Swansea City fan Ashley Thomas explains how the Jac Lewis Foundation has helped him with mental health struggles

10th October 2022
Club
Ashley Thomas profile image

Life-long Swansea City fan Ashley Thomas believes the Jac Lewis Foundation's wellbeing hub at the Swansea.com Stadium has helped him immeasurably as he continues to overcome his personal struggles with mental health.

Thomas was one of the first people to come through the doors of the wellbeing hub when it opened in January 2022. Having struggled with his mental health for several years and finding it difficult to know where to turn for help, a member of staff at the club let him know about the new provision.

At that time, the hub was seeing just a handful of people come through the doors, but word of mouth has meant that more than 500 people have now benefited from the service, which runs every Friday at the Swansea.com Stadium.

The provisions available at the hub have grown too, with Jac Lewis Foundation, Swansea Samaritans, as well as Communities for work (Swansea Council) regularly in attendance; while other groups such as Local Area Co-ordinators (Swansea Council), Ara Recovery 4 All, FSD Training, Rewise Crisis, Caredig, Work coaches DWP/Job Centre Reflect also involved.

The Jac Lewis Foundation has also received a donation of £10,000 from Swansea City's ownership group in order to further boost the services it offers to those in need.

“It’s amazing to see how the numbers have grown,” said Thomas.

“When I first came here, it was just me and a handful of other people and now, to see the provision expanding, it’s just brilliant to see how big it’s grown.

“At the time, it felt like there wasn’t a lot of support there. I’d been turned away by some GPs, there was a feeling that if I wasn’t in crisis in that moment, then they couldn’t really help me.

“I was struggling with suicidal tendencies and self-harm and I was nervous taking that step to come here for the first time, but when I took that step, I was sure that it would then be about looking forward.

“Everyone has got their own struggles. If you ask 10 people, all 10 will have struggles in their lives. It may not be the same situation or as intense, but it’s still a struggle.

“As you know, a lot of men think ‘oh, I mustn’t speak up, I mustn’t speak up’.

“And you are taught when you’re young that men have to grow up and be strong, but here you’re taught the opposite.

“They tell you that you have to speak up, and that if you don’t do that then you’re not going to get better.

“When you admit to yourself that you do need to talk to someone and I do need help, and you take that step then that is the moment that is going to change your life for the better.

“I’ve taken my first step, and I’ve got to continue to move forward.  There will be struggles, but I know everyone is here to help.

“Like I said, I have self-harmed in the past, I’ve attempted to take my life but that is part of the journey I’m on and I’m fighting it because I’m still here.

“And it’s with help from amazing things like the Jac Lewis Foundation.”

Ashley Thomas makes a cup of tea

Thomas has become an ever-present at the sessions and takes it upon himself to help new people take those difficult first steps through the doors at the wellbeing hub.

“If it’s someone new, I’ll go over to them and offer them a cup of tea or coffee,” he added.

“I just want to help new people. People have helped me, and I just want to pay that forward and help more people.

“I’m known as the biscuit king. I know a lot of the biscuits that people like, so I’ll always go over to them and offer that.

“I know I’m in my wheelchair, but I can carry lots of cups of tea and biscuits.

“I try to be supportive to new people, because I know what it feels like to be in that situation and you feel anxious and low.

“So I’ve always got the biscuits ready.”

As well as being a source of support for people at the sessions, Thomas’ poetry – which has proved to be a valuable outlet for him to articulate his thoughts and feelings when struggling with his mental health – has also helped others.

Another person who regularly attends the Jac Lewis Foundation hub only learned about the provision through reading the poems.

And in 2021, Thomas was able to share his poetry with Swansea City head coach Russell Martin.

“I first got approached about mental health when I started doing poetry about how I feel, and that was online,” he explained.

"And I had someone say that because of my poem, they felt they were able to tell their parents how they felt.

“There’s not just counselors at the wellbeing hub, there are lots of people here to help you and you don’t have to talk to anyone if you don’t want to. You can just come in and have a chat or do art classes.

“It’s brilliant – I’m going to see if I can start poetry classes because that’s how I deal with it. If I don’t know how to communicate something I use poetry.”

The Jac Lewis Foundation wellbeing hub not only provides the support Thomas needs for his mental health struggles, he has also found a new set of friends.

“You can feel very isolated by mental health and you feel like you don’t know who to turn to at times,” he added.

“There’s no judgement here. We just feel like we can talk about issues, and you’re not going to get judged.

It’s amazing – everyone is lovely. It helps you gather more friends, come out of your shell, have a laugh. It’s not all serious here.

“You can just express yourself and have a laugh. I’ve made a lot of friends here and we try to meet up outside the Jac Lewis hub too.

“I really would implore people that if they want help and they don’t know how to go about it then they should think about coming to the hub.

"That first step is going to be the hardest part, but once you’ve taken that step and you’ve seen how calming the atmosphere is and the fact that you don’t have to talk to anyone if you don’t want to, you don’t have to speak to the counselors. You can just have some tea and coffee and some biscuits.

“I find most people come back.

“It’s like a big family – the club is like a family anyway, and now they’ve introduced the Jac Lewis Foundation hub, which is the same.”

Ashley Thomas with two other service users

Thomas is now a regular visitor to the stadium having recently returned to the Swansea.com Stadium, utilising the split payment plan to purchase a season ticket for the 2022-23 season.

He’s proud that his club is doing so much to support people who may be struggling.

“I’m a season ticket holder – I’m a massive Swans fan,” he continued.

“I love coming down to watch the Swans.

“For me, it’s always been a family club and it’s a club that genuinely cares for its fans and community

“I’m proud to be a Jack, and I’m proud to have a club that supports, speaks out and knows about mental health. The club encourages people to talk and get stuff off your chest.

“Then the hub, they work hard to show people the help and support that is available.

“We’ll beat it together, with the help of everyone here and all the brilliant counselors, we’ll do it.

“Well done to the Jac Lewis Foundation and Swansea City as well.”

 

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