NO HESITATION FROM FATBOY SLIM TO TAKE UP OUR INVITE TO VISIT HUMMINGBIRD AND PwC SUICIDE PREVENTION PROJECT BEFORE DECEMBER GIG
by Leigh Carey CEO
Last summer, I had the bright idea to invite Norman Cook otherwise known as FatBoy Slim (who I have been a fan of for over 20 years) to come and meet a group of incredible young people we have supported through our ground-breaking suicide prevention programme Into Tomorrow in partnership with PwC NI.
I remember ringing our PR person at the time to get her thoughts and was greeted by a laugh, ‘You’ll never pull it off,’ she said, but qualified by ‘but you’ll never know, unless you give it a try.”
A letter to FatBoy Slim’s Management team was dispatched the following day and the rest, as they say, is history.
Sunday Life, this week has run a double page spread featuring Norman meeting four of our young participants who, put through the mill in their earlier lives have progressed through our programme and are now out the other side with remarkable stories of transformation.
The ground-breaking programme was set up by PwC in 2018 to tackle soaring suicide rates in north and west Belfast which are among the highest in Europe.
Issuing a challenge to the third sector they chose us; the Hummingbird Project, based in Portstewart on the North Coast because we are a mental health service provider with a difference.
What makes us unique is, we are all trained mental health experts with lived experience of having mental ill health ourselves. The young people involved in the project told us that made all the difference in helping to gain their trust.
I think PwC understood the value of this and what we could bring to the table. We knew the project would need a special connection with participants who were distrusting and disengaged with other programmes offered to them.
Our ethos is very different. We believe if people are going to recover, stabilise and have a future, it isn’t about fixing, it is about collaborating, working alongside them through some really tough times, enabling them to have ownership, control and personal responsibility over it.
Click here to see our Into Tomorrow page where we show videos of Norman’s visit to let you hear directly from some of the young people involved about how the joint project has made a difference to them, helping them to resolve some of their deepest problems, find hope, happiness, homes and jobs.
I wanted to do something to celebrate their success and show how proud we are of each and every one of them. Then I thought, as someone who brings so much joy, hope and compassion to his music and gigs and has had his own difficult life experiences, Norman Cook would be a great person to engage with the young people and give them encouragement after a difficult couple of years.
I contacted his management team about the Into Tomorrow project and they responded immediately. Even when his gig was rescheduled from October to December because of Covid restrictions they came back immediately to ensure he could still make his visit to us a priority when he came over.
Norman came straight from landing in Belfast and spent a couple of hours with the young people and the team of amazing mentors at the Hummingbird Project, in PwC’s fabulous new offices in Merchant Square.
With restricted numbers due to Covid and with social distancing in place, he spent an hour, one-to-one with four of the young people on the programme, really getting to know them and sharing with them the journey he had been on too.
Speaking to Sunday Life, one of the young people Lauren Carson, now a mentor for the project said: “He (Norman) was really open and lovely. I had been listening to his music growing up. He was so friendly and supportive of our journey.”
Anthony Quinn, another of our participants said: “The difference the project has made to me is that I have a job now and I am off all the drugs and I’m working full time. I have got my own flat which I couldn’t have done two years ago.
“FatBoy Slim was really dead on. We all felt really relaxed talking to him. He talked openly about things he would have found tough in his life. He made us feel like we didn’t have to be ashamed of the struggles we have had.”
I can safely say, Into Tomorrow is the most challenging and rewarding project that Hummingbird delivers. We wanted, in partnership with PwC, to reach those who were furthest away from hope and stability, to stay beside them, through mistakes, crisis and unthinkable hardships, to build their trust and resilience. To let them know that life was worth living.
I have to say the meeting between our young people and Norman Cook was one of the most humbling, down-to-earth, meaningful experiences I have ever had the privilege of taking part in. This was no celebrity stunt; just a decent man with a heart of gold who wanted to listen, engage and pass on some of his own lived experience and wisdom through easy, friendly conversation.
If you would like to support the project you can make a donation at www.justgiving.com/fundraising/intotomorrowbelfast