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The Baton of Hope

26 June 2023


The Baton of Hope

26 June 2023

On Wednesday this week, Sheffield will play its part in the biggest suicide prevention initiative the UK has ever seen.

The Baton of Hope, on day four of its 12-day UK city tour, will make its way around Sheffield to spread its message.

The baton symbolises a growing movement of hope and aspires to a zero-suicide society.

Founders Mike McCarthy and Steve Phillips first made contact following the deaths of their sons, Ross and Jordan to suicide. It was through an SWFCCP ‘Talk Club’ event at Hillsborough where Mike first met Owls midfielder Will Vaulks, whose family has its own experiences with suicide.

In a bid to raise awareness and show people that support is there, the Owls star – who is an ambassador for the Baton of Hope - has opened up about how suicide has affected his family.

Both of Will’s grandads lost their lives to suicide.

On Wednesday morning, in their memory, Will is set to kick off the relay event by carrying the baton from Hillsborough across the way to Hillsborough Park.

The Baton of Hope will begin bright and early in S6, a start time of approximately 8:00am is pencilled in, and anyone wishing to support Will is welcome on the day!

“I’m here to support the Baton of Hope which is an initiative started by Mike McCarthy, who lost his son Ross to suicide,” Will told

“Basically, it’s to spread awareness of people who have lost family members to suicide, and I have got personal experiences of that.

“I lost both my grandads to suicide within the space of 15 months, when I was 13 and then again when I was 15, so I just thought let’s use the platform I have, however big or small, to try and help this cause which is all about preventing people from taking their own lives.

“It was through the Talk Club event that Mike put on at the club. I was asked if I would go along, and I really enjoyed it. After five minutes of speaking to Mike, he mentioned to me why he was part of Talk Club - because he lost his son Ross to suicide.

“At that point I kind of said, ‘oh, well I actually lost both of my grandads to suicide.’ We got talking and he was just starting up the Baton of Hope and I feel very honoured to be asked to carry it on Wednesday for the walk.

“For my family, for me, it’s going to be very emotional and I think it’s right that I step up and do it and try and show people that no matter who you may be, we all have our own struggles in our families.

“This whole cause is to try and prevent people from taking their own lives and prevent families like mine from going through such really hard, dark and traumatic times.

“It’s what suicide does to families, it’s like a bomb goes off and we had two bombs go off within two years.


(Will with his grandad Hywel)


(Will with his grandad Tom)

“I’m a footballer and have that platform and maybe a few more people might listen to me, rightly or wrongly… probably wrongly!

“But seriously, if I can reach more people I want to get the message out. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it properly and speak from the heart. Show people I’m a normal person and that my family has been through some great times but also some really tough times.

“I want people to realise there is help out there; I wish we could go back in time and help both my grandads because we don’t believe that help was there at the time but now, it is there a lot more.

“My grandads are loved by people in our family and I am sure there are people out there feeling low now but they will 100% be loved by people in the world and we are here to support.

“It’s an honour that I start the whole day for the Sheffield leg! It’s going to be emotional but it’s tragic how many families are in the same situation as we are.

“I know my parents are proud and I’d like to think my grandads would be proud too that I’m carrying it in their memory. I wish I wasn’t carrying it in their memory of course, I wish they were watching me play here but that’s not the case.

“For me, carrying the baton, if it means someone will get to keep their son, dad, grandad, any family member for a bit longer, then that is the whole aim.”

Baton of Hope project leads for Sheffield, Claire Robertson and sister Sara Downs (pictured above with Will) have worked tirelessly in their planning of the city tour on Wednesday.

The pair were down at Hillsborough on Monday morning to meet once again with Will and have high hopes for the success of the day.

“The baton is coming to Sheffield on Wednesday and we are the only city in Yorkshire to host the baton relay,” Claire said.

“We are visiting lots of places in the city, championing mental health and wellbeing – with particular focus on getting suicides down to zero.

“We are very proud that Sheffield Wednesday are involved and that our ambassador Will Vaulks will be carrying the baton on the day.

“We have got 68 different batonbearers joining us and all of them have their own stories.

“Some of them have shared theirs with us and some are families who have been bereaved only recently. We have two or three who have a family member who has taken their own lives in the last few months and are very emotional but feel this is something they want to do to honour their memory.

“We wanted to encompass everything that Sheffield has to offer and obviously football is a big driver in our community and SWFC is a great place to set the day off, particularly with Will who champions everything that is positive about the Baton of Hope.

“We want to thank Sheffield Wednesday for everything they have done for us, not just for Will and carrying the baton but how they have hosted us, made us feel so welcome and helped to spread the word.

“Will is a shining star and the fact he is able to share his story with us and the strength that takes, he helps to shine a light on a topic that we need to start talking about.”

The tour will take in the following cities; Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester, Belfast, Cardiff, Bristol, Birmingham, Milton Keynes, Brighton and London.

If you would like to see the baton and give your support on the day, the full route can be found HERE.

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