On the 28th of January 2010 my perspective on life changed forever. That was the day my little brother decided that his life was too hard, difficult and painful to continue. In the first few weeks after his death I kept waiting for someone to step forward and make everything ok again. Surely this was a joke? Pete was going to come home with a massive hangover, right? My kind, gentle, quiet, smiley, shy, dragon obsessed, thoughtful little brother was going to be around forever, right? Wrong.
Pete was missing for five days. I have never felt such despair and helplessness. I watched my whole families hope deteriorate with every passing hour. As each night drew in we knew our chances of a happy outcome were diminishing. The first day was the most frustrating - the police had all available officers searching but it just wasn't enough for the terrain. We often say "it’s a small world" but let me assure you, when you are looking for a five foot six, eight stone, twenty-four year old in rural Cornwall, the world seems enormous.
On the second day, the cavalry arrived – the Cornwall and North Dartmoor Search and Rescue Teams. Just seeing them arrive in their droves, setting up their vans and radio systems gave us the much-needed reassurance that everything that could be done was being done. I must confess that at that point I couldn't care less who they were and where they had come from. One thing and one thing only was driving us and that was finding Pete. During our time as a fundraising group (2010 – 2014) we are extremely proud to have donated over £9k to Cornwall Search and Rescue which purchased items such as a Land Rover (the Dragon Wagon) and a defibrillator (Dragon Heart). .
Bereavement after suicide is an extremely painful experience, which brings with it a whole range of complicated emotions. I was at a loss with how to cope with my own feelings let alone that of my children who were aged 20, 15, 13 and 11. Pete had been a hands-on uncle, involved in everything they did. Thank goodness for my GP referring me to Balloons, a child bereavement service. We are extremely proud to have donated over £1500 and even more proud to now work alongside them supporting young people in Devon bereaved by suicide.
In 2015, everything changed. I had always made a point of doing special things on Pete’s Birthday. I had a lovely trip planned but it was cancelled, and rebooking slipped my mind. I woke up in the morning and realised what day it was. It was too late to arrange anything. An idea popped into my head…before I could talk myself out of it I rang the local airfield and booked a skydive for a future date for 10 people. I launched the campaign to find those ten people and ended up with 30 skydivers!! That skydive changed the face of Pete’s Dragons forever, it created an amazing family of Dragons some of whom continue to help in many different ways. We realised it was decision time. Do we stay as a fundraising group or do we become a registered charity and undertake our own projects? It was a no-brainer, Pete’s Dragons have always enjoyed a challenge!!!
Go big or go home, right?
Since then the Pete’s Dragons journey has been a rollercoaster. I left my legal career to retrain and be able to provide support to those bereaved by suicide. Realising that no specialist service existed in Devon made us determined to fill that gap.
Our registered charity status enabled us to realise our dream and we are now fully engaged in supporting people and families affected by suicide across both Devon and North Somerset. We do this in numerous ways and are always looking for new ones in order that we retain our primary objective of treating each person within our service as an individual and ensuring that the support they receive from is completely bespoke suiting them and their unique circumstances. Our ethos is rather alternative in that we ask “what do you need from us?” as opposed to stating “this is what we offer”. We do not hold waiting lists, help is immediate and if we don’t have what a person needs within our skill set then we will find it or buy it in. However, this all comes at a price….
I worked for without a salary for two and a half years, 60-80 hour weeks became normal (and sometimes still are!). My personal finances became untenable, but I just couldn’t give up. I KNEW in my heart that Pete’s Dragons was an essential support service. I could regularly be found travelling the County of Devon from Ilfracombe to Torquay in one day seeing bereaved people along the route. I would then switch my attention to raising funds and keeping the charity afloat. When I look back now, I wonder how I did it.
Slowly things began to change. Devon and Cornwall Police saw the value of our service and provided some funding to help us along, this gave us an element of credibility and a much-needed boost. Public Health Devon evaluated the service we provided with the D&C funding and found that the breadth of work we were doing was essential and life-saving. However, we did sadly reach another crunch point in late 2016 where things looked as though we were not going to be able to sustain ourselves. I had some tough decisions to make. Having put my heart and soul into the charity and having seen and experienced first-hand the difference we were making and how vital it was…I had to make it work.
Go big or go home right…? I was determined that Pete’s Dragons were not going home.
Things have dramatically changed since then. We are proud to be commissioned to deliver specialist suicide bereavement support throughout Devon and North Somerset and operate the Real Time Suicide Surveillance system for Devon. We have grown enormously. We have the support of our local communities, and our training suite has expanded and provides a revenue stream alongside us being able to educate and raise awareness of suicide prevention, bereavement, and mental wellbeing. We also operate a boutique charity shop in Exmouth town centre.
What kept me going through the difficult times? An incredible team of staff who go over and above what is required of them to ensure our beneficiaries receive the care and support they need as soon as they need it. An incredible army of supporters. The PD team often get overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of strangers; Pete’s Dragons really is a silver lining. I meet the most incredible people who push themselves to the limit, give up huge amounts of time, money and belongings, bake cakes, steam clothes, brainstorm, organise events………..the list goes on. How honoured and grateful I am to know them.
Has it been hard? It certainly has. However, it has been the best, most challenging and most rewarding experience of my life. It has led me to meeting incredible people, pushing myself to limits beyond which I thought I was capable and has helped more people than I could ever have envisaged at the start. AND we are only 7 years old, we have lots of life in us yet!!
So why Dragons? Pete loved Dragons, he had Dragon ornaments and pictures everywhere, in the picture of him on the “about us” page you will see that he is wearing a dragon necklace. When helping my mum tidy his room after he had died, we came across a dragon design that he had commissioned. I contacted the artist to find out more about it. Pete had intended to have the Dragon somewhere on his car. We adopted the Dragon as our original logo, it remains with us today on the “A” of Dragon. From the start of Pete’s Dragons each volunteer, staff member and fundraiser has adopted a Dragon name which reflects their interests or personalities. You can often hear names such as “Mischievous Dragon”, “Janner Dragon”, or “Beach Dragon” (to name just a few) ringing out around our offices. I would however like to point out that I didn’t adopt my dragon-name, rather I was given it!
Sadly, I can't have my little brother back, my mum can't have her son back and our beneficiaries cannot have their loved ones back. But what I have learnt is that kindness, shared understanding, a bit of specialist knowledge and experience combined with a lot of hugs can help people beyond measure to adjust to the world after being impacted by the devastation of suicide. Pete’s Dragons would not be able to achieve this without the support of local commissioners and the general public – you help us to reach and support people at their most vulnerable. We cannot thank you enough.
Big Dragon Hugs
Love Diva x