How a charity operating out of train carriages is saving men's lives in West Yorkshire by championing mental health

This is the journey of how a crisis charity, operating out of a converted train carriage in Huddersfield, has gone from saving four men to helping more than 500 find their way through the darkness, in just two years, Ruth Dacey reports.

'I was fairly desperate, I did think about suicide - with depression you go through peaks and troughs, and certainly during that period four years ago - it was a very difficult time. I reached a point where I realised I had to change because otherwise it would have been extremely bad'.

Meet Bob Morse, who managed to turn his life around - from the depths of despair and thoughts of suicide - to becoming the co-founder of Platform 1, a crisis charity helping men across the Kirklees community tackle depression, survive and then thrive.

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Feature on Platform 1 Huddersfield. Pictured from the left are Bob Morse and Gez Walsh..the founders of Huddersfield-based charity Platform 1... 7th October 2020..Photo credit: Simon Hulme/JPIMediaResell

Consider suffering from depression during childhood and then finding yourself in a "black hole" as an adult after retiring and turning to drink for self medication - this was the situation Bob, 71, found himself in, a few years after he retired, six years ago.

He said: "I was retired and I didn’t appreciate the fact that I was slowly festering at home.

"I stayed home, I stayed in and I was drinking alcohol and I would lose a couple of days, sometimes- I didn’t know what was happening or which day we were on.

"And slowly but surely I was sinking into this depression.

Bob Morse, one of the founders of Huddersfield-based crisis charity for men... 7th October 2020..Photo credit: Simon Hulme/JPIMediaResell

"The self medication wasn’t working, it was actually making me more depressed, and I knew that I had to do something."

The father-of-two received referral to the Huddersfield-based alcohol treatment service Lifeline, now named CHART, and the Basement Recovery Project. And despite being at an "all-time low", managed to have the courage to speak openly about his dependence and turn his life around.

He said: "The first thing I did was stop the drink, the help I received didn’t stop me with the habit - but they reinforced my recovery."

The reality faced by Bob before receiving treatment is the same as thousands of other men in the U.K.

Pictured Shane Cocker, working in the gardening area at the Platform 1 charity in Huddersfield. Photo credit: Simon Hulme/ JPIMediaResell.

But after recovery the former youth and education worker decided he wanted to make a difference in the community and after noticing a void of services, specifically aimed at supporting men's mental health, below the age of 70, alongside co-founder Gez Walsh, the pair set-up Huddersfield charity Platform 1 in April 2018.

The ethos behind the project was to tackle isolation, loneliness, homelessness, mental illness, and drug and alcohol addiction by providing a sense of community, on-the-spot support and, crucially, hope for the future.

Bob said: "Our men find a safe place where they can be respectfully treated regardless of the things that have lead them into crisis, or a place to avoid that crisis before it occurs and then helps them to recover, repair, rebuild and then rejoin family, friends, community and society."

Based on St George's Square near Huddersfield Station Platform 1, the convert train carriage was used for a gathering place and to run one-two-one sessions from porter cabins.

Shane Cocker, who after being referred to Platform 1 charity in Huddersfield a year ago, has gone full circle and is now a volunteer helping in the community. Photo credit: Simon Hulme/ JPIMediaResell.

And it's trains that provide a sense of community as men from age 18 upwards gather to fix bikes, do upholstery, gardening or joinery, or just chat. And talking, talking, and more talking is greatly encouraged.

Platform 1 has gone from supporting four men to more than 500 and it receives community service referrals, including from GPs, the police, mental health services and the housing association.

The average age of members is 44 and those that walk through the gates are often struggling with an array of issues affecting their well-being including depression.

Often they are unemployed, single, widowed or otherwise alone.

After a marriage break-up and period of depression Shane Cocker, 56, was one of those given a "life-line," by Platform 1, after he was referred a year ago through his GP

He said: "I was at a very low point. I contemplated jumping off a bridge - I didn’t know what was going on in my head. I was thinking about suicide."

Gardening, bike and woodwork group activities and the opportunity to talk to others through the project offered the Dewsbury-based Shane solace and purpose, and he has since become a volunteer for the charity - with work including delivering vital food packages to those who most need it in the community during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Platform 1 has given me a purpose in life. It is life-saving," Shane said.

Last month the suicide rate for men in England and Wales in 2019 was the highest for two decades, official figures data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), published in September found there were 5,691 suicides registered, with an age-standardised rate of 11 deaths per 100,000 population.

The ONS said men accounted for about three-quarters of suicide deaths registered in 2019, 4,303 compared with 1,388 women.

Among men, the area with the highest rate was Yorkshire and the Humber at 20.6 per 100,000, followed by the south-west at 19.4. London recorded the lowest rate with 11.8.

At the moment there are 14 men on suicide watch at Platform 1, and Bob said he was concerned the added pressures of coronavirus pandemic, on top of widening health inequalities across Yorkshire and the North, could cause a ‘tsunami’ of mental health problems across the region.

He said: "Kirklees is at breaking point... We have people that have attempted suicide, we have people right on the edge now, and the thing that is keeping them from going over the edge is us.

"If Platform 1 wasn't helping them - some of them won’t be here next year. It’s as stark as that.

"But what I'm worried about is that the next crisis is on its way. The next wave of problems is on its way and it's going to be big."

Project 1 recently received £2,000 from the Huddersfield Town foundation for extra pastoral care for their clients, including those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. However due to added demands seen during the Covid crisis, Bob stressed the need to expand the current initiative due to the health inequalities and high rates of deprivation within West Yorkshire.

He said: "We are just at the tip of the iceberg - the number of people that are knocking on our door and the number of people that are trying to get down to see us, in spite of the coronavirus pandemic is worrying."

Shane added: "Male suicide is avoidable... The Government needs to see that these people need help - and by cutting back or trying to save money on vital services - the country is losing thousands of men.

"You don’t let people go through that trauma because you want to penny pinch."

Platform 1 during coronavirus

The charity, which would regularly see up to 40 men in one-to-one sessions, from porter cabins at the old railway carriage, has had to adapt and is now operating more outreach work in the community.

They have also launched a free crisis telephone line on: 0800 066 2828.

For more information about Platform 1, visit here.

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