How James Fildes is Changing Lives with Space North East
Sunderland-born James Fildes is lending an ear to men who are suffering with depression, loneliness and anxiety after battling with these issues himself
Nationally, one man dies every two hours from suicide, and the North East suffers the highest rates in the country. Men account for over 75 percent of those deaths – and that’s what James Fildes is aiming to tackle with Space North East.
A Sunderland supporter, James grew up in the city and has lived there all his life. ‘I had a very normal childhood but when I was 16 my parents got divorced. Following sixth form I joined the Royal Air Force and after getting medically discharged I went to university. When I left, I realised I’d slowly sunk into a depression and I became suicidal,’ he explains.
James suffered with depression for a decade, ultimately making the decision to attempt to take his own life. ‘Thankfully, and obviously, I didn’t end my life but one day something really got to me. I sat looking at the wall in my sister’s old bedroom and became really angry at myself. I had a real moment of defiance and finally went to the doctors to ask for help. I was told at that point there would be a one year wait before I could see a therapist so that day I decided I’d help other lads get out of this – because there isn’t enough help. At the time I couldn’t do it, I was in a bad way, but five years later I did.
‘I set up Space North East and on 22nd April 2022 we held our first support group. We’ve been going strong ever since, and getting stronger and stronger. It’s been quite a journey to say the least.’
James wanted to create a space where every man could go to open up and talk. ‘A year to wait for me was too long, and I know it’s too long for other people,’ he explains. ‘They don’t need to pay or join a waiting list, they just need to turn up and open up with lads who have been through similar things. I soon realised how deep and complex and varied these issues were. I realised there was so much more that could be done, and so much that wasn’t being done. A lot of the issues seem to stem from isolation and loneliness. I started to think about how we could start building a community and how we could tackle the bigger picture as well as individual problems.’
Now Space North East has three arms: Space to Talk (a weekly support group taking place at the Beacon of Light at 7pm each Wednesday), Space to Think (bringing inspirational and educational guest speakers to the North East), and Space to Walk (a group walk to show solidarity while also getting active and allowing people to meet new people). ‘I always say you can never underestimate your part in changing a string of events in someone’s life,’ says James. ‘Just one of these things could be life-changing and I’ve seen this help people so many times.’ Space North East’s first ‘walking to get blokes talking’ campaign had more than 80 people in attendance in solidarity with any men going through difficult times.
James’ mission is to reduce suicides in the North East and provide men with the support they need, when they need it, and he’s proud of his efforts so far. ‘When I was in my depression, I was convinced that I wouldn’t reach the age of 30,’ he admits. ‘But I turned 30 in December. This past year has been difficult, there have been ups and downs and it’s taken a lot of work (because I work full-time alongside this) but it’s been incredible. We’ve heard some of the most amazing stories – lads who’ve totally turned their lives around. One of the guys said to me “Space saved my life” which was so powerful.
Because I’m a North East lad, I feel like I’ve got a good understanding of what some of the issues are in the North East. A lot of my friends have gone through the same thing and they still aren’t asking for help, and that’s frustrating. But I have received nothing but respect from people and there’s been a huge understanding of the real problem here. Everyone knows someone who has experienced depression and I just wanted to show people that there is always a way out. The Beacon of Light have been fantastic and we’ve had so much support from the football club. Space is really doing what I wanted it to do. But there’s so much more we want to do too.’
James has big plans for the future of Space North East. ‘We want to open our own Space where we can host more of our support groups,’ he continues. ‘They’d be able to come and see us and learn more about what we do. We want to hold more groups, host more walks and we’ve launched The Space Cup – we’ll hold a football match in the name of mental health to get people together as a community. It’s all about creating a community of people who understand each other’s pain. Bigger than that, we want to have a Space in every city in the North East. Further than that, we’d like to have a Space in every region of the UK. Ultimately, the issues don’t just stop here, they’re nationwide.’