Belfast mum hails charity for support after partner's sudden death

A group of M&S colleagues, who are passionate about supporting young people suffering from poor mental health, are setting off on a marathon walk in aid of a mental health charity, YoungMinds.

Among those taking part is Tracey Woods, a customer service assistant who works in M&S Belfast. Tracey, the mother of four girls, has opened up about how YoungMinds has been an invaluable resource for her family after the death of her partner.

Tracey said: "My partner took his own life when our girls were very young. When a devastating event like that occurs in your life, you need all the support you can get.

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"We were lucky that friends and family rallied round us, but as my four daughters grew up they understandably were left asking a lot of questions and all of them, at one time or another, have suffered from ill mental health because of the loss we experienced.

"Services like those offered by YoungMinds are crucial for the challenges young people today face in relation to maintaining their mental health. Their resources are fantastic. They are written in a language younger people can understand - that is tailor made for them. Plus there is also brilliant information and signposting to services for parents.

"I am delighted that, together with my M&S colleagues, we’re able to raise funds for this brilliant cause, which is more important than ever. I would urge everyone to head into their local store, give what they can and, if you’re in and around Belfast, keep an eye out for me and the other walkers."

The hike is part of a week-long ‘fun-raiser’ with activities taking place across all 22 M&S stores in Northern Ireland in support of the charity. From skydiving to fancy dress and cycling the equivalent of Malin Head to Mizen Head, colleagues will be helping to raise valuable funds and build awareness of the help available for those struggling.

The activities in Northern Ireland are part of M&S’s wider fundraising efforts this week with more than 360 M&S stores across the UK and Ireland taking on a ‘fun-raising’ challenges and further marathon walks taking place in London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Dublin. Customers will be able to donate in-store or online via fundraising platform Tiltify.

The fundraising is part of the retailer’s three-year partnership with YoungMinds announced in October last year. M&S aims to raise £5million to support young people’s mental health over the next three years. This will enable YoungMinds to support seven million young people and the adults in their lives through easy to access online resources and its dedicated Parent’s Helpline.

To kick-start the partnership, M&S made a £1 million donation and the generosity of customers and colleagues has raised an additional £700,000 so far.

The ‘Walk the Capital’ hikers will start off at M&S Belfast on Donegall Place before heading to Forestside Shopping Centre in Newtownbreda. The walkers will then head to the Lisburn store at Sprucefield, turn and come back to the Malone Road store in South Belfast, call in at the Boucher Road branch before heading back to the city centre to finish where they first started. The walk is expected to take more than ten hours.

Research commissioned by M&S and YoungMinds found that despite struggling with their mental health, 65% of young people hadn’t asked for any kind of formal support – 33% of those said they felt too embarrassed.

While loneliness was found to be the primary cause of mental health problems among young people surveyed and 61% of those waiting for mental health support said they had stopped attending school, college, university or work – risking greater isolation from their friends.

Victoria McKenzie-Gould, Corporate Affairs Director at M&S, said: "We have already smashed our initial fundraising target just eight months into our three-year partnership with YoungMinds. With £5 million our ultimate goal, we’re keeping that energy going by launching our Big Fun-raiser this week and I can’t wait to see what activities our stores have lined up.

"YoungMinds do incredible work and young people’s mental health is a hugely important cause. We’re proud to do our bit and with the help of our 32m customers and 64,000-strong M&S family – together, we’ve got this!”

Laura Bunt, Chief Executive of YoungMinds, said: "Life is increasingly tough for young people and record numbers are in need of support for their mental health. When they’re able to access the help they need, things can get better, but the wait for support is often too long or the right support isn’t available.

"Together with M&S, we want to show young people that together we can turn things around. The incredible fundraising efforts by M&S will help us reach and support more young people and the adults in their lives.”

M&S customers can donate to YoungMinds in store or via the M&S website here.

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