Mum who lost son to suicide hopes Kent ‘chat bench’ will save lives

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The mother of a Kent man who took his own life last year hopes a new ‘happy to chat’ bench will help save lives. 

Claire Fry’s son Tommy Thwaites was 25 when he died in November 2019 after suffering mental health problems, following a violent assault. 

He was left with a scar to his face after the homophobic attack at a Maidstone nightclub in 2015, in which he was stabbed. 

Tommy Thwaites and his mum Claire Fry, who is setting up a charity in his memory. Credit: Family handout

Ms Fry said the incident “sent him over the edge” and led to a “downward spiral” in his wellbeing. 

A rainbow-themed picnic table has been installed in a public park off Freshlands Road, Maidstone, in Tommy’s memory. 

It is a so-called ‘happy to chat’ bench and aims to tackle loneliness and isolation by encouraging strangers to talk to one another. The design was changed last-minute to allow for social distancing.

I hope people use it to talk. It doesn’t cost anything to smile. If someone is feeling low, you just smiling at that one person can make a huge difference. You might be able to save a life.

Claire Fry, Tommy Thwaites' mum
The rainbow-themed picnic table has been installed in a public park off Freshlands Road, Maidstone.

The bench was the idea of local mental health campaigner and entrepreneur, Mark Allan, who runs the not-for-profit company Job Doctors.

Mr Allan said: “Loneliness and isolation is only on the increase, so I think more than ever, it’s really important to create safe, outside spaces, in the community, for people to engage. And this bench is the first of many benches that I hope to create.”

Claire Fry is currently fundraising to set up a charity in memory of her son, to help others with mental health issues. Click here to see

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