After the shocking death of Hollywood superstar Robin Williams, an Ilkeston-based charity found itself inundated with calls from national media wanting comments about the issue of suicide.
Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS), based in Albert Street, is the only national charity providing dedicated support to adults who are dealing with the impact of a loved one having taken their own life.
At the helm of SOBS is chief officer Eric Thwaites, 58, who became involved with the charity seven years ago. He has not looked back since and the job is very different to his former career in the textile industry.
The day that the ‘Tiser spoke to him was the day after news of Robin Williams’ apparent suicide broke and Eric had received a request from Good Morning Britain, which wanted to interview him on the issue of suicide.
He told the Tiser: “We are inundated every time something like this happens, but why should celebrities take the limelight when suicides happen every day?”
Around 5,000 calls are made to the SOBS helpline every year, which relies on volunteers. Anyone calling SOBS will get through to someone who has also been through the pain of losing a loved one to suicide, and knows what they have been though.
The charity started with 23 support groups and there are now 52 support groups around the UK taking calls for their local area.
Eric said: “As time evolves you see the change in people. There is a lot of anger in the room because they are angry at the people who have taken their own life. You can see the changes in people after six months and people end up coming back years later.
“We have people who have been coming to Ilkeston for four or five years. We are not counsellors. We can only give opinions to help them find answers but we can give them advice and answer questions about inquests and other issues.
“I enjoy the work, even though I’m not a ‘survivor’ I have got a lot of empathy with the callers.”
The charity’s head office has been based in Ilkeston since 2006 having originally been set up by a woman called Alice Middleton from her living room in Hull.
Around five years ago SOBS stopped being eligible to receive Government funding meaning it now relies on donations and small pots of money from grants such as the Big Lottery Fund. It costs at least £70,000 to run the charity each year and they are desperate for volunteers and more groups in the country as lots of areas that aren’t covered.
Eric said: “The Government did step in three years ago and provided funding of £50,000 to upgrade the business and get advice from a company called Primetimers on the business structure.
“I’m always aware that the job could end in a year of the funding is not there.”
In Ilkeston, the group meets on the fourth Thursday of every month. The next meeting will be on August 29 at the Flamsteed Centre in Albert Street.
The SOBS helpline can be reached on 0300 111 5065.
More information can be found at uk-sobs.org.uk