1066 Battle Walk: Mental health warrior Lewis Kirkbride leads march on tackling mental health issues
Mental health warrior Lewis Kirkbride received a hero’s welcome when he marched into Stansted halfway through his 300-mile, 20-day charity walk dressed in armour to combat suicide, particularly among men.
Members of newly-formed volunteer organisation Let’s Talk, Stansted! turned out to greet the 37-year-old father of two from Durham, who is wearing chainmail weighing four-and-a-half stone as he retraces the steps of King Harold’s army from York to Hastings in 1066 to confront the invading French forces of William the Conqueror.
Having been offered a free night’s stay at the Kings Arms by landlady Faye Frostick, Lewis reflected on his Stansted stopover.
“The day’s walk to Stansted was a tough one, as I’d picked a rural route on a warm day with nowhere to refill my water bottle," he said. "But coming down the hill into the town, I started to get lots of friendly beeps and waves of support from local drivers, and it put a little more spring in my step again.
“The Kings Arms had arranged some kind hospitality in advance, but I hadn’t expected a cheerleading squad when I got there! Let’s Talk, Stansted! were out in force, along with some kind locals and my friend who’d travelled all the way down from Newcastle.
“It’s lovely to get such a warm welcome and shows how much people care about this issue. It’s amazing how kind and supportive people are when you reach out.”
Initially, Lewis set out to raise £10,066 for charity ManHealth, but such is the response to his challenge that the total stands at more than £20,000.
Having suffered his own battles with depression and anxiety, Lewis used his hobby of medieval combat to help him cope, but was still concerned that men had nowhere to turn for support with mental health issues.
“Organisations like ManHealth are so important at a time when suicide is the biggest killer in men under 50,” he said. “ManHealth offers free peer-support sessions around the North East, which are proving to be making a real difference to the lives of men."
Elaine Knibbs felt compelled to act after reading of three suicides in the Uttlesford and Bishop’s Stortford area and launched Let’s Talk, Stansted! with the support of friends and councillors in the village.
She said the group was out on Wednesday (October 7) with a stall in Lower Street and was delighted to meet up with Lewis.
Having set up as a registered company to begin fund-raising, she said West Essex Mind, the mental health support group, has donated 32 places to train up mental health first responders in the village.
"It's only been 10 weeks since we started but the response has been amazing," said Elaine.
By Saturday afternoon (Oct 17) the 1066 Battle Walk fundraising total stood at more than £22,500. You can donate by clicking here .