On a January day in 2010 Alison Jordan’s life changed forever.
Her sensitive, gentle, quiet and shy brother, Pete Wicks, went missing, sparking a search that would last five days.
Pete, aged just 24, had taken his own life.
His body was found near his Cornwall home, leaving mum-of-four Alison, her family and friends with a myriad of emotions and nowhere to turn for help.
Suicide bereavement is described as grief with the volume turned up.
Families struggling with the shock, trauma and distress of death also face the stigma, shame, guilt and isolation that comes with losing a loved-one in this way.
Today, Alison is the driving force behind a charity that is a beacon of support to hundreds of people whose pain she knows.
Offering hope through the heartache, Pete’s Dragons is determined that no-one will face their anguish alone – and an army of supporters across East Devon is helping the cause spread its wings.
“Pete was my baby brother; he was the apple of my eye,” says Alison. “When he took his own life, it was very confusing; it was devastating for us – my family, my children and everybody around us.
“You can never say why somebody does it; there can be a number of reasons that build up.
“The reason I do what I do is because I was shocked there were no specialist support services for people that were in our situation. There was nobody to deal with the reaction we were having.
“You don’t know what to expect with suicide bereavement; physical pain, post-traumatic stress, stigma and isolation.
“Everybody reacts completely differently. For me, I was looking after everybody else and making sure my children were OK.
“Bereavement after suicide is an extremely painful experience which brings with it trauma and shock. I was at a loss with how to cope with my own feelings, let alone those of my children.”
After years of fundraising for the rescue services that helped search for Pete, Alison decided to leave her career in law, retrain and start a charity. Pete’s Dragons was granted charitable status in February 2015.
A year later, it opened an HQ in Exmouth and today is an award-winning cause supporting some 300 people across the county. It receives no statutory funding and is completely reliant on fundraising and grants.
The charity has provided its bespoke suicide bereavement support services – that make it unique in the UK – to families in need in every town across East Devon.
And from a pop-up charity shop in Ottery St Mary to Sidmouth’s The Donkey Sanctuary hosting life skills sessions for beneficiaries, communities in the area are backing the cause.
Earlier this year, kind-hearted members of staff at Honiton’s Tesco store paid for a trolley full of toys and sweets families affected by suicide. Shoppers in Seaton and Axminster have also boosted the charity by a total of £6,000 through the supermarket’s Bags of Help scheme.
Pete’s Dragons also leads the way in suicide prevention training. Its first-ever interactive talk at The Beehive, Honiton, in February was well-supported and described as informative helpful, eye opening, interesting, and encouraging.
Among the first people to receive help from Pete’s Dragons were Graham and Lesley Rowland, of Ottery, who lost their popular and much-loved son Dan at the age of 28 in 2014.
The family had received very little in the way of formal help and support – and had heard little of Alison’s work – until they unexpectedly received a ‘Hug in a Hamper’ gift at Christmas that year.
Graham and Lesley now serve as trustees of the charity.
“I had never lost anyone in my life, so I did not know what was out there, but we went months before we had anyone talk to us about Dan’s death,” says Lesley.
“It is amazing the work Pete’s Dragons does. It has really helped me to come and get involved.”
The charity supported Ottery resident Gemma Youlden and her family following the death of her 28-year-old brother Rob, a beloved dad, son and uncle, in March last year.
“It’s a charity that we never thought we would need,” says Gemma.
“The work they do behind the scenes for people who are suffering is absolutely incredible.
“I’ve come to realise just how important it is to have amazing support just when you need it the most. It can be very comforting in such a distressing and vulnerable time.”
“It’s been the most incredible journey for me,” says Alison. “It makes me very emotional. It reminds me what you can do if you set your mind to it and that something so positive can come out of something so negative.
“We have the best army of supporters possible. I often get overwhelmed by their generosity.
“Sadly, I can’t have my little brother back, my mum can’t have her son back and all of our beneficiaries cannot have their loved-ones back, but, what we can do is ensure that we continue to assist those who are bereaved by suicide in a way and at a time when they need it the most.”
Fact box – How Pete’s Dragons can help
Pete’s Dragons provides a bespoke service to anyone in Devon who has been affected by suicide bereavement. It is the only specialist support service of its kind in the South West and the most comprehensive in the UK.
The charity can respond to families within 48 hours of a bereavement.
It provides specifically- tailored resource packs; offers a listening service and also practical advice. The charity runs children and family fun days; grief recovery courses; bereavement counselling and liaises with other appropriate support services. Families also benefit from mindfulness through play and regular workshops and learning events focused towards emotional and physical wellbeing.
Pete’s Dragons also offers Christmas Hug in a Hamperand Comfort Grantoptions to both break through the stigma and isolation often felt after a suicide and assist those in financial distress. Families can also enjoy a break in the cause’s holiday home in Exmouth.
To find out more, visit petesdragons.org.uk.