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'Happy to chat' bench unveiled in Maidstone, Freshlands Road, in memory of former Valley Park pupil Tommy Thwaites

A vibrant multicoloured seating area aimed to combat isolation has been unveiled in Maidstone , in memory of a young man who took his own life.

Tommy Thwaites, 25, died in November last year after he battled his demon for four years.

Miss Fry, mum of Tommy Thwaites with son Danny, at the unveiling of the bench
Miss Fry, mum of Tommy Thwaites with son Danny, at the unveiling of the bench

The former Valley Park pupil was stabbed by a gang in a nightclub in 2015 after receiving abuse about his sexuality . Afterwards, his mental health began to deteriorate.

His family vowed to improve mental health services and mum Claire Fry hopes the ‘happy to chat’ bench and chairs unveiled yesterday afternoon at Freshlands Road, is the first step.

Miss Fry said: “It’s for people for suffer isolation or have mental illnesses or they just feel alone and they need to talk to someone.

"Sometimes it’s nice to speak to to someone who doesn’t know anything about you.

“The old Tommy would love to chat, he talked about anything. He always made me feel better.”

Tommy Thwaites and his mum Claire Fry on their last holiday together to Italy
Tommy Thwaites and his mum Claire Fry on their last holiday together to Italy

Family friend Mark Allan approached Miss Fry about installing a bench where strangers can talk to each other with the aim of reducing loneliness, after spotting the same initiative in Spain.

Mr Allan, alongside Miss Fry, has worked hard to make it a reality.

Miss Fry, who has four children including Tommy has set up a charity called Tommy's Rainbow Charity Trust and she is currently fundraising to get it officially registered.

She passionately believes talking about your problems can help prevent suicide but also that mental health services need to be overhauled.

Her aim is to create a walk-in centre in Maidstone for people who are struggling.

Tommy Thwaites died last November
Tommy Thwaites died last November

Herself and volunteers can then help people navigate mental health services which can be difficult she says and make sure they get the right help.

Speaking about how she feels a year since Tommy died, Miss Fry said: "I feel like I'm always going to have a heart attack, my actual heart hurts.

"I kept sitting there thinking what can I do, I can't let someone else go through this and then I came up with the charity and that has helped with my grief."

Before the area was officially unveiled, Miss Fry said: "I sat there today on my own in the freezing cold and this old guy said 'that's beautiful' and it just made my day, all this is going to mean something to someone."

During the opening a video was also played in tribute to Tommy and others who took their own lives and balloons were released.

The money for the bench, which was approved by Maidstone Council, was raised by family and friends. There are also plans for another bench in the town,

Donations to reach the amount needed to officially register Tommy's Rainbow Charity Trust can be made here.

For confidential support on an emotional issue, call Samaritans on 116 123 at any time.

If you want to talk to someone confidentially, click here.

Read more: All the latest news from Maidstone

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