I had been working at a magazine for a few years when it suddenly dawned on me that spending all of my time on my phone, talking to people not in the room, was actually making me feel far more disconnected than I thought. Connection through eye contact and physical touch had become very limited in my life and I was suffering the consequences.

"We’ve had great success in bringing people together and actively improving their mental health, but we need to get more people back into the 'art of conversation'."

If I’m completely honest I felt lonely. Did I realise it back then? Not the extent I do now. I was having depressing thoughts. Somehow getting out of bed seemed like ten times the chore. My relationship with my girlfriend completely broke down. I was working 18 hour days, which isn’t ideal, but when you spend any free time you have still on your phone then the problems pile up.

Stepping back

In the end I quit the magazine. I took a step back and launched the 5asideCHESS project, where we get people off their phones, out of their homes and back into the ‘art of conversation.’ It’s helped me immensely, and it could help you too. In fact, we might be in a town near you very soon.

The 5asideCHESS team are heading off on our Battling Suicide Tour on July 19th, raising awareness of suicide prevention and promoting good mental health. All through the medium of talking.

5asideChess is a cut down version of the traditional game. The 5 square x 6 squares boards are used as ‘icebreakers’ by volunteers who offer people that chance to talk at cafes, rehab centres, nursing homes and other locations across the country.

And, after eight months working on the project fighting loneliness and social isolation, we have decided to fight suicide head on.

Battling suicide tour

Close to 6,000 people in the UK take their own lives every year.

The idea with the Battling Suicide Tour is to bring that number down by getting people talking across the nation. The 5asideCHESS team are inviting people to join us along the way. You can share your stories, play chess or just have a cup of tea and a chat. It’s all about the personal element with this tour and Ryan thinks it is time to stop treating suicide and mental health in general as a numbers game.

Of the 5,965 people that died by suicide last year, 4,508 were sons, brothers, uncles and fathers. The remaining 1,457 were all daughters, some of them mothers, many of them sisters and aunties. We all know someone that, even if it didn’t come to suicide, has been affected negatively by poor mental health.

We think that as a nation we can really combat this by talking more, which is the whole premise of 5asideCHESS.

Cambridge - Edinburgh - Bath

The Battling Suicide Tour Bus will be making its way up the east side of England from July 19th, starting off in Cambridge before settling in Edinburgh on the 1st of August. The second leg of the journey will head back down the west of England, taking in cities including Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol before finishing in Bath.

Myself and the inventor of 5asideCHESS Ross Smith will be visiting cafes, community centers, festivals, businesses and all sorts of other places along the way. We have a mobile home decorated with our distinctive message, while inside there’s coffee, tea, chess boards and a safe place to have a chat.  We are also inviting all sorts of experts and people that have been directly affected by this cruel and often avoided and avoidable issue.

Every leg of the journey will be logged on the 5asideChess TwitterInstagram and Facebook. 

There will also be a running Podcast and regular blog updates at 5asideCHESS.com.

If you want to meet up and get involved then you can connect via the Get in Touch page or directly to ryan@5asidechess.com.

So where did this idea come from? 

The focus during the past eight months has been on fighting social isolation and loneliness. 

We’ve had great success in bringing people together and actively improving their mental health, but we need to spread the message more and get more people back into the 'art of conversation'.

After all, it’s been well documented how much community and connections can improve both the physical and mental health of just about every demographic.

It’s not just a ‘feel good’ project though. Mental health is the biggest cause of ‘lost’ workdays in the UK, costing the economy around £30 billion every year, according to government figures. 

There’s really no excuse for us not to get out into the UK and get more people talking with our 5asideCHESS boards. And we want as many people as possible to join us.

We want to focus on suicide prevention with this tour, but I think it’s probably underestimated just how far down the line that begins. And so if you start talking earlier, something I’ve only recently realised myself, then you break that chain that can lead to really terrible circumstances later on.

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