You know how I seem to take a perverse pride in being constantly late with submitting my articles for THE BEESTONIAN? Well I took it a bit far last issue and didn’t get anything in on time at all, to my sincere regret.

I’d even been to one of the regular editorial meetings (I say regular, the meetings themselves are regular but I think it was the first one I’ve attended myself due to timings, circumstances, flat tyres, friends coming in from out of town, tidal waves etc. – you know, the usual stuff). But at this meeting I’d suggested doing something a little different with my article – as to be frank there’s precious little going on in the world of Robin Hood (unless you count the astounding debacle over the future of Nottingham Castle which isn’t overly connected to Beeston).

So we talked about me doing a piece on mental health, looking to see what provision there was in Beeston for people struggling post-Covid, post-bereavement, post-being young and not knowing where to look for help – or indeed simply having the time or opportunity to go out, make new friends and find a place to feel comfortable amongst others who may also be in need of help. And not just people like me either, our esteemed editor (as was, we have a new esteemed editor now but they’re both magnificent, honestly) suggested I work with another, younger person to cover all the aspects of support and mental health provision in Beeston. There’s a group, I was told, that meets at the Pearson Centre that is doing some great work. Would I be interested in visiting and covering that? Absolutely, I said. And meant it.

And then, entirely unexpectedly, my best friend died.

I won’t go into details but one day a man I’d known and loved for over forty years just wasn’t there any more, and it was like being hit by a steam train. We were like brothers (brothers who actually liked each other too) and all I could do was try to offer any support I could to his wonderful and utterly inconsolable wife Angela.

These days sadly I know several people who’ve lost life-partners and it’s a hard club to be in; the price of joining is losing both your present and your shared future and even now, over five years after losing my beloved Sally sometimes it’s still too much. To see it happen to someone else you really care about is more than heartbreaking.

But us talking about it frankly, from a perspective of someone who knows how it feels has, she says, helped her. To know she’s not going mad, that someone else felt – and still feels – the same way and although we both wish fervently we didn’t have such dreadful loss in common there’s an empathy that binds everyone who has shared it.

And that makes me realise even more how valuable it is to have groups in our town that provide a place to support and help anyone who needs to talk about their feelings, how overwhelmed they are. How sometimes even just getting out of bed is a victory. That people in need don’t have to deal with loss of friends, partners, children or other family, nor suffer grief, stress, pain or other issues alone. That other people around us care, understand and are willing to share their own experiences to help others, both to heal – and to be healed themselves in small groups and our wider community, something that at some point we may all truly benefit from and perhaps desperately need.

So hopefully by next issue I’ll be able to tell you more about it, that for once I haven’t missed the deadline – and just possibly that the Castle has reopened.
Or two out of three, at least.

Dedicated to my much-missed and wonderful friend, Andrew ‘Pank’ Szczepankiewicz