools, which has so far been into secondary schools across the UK with huge success.

“We have to start early when it comes to mental health,” he says. “Even primary school children, particularly since the pandemic. We are seeing a rise in eating disorders in boys and girls from a very young age, and that is very worrying along with the issue of social media.

“You wouldn’t give a child a car without any driving lessons and yet we hand very young children a mobile phone that can access all manner of disturbing things without any guidance whatsoever.”

Benjamin spent 2017 writing the first of two books on mental health that was published in May 2018.

His second book, The Book Of Hope, is a collection of quotes, poems and stories by himself and others to inspire recovery and hope.

In 2018 he launched his new youth mental health charity, Beyond.

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It is being led by a Youth Board, who together with Benjamin created the UK’s first mental health festival for schools and colleges. A second one is planned for early next year.

He says he still has bad bouts with his mental health which often involved him being hospitalised. It is hard for those around me, in particular Neil.”

He says he is looking forward to taking part in the Hope for Life conference in Harrogate. “I read about Steve’s story on LinkedIn and was really moved by it. When he approached and asked if I’d be involved I said ‘yes’ immediately. He is brilliant and what he is doing raise awareness of suicide is really important.”

Another speaker at the conference is adventurer James Ketchell.

“I had a motorbike accident quite a long time ago. Ever since I was a boy I’d dreamt about rowing the Atlantic and when I was lying in hospital facing the prospect of not being able to walk I was determined that if and when I recovered I would row the Atlantic.” And he did.

In February 2014, Ketchell became the first and only person to complete the triathlon of rowing across the Atlantic Ocean, climbing Mount Everest and cycling around the world.In September 2019, he became the first person to make a continuous circumnavigation of the globe in an autogyro, flying for 175 successive days. But despite all these massive achievements he says he still has days where he struggles.

“I think that’s what I want to get across at the conference that no matter who you are or what you have done, we all struggle at times.”

He says he has learnt to deal with things when they don’t go according to plan.

In 2015 he attempted to row 3,600 miles across the Indian Ocean from Geraldton to Mauritius with fellow Scouting Ambassador Ashley Wilson.Their aim was to raise awareness of epilepsy among young people as well as supporting other charities (including Young Epilepsy and the Scouts).

The expedition ended 200 miles off the coast of Western Australia when Ketchell’s rowing partner sustained a serious head injury during a storm and needed to be rescued.

While planning future extreme adventures, Ketchell gives talk to school children giving his advice on how to overcome adversity.

“The most important thing is sharing,” he says. “Never be too proud to ask for help. I have also learnt to try to not overthink things. Worrying gets you nowhere.

“When I was about to take my gyrocopter around the world I was obsessed about all the things that could go wrong, but in the end none of them did.”

For more information on the Hope for Life conference and to get tickets visit