Everyone likes to be near or in water. Most of the time, it’s harmless fun, but sometimes tragedy can occur.
Like last summer, when twelve-year-old Owen Jenkins drowned in Beeston Weir. He tried to save the lives of two girls who had fallen in. He managed to save one, but lost his life whilst trying to save the other. Through this act of selflessness, a hero was born. And as a community, Beeston cried. It felt the pain, the agony, and the loss. Just like his parents. Beeston found its way of supporting the family. It painted the town purple, through bows of ribbon, which appeared everywhere.
Owen’s mum Nicola shares her thoughts on how Beeston supported her and her family through those dark days of July and beyond in this I Am Beeston special. “I had that feeling that parents get when they know something has happened to their children.” Nicola related on how the events unfolded until Owen’s body was found. “Around four hundred people from the Rylands came out to help, and two hundred from the Clifton side. There had been a similar incident at Attenborough earlier, and the police frogmen ran to the weir, as it was quicker than driving. When I did the identification, I was expecting him to be all battered and bruised. But he had been cleaned up and looked like he was asleep.”
I wanted to know what Owen was like as a person. He looked a lot older than his tender years, and could easily pass for say sixteen. Especially as he was already six foot one. “He was into sport. Especially rugby. He was a member of the Nottingham Casuals. Due to his size and talent, he played in the Under 14s, rather than the Under 12s But he liked hockey and had just got into free running. He also played football, but wasn’t very good at it, due to his big feet. His friends called him the BFG (Big Friendly Giant) or ‘Giraffe’. He might have got his height from his granddad, or from his healthy lifestyle. He was never in. He just liked to be outside. He was also a bit of a joker. Even in death. As he was twelve, staff at the QMC bought out a child sized trolley. They had to raise his knees up, so they could fit him on it!
Turning back to the community response, Nicola told me that she hadn’t touched her mobile phone for three days after the event, so had no idea of the comments that had appeared on social media. “When I switched my phone on, I had over three hundred Facebook messages. We then started getting visitors. We only live in a small house, so it was getting a bit difficult with so many people turning up. So we met up at Owen’s Place by the weir instead, where we had picnics and played music. People brought flowers and food round, as you don’t really feel like cooking in that situation.”
“We’ve had overwhelming support from everyone. We got a donation of a hamper at Christmas. Christmas was difficult. Owen wasn’t one for asking for presents. He was happy with anything he got. He did like an extra Crunchie with his selection box though.”
Talking of Christmas, I wondered how the Jenkins’ had felt about being asked to switch the lights on in Beeston. “It was a surreal experience. Why us, we asked? But it was something that the community had wanted. It was lovely to see all the purple lights on the tree. In our thanks, I said that the tree was not just for Owen, but for all lost loved ones.”
We also aim to get leaflets printed that explain the dangers of playing near water. It might look calm on the surface, but the danger is underneath
Owen’s funeral bought Beeston to a standstill as the cavalcade went through the town. “It felt like a celebrity funeral, with all the motorbikes and press interest. Owen wanted to be famous. He wanted to be a famous Leicester Tigers rugby player.”
Owen’s name will certainly live on through the creation of the OWEN (Open Water Education Network) charity, which is being set up by Nicola, in conjunction with the Royal Life Saving Society. Its aim is to educate children on the dangers of playing near water. Broxtowe Council has already started, through the installation of throwline stations and better signage at the weir. “The plan is make twelve, Year 8 students at Chilwell School water safety ambassadors, so they can teach younger pupils. This will be done through Liberty Leisure and the Fire and Rescue Service. We also aim to get leaflets printed that explain the dangers of playing near water. It might look calm on the surface, but the danger is underneath.”
“Owen’s Place is now on Google Maps,” said Nicola proudly. “Why did Owen like purple so much?” “He used to like pink, but then one day it changed to purple. Maybe because it’s the colour of a Cadbury’s wrapper. He loved chocolate. Rainbows always appear when our charity events take place. Owen must send them. The next one is a ‘cake off’ at the Boat & Horses on March 10th. Vicky McClure and TV Bake Off contestant Jordan Cox are judging. Charlie Fogg has created the trophies. Local businesses have been very supportive. Hallam’s of course, and Hairven, through their events.”
Nicola then mentioned the memorial statue that will hopefully be installed on the anniversary of Owen’s passing. “I write to Owen every day. Just a few lines, to tell him what’s been happening. Maybe one day I’ll get them published.”
I thank Nicola for her time and give her a hug. “I’m off to watch the rugby now,” she says, getting in her car.