Adrian Derbyshire is determined to make 2018 a milestone year for his anti-hate crime and bullying campaign.
He is already on his way to speaking to hundreds of thousands of children, young adults and parents across the country and is waiting for word from the Charity Commissioners that his Adrian Derbyshire Foundation can be officially launched to take his campaign to the next level
He said: “2018 will be a massive year. I will be speaking to more people in more venues than ever before and if the Charity Commissioners approve the application for the Foundation we will be able to spread the word even further and save even more lives.”
Adrian started his anti-hate/bullying campaign after he himself was bullied when he was disabled by a brain haemorrhage which confined the former super-fit athlete to the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
When operating on the haemorrhage the surgeon’s discovered an inoperable brain tumour which left him needing to learn to speak and write again. He still deals with the effects daily.
“I had no idea about the level of bullying and that people could be so cruel until it happened to me. I was so shocked I locked myself away for four months and couldn’t face going out,” he said.
He was brought out of his shell by his love of sport and went to a disabled sport taster camp where, after trying several different sports, he found he had an aptitude for wheelchair fencing.
That aptitude went on to win him several gold and silver medals, becoming a Great Britain champion and getting involved with the 2012 London Paralympics team.
Throughout this time he was formulating ideas of how he could bring bullying and hate crime into more public awareness and decided he would start by speaking to local schoolchildren to warn them of the dangers.
He said: “It was just going to be a short, four-week campaign to try to get the message across, but as soon as it started I realised it would have to be much more than that because of the massive interest there was in what I had to say.”
Since then he has spoken to more than a quarter of a million people at a variety of events across the country and has even appeared on national television.
Tragedy struck in October 2015 when Adrian’s daughter, Julia, took her own life after she was secretly bullied because she was gay.
“I had no idea she was leading a secret life and self-harming,” said Adrian, “And if I can’t spot something like that what chance does the average parent have?
“It hit me like a sledgehammer. No parent should ever have to bury their own child and I will admit I was close to the end myself at one stage. It was so overwhelming.”
But he turned the tragedy into a positive by launching the SASSY campaign (Support Against Suicide and Self-harming Among Youth) in Julia’s name, continuing to tour the country to speak to thousands of people.
“It is vitally important we keep getting the message out there that online bullying is claiming lives around the world on a daily basis. Young people need to know that suicide is not the answer.
“It is now over two years since Julia took her life and I have been receiving over 15,000 messages of support each month from around the world. The #SASSY campaign has now been translated into seven languages.
“I have had young people and their parents messaging me with support and seeking advice and help.”
But the punishing schedule and coping with the grief of his daughter’s death almost claimed his own life in February when he had a heart attack at home.
Rushed into Broad Green Hospital, Liverpool, he underwent a three-hour operation to save his life. As he was recuperating his surgeon told him he was suffering from cardiomyopathy, a heart attack brought on by stress and known as ‘broken heart syndrome.’
He was warned he had to take six months off because the stress and strain of Julia’s death and the continuing campaign was killing him.
“But I only lasted a fortnight before I was on the campaign trail again,” he said. “Admittedly I’m taking it a little easier, but this message saves children’s lives as long as they hear it and I intend to tell them.”
The rest of 2018 looks like it’s going to be busy as Adrian has been invited to speak at two of the biggest LGBT Pride events in the country – Manchester and London. Half a million are expected at Manchester Pride while London has been estimated at 1.7 million.
His local outreach programme is also continuing. He recently gave a series of talks to the children, staff and parents at St Cuthbert’s High School in St Helens and a number of other schools are scheduled to be seen later in the year.
Two partnerships will also help spread the word. The first is with BiPhoria a Manchester support group for bi-sexuals and the other with EDsential – a Cheshire based organisation which offers support throughout the county.
In addition, there will be a series of workshops at Warrington’s Village Hotel to educate parents about what their children are going through.
Said Adrian: “It’s important to understand that this is a hidden thing. Parents have no idea what’s going on as the kids keep it secret from them.
“For instance, they have no idea that the average eight-year-old has three Facebook accounts – one they know about, another one which is private for the child to send and receive messages without its parents knowing and the third is a group account which the kids use like a chatroom.
“When the bullying starts kids feel like freaks. They feel all alone and full of anxiety which builds and builds until it can turn into suicidal thoughts.
“I don’t want any other parent to go through what I have had to deal with and will continue to have to deal with for the rest of my life.”
“It is vitally important we keep getting the message out there that online bullying is claiming lives around the world on a daily basis. Young people need to know that suicide is not the answer”