Lewis Kirkbride, 38, raised almost £27,000 last year for ManHealth’s fight against suicide by wearing the armour and weapons of an Anglo-Saxon warrior as he walked 310 miles solo from Stamford Bridge near York to Battle, site of the Battle Of Hastings in 1066.
This year he is retracing the steps of another historical hero, Hereward The Wake, as he once more tries to get people talking openly about mental health: “In the year 1070, Hereward was the last Anglo Saxon hero fighting back against the Norman Conquest, against impossible odds; he never stopped fighting for his people, taking in refugees from the atrocities committed by the Normans, and taking back the gold the Normans stole from the monasteries and local people” Lewis says.
“Last year we faced the uncertainties of lockdowns, job losses, isolation and a national mental health crisis; the situation might be changing, but these battles are still raging. People’s livelihoods are in tatters and their human connections lost. Some people will feel there’s nowhere to turn. Now more than ever, it’s crucial we stand up say it’s OK to reach out and talk”.
ManHealth provides mental health peer support, with group meetings, online and telephone services, and programmes of training that aim to give men in particular an easier way to get talking.
With suicide still the UK’s biggest killer of men under 50, and worrying reports of increasing suicide among younger people during the pandemic, the ‘light-touch’ way off offering that first step can be the difference between life and death.
Lewis adds “During last year’s walk, I wanted to prove that people are more helpful and caring than you imagine if you just reach out for help – and they really are! The added challenge of walking in armour was very deliberate: forcing myself to put an extra 4.5 stone of weight on my head and shoulders every morning was tough – but that’s nothing compared to the burden of anxiety and depression people carry around all day, every day. It was the people who came out to support me and donate supplies or places to stay that kept me going through the walk.”
“What I hadn’t expected was the way my armour invites people to talk so openly about their own losses and their own struggles. When I walk, I speak to suicide survivors, military and emergency services personnel, prison officers, widows and parents of people who’d taken their own lives, and ordinary people with their own battles; some talk about their experiences for the very first time, and during the walks social media followers start supporting each other.”
“My proudest personal moments weren’t the epic physical challenge, or even hearing about the first new group ManHealth opened with the funding to support people in a new town… it was being asked by complete strangers for a starting point to get help, or hearing people tell their story after many years for the first time. We mustn’t underestimate the importance of simply being listened to, and giving people our time and space to let some of that pressure out.”
Lewis’ hobbies as a medieval martial artist and reenactor helped him through his own struggles, and tales of history, mental health and roaming the countryside were a hit with social media followers. After walking to Battle, Lewis continued weekly walks with friends and colleagues who
History enthusiast David Maile, who spearheads the Wake Hereward Project, will accompany Lewis for the entire walk… and hopes to elevate Hereward from local folk-hero of The Fens in East Anglia to a national symbol of courage and determination.
David says “We want to commemorate Hereward’s brave resistance to the brutal Norman Conquest, and to honour his fighting spirit with an annual festival that includes a yearly Charity Challenge. I approached Lewis after he did so well walking to from York to Hastings – who better to get us started?”
Quoting a 12th-century monk called Richard of Ely, David shows his passion for the project and why he thinks Hereward is relevant to the everyday battles we fight today: “We think it will encourage noble deed and induce liberality to know Hereward, who he was, and to hear of his achievements and deeds.”
The pair have already gathered donations of over £1000 towards their initial target of £1070 for ManHealth, and have seen the Hereward Charity Challenge’s social media following grow to over 300 people in just a few weeks.
To find out more about the Hereward Charity Challenge on 2nd and 3rd of June, go to https://www.facebook.com/HerewardCharityChallenge/, or visit https://www.manhealth.org.uk/ to find help for yourself or others.