Grieving dad cycles from Manchester to Blackpool to fund community counselling charity on the Fylde coast after struggling to access support at his 'lowest point'

A man who started cycling to cope with the death of his son, is riding from Manchester to Blackpool to fundraise for a community mental health service on the Fylde.

Jon Nichol, 56, started riding during lockdown to help his mental health, after finding there was no support available when he was at his ‘lowest point’.

So when he picked a ‘random charity’ to support it felt like fate that it was Counselling In The Community.

The builder from Anchorsholme set his mind on helping the charity, run by Stuart Hutton-Brown, after his own struggle to access help through the NHS.

Nick Harper, Tommy Carney and Jon Nichol took part in the Manchester to Blackpool bike ride for Counselling In The Community

He said: “I didn’t know anything about them. Me and Stuart got chatting, and it turned out that we both went to the same school in Kent. It was such a coincidence.

"I’ve become aware of the lack of service for people that need the help now. [It’s no good being] told you have an appointment booked for a review in three weeks – even three days is too long when your’re suffering,”

His son, Luke Jonathan Nichol, was 20 when he took his own life in May 2019. Jon hit ‘rock bottom’ three months later.

“I was desperate for help. The doctor had previously given me an emergency number to ring in a crisis, so I called and explained my situation.

Stuart Hutton-Brown from Counselling in the Community. He is pictured with volunteers Cassie Simmonds, Carly Ryan and Millie Philpot.

“The first lady said she couldn’t help me. I had to explain myself to three people before someone told me ‘I’m really sorry, we don’t deal with suicide’.”

Jon, of Mossom Lane, was given another number but it went to voicemail.

“I was at such a bad point in my life and I was just hitting brick walls. It seemed that nobody could help. I sat crying in the van, then ran onto the site where my workmates were and yelled ‘if you ever need any help do not ring these numbers’.”

But then he started cycling, and it gave him a new focus.

“I’d never really been out on a bike before, but someone suggested it to me and I quite enjoyed it. It was the distraction I needed and it just really cleared my head.”

So in July 2020 he started cycling 20km each evening, up and down the prom.

As he gained confidence he started using it as a way to promote local businesses, and then realised he could raise money for good causes.

Jon had previously raised money for local charities by decorating his house at Christmas and Halloween.

But this time he picked one at random - which turned out to be Counselling In The Community.

The service became a registered charity in 2021, but has been providing services to adults and children across the Fylde coast since 2017.

They offer in-person and telephone counselling for issues including depression, anxiety and trauma, and act as a lifeline for people who are stuck on long NHS waiting lists.

When he did the Manchester to Blackpool bike ride on 4 July 2021, his team raised £1,100 for a new therapy hub in South Shore.

Jon’s business, JG Builders, also provided labour for the Waterloo Road renovation work. The new centre recently opened with three counselling rooms on the first floor. The ground floor should be completed over summer.

The aim is to become more accessible, and to increase their services available across the Fylde Coast.

Stuart Hutton-Brown, manager and founder of the counselling service, which also operates on Derby Road, said: “We’re getting busier all the time, but we are limited by the rooms.

Covid has opened a lot of trauma. There’s been a lot of talk about mental health but not much action.

You wouldn’t wait 14 months to mend a broken leg but people are having to wait that long for therapy.”

Stuart’s team of counsellors is currently seeing 120 people a week.

76 people are on the waiting list, and they get referrals through Healthier Minds (formerly Supporting Minds), MindMatters, and the NHS Single Point of Access.

“People can also come straight to us, and we assess and allocate a councillor to suit their needs.”

Counselling In The Community obtained charity status in September 2021, which is helping them to progress with their mission to make mental health support accessible to all.

Charity trustee Chris Webb said: "Counselling in the Community has been going for a number of years and as a community-inspired company we have been expanding the services we provide.

"We're really excited now about the future and what we will do for the town.

"Charity status will help with fundraising. We rely heavily on fund-raising, because we are a donation-based service. People who come to us can't afford to pay for private counselling services. There are long waiting lists for counselling services in the NHS, so they come to us, and we have to fund that.

"By becoming a registered charity it does open doors to us through gift aid and grants that are available to us. A lot of organisations, although they are very sympathetic, have rules that say you must be a registered charity before they will agree to help. So we sat down and put a plan in place to achieve that status.

"For CIC, the next step is hopefully to expand the services we have to Fleetwood, possibly to Morecambe and also to St Annes and Lytham to support those with mental health problems there."

Jon Nichol will be doing the 60 mile Manchester to Blackpool bike ride with a team of fellow cyclists on 10 July 2022. Visit gofund.me/ad93e138 to donate.