Published: 06:00, 10 September 2021
| Updated: 13:51, 10 September 2021
A group of teenagers walked a marathon to raise awareness of a charity that tries to prevent suicides, after the sudden death of a friend.
The five students, all 19, trekked a 26.2-mile loop from East Cliff in Folkestone, encompassing Acrise, Elham, Hawkinge, Lyminge, Saltwood and Hythe.
This was in honour of Eliot Gower, 18, who took his life in London in November while studying at university.
Driven to make a difference, friend Jonathan Last suggested doing a challenge to Eliot’s friends Thomas Kember, Harry Miller, Owen Weller and Evan Morgan.
They set off on Sunday, August 8, with massive support from their families, including Eliot’s mum.
Described as an “emotionally intelligent, mature and funny” young man, Eliot lived in Acrise and had attended the Harvey Grammar School in Folkestone.
They had become friends at varying stages at school, creating a tight-knit group.
Jonathan said Eliot’s death came at what he thought was the “highest point” in their friend’s life.
With no apparent warning, he had no idea Eliot was having mental health struggles.
After his death, the police had told Eliot’s family, and they told the school, which told Jonathan.
He then found himself in the situation where he needed to pass the news on to some of their friends.
He said: “It was quite shocking for all of us. It was a normal day when I found out – I got up, went to school, and I got told.
'It felt like something was unfinished. We had lost someone and the world carries on. I wanted to turn it into a positive.'
"It was a massive bombshell. Initially it was such a shock. We knew we needed counselling.”
"It felt like something was unfinished. We had lost someone and the world carries on. I wanted to turn it into a positive.
“Papyrus is the UK’s only charity for suicide prevention. It was so specific and well fitting.”
When he told Thomas, Harry, Owen and Evan, they were all keen and so they worked out a route starting and finishing at Jonathan’s home and Thomas and Harry’s neighbourhood in East Cliff.
On the walk they went to Eliot’s home and passed the Harvey Grammar.
They wore Papyrus shirts and had banners created for the day of the trek. Once the morning nerves subsided, the feeling was happy and the lads enjoyed their countryside challenge.
They were singing with music playing from a speaker and absorbing the sense of achievement with each milestone passed.
But it was when passing St Martin’s Church in Acrise when it became emotional.
This was the place where a vigil by candlelight was held in the days after Eliot’s death.
“I hadn’t been since that day. When we walked through the village they were ringing the bells for us. It was so raw, bitter sweet. Eliot’s mum had contacted the church to arrange it.”
On returning home, they were greeted with a reception none of them had anticipated.
And with donations reaching £4,500 - 1,500% of their £300 target, they were all overwhelmed by the level of support.
If you would like to sponsor Jonathan, Thomas, Harry, Owen and Evan, visit their JustGiving page by clicking here.