LET’S TALK; INSIDE THE BEN RAEMERS FOUNDATION
words Maisie Daniels - images courtesy of the Raemers Foundation [OPENING IMAGE: BEN RAEMERS © NESTOR JUDKINS
Ben Raemers warmed the hearts and souls of many. Not only popular for his achievements in the professional skateboarding world, but for how he was as a human being; charming, kind, humble and full of bloody good banter. Unfortunately, on May 14th 2019 Ben decided to take his own life and in turn, leave a hole in many of our hearts. Along with a lot of questions surrounding the hidden pain that Ben was suffering. The day after Ben’s passing a seed of hope was sown and a conversation was sparked by Ben’s beloved sister Lucy which led to the creation of the Ben Raemers Foundation shortly after his funeral.
Carrying on Ben’s legacy are the founders: Lucy Raemers, Rob Mathieson, Susie Crome and Francesca Bortoli. All of whom have become true pioneers in their field, creating a prominent platform with a touching tag line that “aims to end the stigma that often clouds [the] issues of mental health within the skateboarding community”. According to statistics by the MIND Organisation, 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health problems in our lifetime, so we must break down those societal boundaries that have made this such a taboo subject.
It was an honour to speak with Lucy, where we had an incredibly open, honest and brave conversation surrounding Ben's death, how we can tackle issues of mental health and all of the wonderful things that the Foundation has been doing to spread awareness. And if there’s something to know, it’s the importance of talking with, checking-in on, and supporting our loved ones.
Maisie Daniels: Hey Lucy, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. Shall we start at the beginning and find out when, and how, the Foundation was formed?
Lucy Raemers: The day after Ben died, I said to my two brothers (Ollie and James) that we need to start a charity to continue Ben’s legacy. James was keen and Ollie said it was going to be really hard emotionally but for me, it gave me a real push to put my energy into creating something. From then [on], Ben’s good friend Jack (Brooks) created a Go Fund Me page, in order to raise money for a memorial bench to sit at Victoria Park. Ben’s best mate Rob (Mathieson) also designed t-shirt’s to raise money for the funeral. People were so generous with their donations and there was so much money left over, which led to the idea of forming the Foundation. Susie (Crome) helped us realised it was actually something we could set up, and it went from there!
M.D: What has the response to the Foundation been like so far?
L.R: It’s been insane! I think the biggest and best response has been how many people have said how lovely and humble Ben was and that’s been the most amazing thing! And a lot of people are now writing and opening up to us, saying how amazing the Foundation is, as nothing has ever been done like this before.
M.D: It is! The Foundation’s ethos is to “aim to end the stigma that often clouds issues of mental health within the skateboarding community”. Why do you think there is such a stigma in this community?
L.R: I think a lot of it comes with professional skateboarders and their lifestyle. You don’t really have a routine, you don’t have a typical 9-5, you go on tour, you’re boozing etc. It’s all fun and games but there’s no structure and I think that’s when your mind can wander. I’m [in] isolation right now, I don’t have a routine, and I am finding it hard mentally.
M.D: What steps do you think that the skateboarding community can take to change this?
L.R: I think the team managers can bring in more structure. It’s hard because it’s not a sport like football; with skateboarding, you’re throwing yourself off stuff, and you’ve got to be a bit more ‘off-the-wall’. Vaughan Baker (SB team manager for Nike, Europe) has been putting more structure into his managing. So some are doing it, it just needs to happen more.
M.D: And I know that Ben went into skateboarding at such a young age, so this could have had an effect…
L.R: Yes, really young! Ben was around 10/11 years old when he first started and around 12/13 years old he was taken abroad. You grow so much in your teenage years and what you’re exposed to is this Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle, lots of booze, shredding on a board…
BEN RAEMERS AS A YOUNG TEEN © RICHIE HOPSON
M.D: So, I suppose, what becomes normality for these young lads is very different to what, say, most of us would have experienced…
L.R: Absolutely. Also, we didn’t have a dad and our mum battled with addiction. Ben didn’t have a set of parents that were strict on him and told him “yes, you can go on a skate trip but also there is the school to do”. I think that has a massive part to play with it.
M.D: Did Ben ever open up to you about how he felt about your parents?
L.R: Yeah, that really affected his mental health. Not having a dad around really upset him and Ben would drink a lot. And, as our mum’s alcohol addiction escalated (especially in her later years) Ben couldn’t handle it and his mental health worsened. He tried to [handle it] because he wanted her to get better but she wasn’t, so his drinking escalated.
M.D: Did Ben ever talk about his suicidal thoughts?
L.R: Sober Ben wouldn’t talk to me but drunken Ben would. A lot of the time Ben was seen as this happy-go-lucky guy but all he did, in the end, was drink. So sometimes it would come out, and a few close people knew there were underlying issues, but to most people, he didn’t talk about it. People asked, “why didn’t he talk to me about it?” And he kind of did, but it would be when he drank and he would be so embarrassed about it the next day, that you wouldn’t want to talk about it with him.
M.D: Is there any advice that you can pass on to anyone who knows somebody that is struggling with suicidal thoughts/ their mental health?
L.R: You can’t push people into telling you things but I wish I’d have pursued it more and said: “I know that you’re feeling down, come on, let’s talk”. At the time I didn’t want to embarrass Ben or put him in a place where he felt uncomfortable, and I’d think ‘he was just drunk’ etc. But know that it’s at those times you need to keep talking to them, keep checking-in and speak of your concerns, don’t feel like you can’t.
M.D: Yes, it’s often human nature to not want to push/embarrass people but to know to not hold back is sound advice. The courage you have to come out and say that is commendable, Lucy.
L.R: If I can save one sister from going through this, then I will feel like the best person in the world.
BEN RAEMERS AS A YOUNG TEEN © RICHIE HOPSON
M.D: If someone is struggling with suicidal thoughts; what should they do?
L.R: You can call and talk out how you’re feeling to charities like Mind. I’ve done it as I was really low after Ben passed. I said I was struggling and they put me on the line with someone and they talked to me about groups that they do. So you can go and talk to people if you’ve been affected by suicide, which was really good for me. Hearing someone’s voice made such a big difference. Tell someone as well, just tell someone. And if someone is at the point of ending their life, they need to call 999.
M.D:Alarmingly, according to the CALM Organisation statistic research board, suicide is the biggest killer in men under the age of 30. Why do you think these numbers are so high?
L.R: I genuinely think that when girls suffer, we meet up, we talk. And with men, it’s just not something that they do. That’s a problem as it sits and it festers in their minds. And they think they can’t talk about it when they bloody well can. Men don’t have the space to talk, which is why we are trying to create something to get people talking. And not just skateboarding, but the wider community.
M.D That’s great; so the Foundation isn’t specific to skateboarders and men?
L.R: Absolutely anyone. We did a Q&A with our friend Andy (Elwood) and we had a guy raise his hand and say “I’m not a skateboarder, I didn’t know anything about this, I’ve just come along and I want to say this has been amazing and I’ve opened up now”. A few girls got involved too; it’s for anyone! We have aimed it at men’s mental health because of losing Ben to it but if anyone needs it, we are here.
BEN RAEMERS © RYAN GRAY
M.D: What kind of things have you been up to as a Foundation?
L.R: We had a Skate Jam in October to celebrate the launch of the Foundation. And then in June, we had the Slam City Go Skateboarding Day, which was dedicated to Ben. This was in Victoria Skate Park, which is named after Benny now.
M.D: And what kind of things went down at The Slam City Skate Day?
L.R: Go Skateboarding Day was incredible. It was dedicated to Ben and Slam wanted to make it a special celebration of his life at his favourite park. There were so many adults and kids there just being supportive. There was loads of free pizza and the brands came together to support: Vans, Converse, Palace, Nike SB, DC, New Balance, Supreme, Shiner, Keen, Rock Solid, Dwindle and Out of Step. It was all so overwhelming. Tote bags were made as well with Benny’s silhouette on them, filled with information on suicide prevention with thanks to Grassroots. And then Rob’s been working really hard on the Smile interviews, which is where a few skaters talk about their personal journeys with mental health. I think showing that is really important. Just because someone in the public eye looks okay on social media, that doesn’t mean they’re fine.
M.D: Yes, those videos are extremely powerful and it’s about relatability. If people can see other people going through the same or similar things, emotions, feelings and journey as you, it can help. And hearing people’s road to recovery [stories] must provide people with hope, and see [that] there’s a way out.
M.D: We have entered a very difficult time right now with COVID-19 and people’s mental health will be taking a hit. Do you have any advice for anyone struggling right now?
LR: Yes; 1. We’re allowed out for an hour a day, so make sure to do that, get some exercise and fresh air. 2. Talk, talk as much as you can. Don’t be afraid to just pick up the phone, it doesn’t have to be arranged, just call a friend, speak to people for a chat. 3. Don’t drink too much alcohol. 4. Eat nice food.
M.D: Great advice! As someone who has gone through losing a brother to suicide, what would you say has been the best thing to help you with your grief?
L.R: The best thing has been talking to people and having people that genuinely want to sit and listen. That’s been my saving grace. And exercise. It’s coming up to a year and no one gives you a leaflet on grief, there’s no fucking structure to it. Your whole world turns to absolute kak. And I think the main thing is that when these things happen, there’s support. There have been times when I was on my own and I really shouldn’t have been. I should’ve always had someone with me. I did that British thing and said ‘I’m okay, I just need to be on my own’ but it was probably the worst thing that I could have done. I think after that, you will find the people that will be like ‘let’s talk’ and genuinely want to listen.
M.R: I guess it’s all about the premise that ‘it’s OK to not be OK’ and being able to talk about it.
L.R: Yes, talk!
M.D: Have you had many people opening up and reaching out through the
L.R: Yeah. I’ve had people message me and say, “I’ve been struggling myself”, or “I have a friend struggling”. This is what the Foundation is all about! People have come to me personally and it’s difficult because I’m not trained (yet!) so it’s just my personal opinion. However, I spoke with someone the other day and I can share my own experiences and give my advice from my own story. And to hear it’s made a difference [in someone's life] is so good.
M.D: That’s one of the greatest gifts that you can give, sharing your experiences and helping others.
L.R: Definitely. There was a skateboarder who committed suicide last week in America. I saw that the guy had a little sister with the same age gap as Ben and I, and, I sent her a message to say how much I understand what she is going through. My heart goes out to her at the moment because I know what she will be going through.
BEN RAEMERS AND FRIENDS AT SKATEPARK © RAFAL WOJNOWSKI
M.D: Nick Jensen talks in the Smile videos of how therapy has been instrumental in moving him forward with his mental health issues. I know you have been having therapy too, how has it helped you?
L.R: I was someone who was like ‘I don’t need therapy!’ but it has changed my life. I think everyone could benefit from it. It’s someone saying “you feel this way because of this, and it’s okay to feel like that”. And you just let everything out, it’s like a guardian angel that you never had.
M.D: How did you find it opening up, did it take a bit of time?
L.R: Often, with the first session of therapy, people tell you that you’re going to feel strange after as there’s no real structure and you’re meeting a complete stranger. I went in guns blazing and said “my dad was none existent, my mum was an alcoholic, my brothers hung himself…” and then when I left and I was crying, laughing, everything! I went to the first corner shop I saw, got two Gin and Tonic’s and downed them. It was crazy [Laughs]. But, after all that, you start to get something out of it, which is just unimaginable.
M.D: And how can people go about getting therapy?
L.R: You can get it through the NHS. There’s a bit of a waiting list but you’ve just got to keep pushing for it until you get it. Both of my brothers got it through the NHS. I was of course in denial but my cousin Francesca was incredible and saw that I needed it, and she sorted it out for me through her work.
M.D: How can people go about supporting the Foundation?
L.R: You can click on our website (https://benraemersfoundation.com/) and we have our Instagram which will also lead you to the website where you can donate. When you hover over the ‘donate’ button there’s a sound bite of Ben going ‘wheeeeeey’, so it’s a bit of fun!
M.D: I love all of the branding for the Foundation!
L.R: Rob has done an amazing job of the graphics!
BEN RAEMERS © NESTOR JUDKINS
M.D: What are you working on at the moment?
L.R: With COVID-19, plans have been put on hold. However, we will pick them up again once restrictions have been lifted. We want to produce more Smile interviews; they were so good, so that’s definitely an avenue we want to go down. More screenings and more Q&A’s because it gets people talking! Our friend Liam has been documenting everything we’ve done. So, from when Ben’s bench went down, right through to the Go Skate Day, the launch, the book…everything! He’s done some interviews also with Rob, Francesca and I. So something big is coming out soon with that!
M.D: What do you want for the future of the Foundation?
L R: I want it to get as big as possible. It has the potential to, what with Ben’s legacy. And skateboarding happens all around the world, so it’s something that can go everywhere! Grow, and grow, and grow.
Spread the word!
IF YOU ARE STRUGGLING WITH MENTAL HEALTH OR KNOW SOMEONE WHO IS
BEN RAEMERS AS A YOUNG TEEN © RICHIE HOPSON
BEN RAEMERS AS A YOUNG TEEN © RICHIE HOPSON
BEN RAEMERS © RAFAL WOJNOWSKI
BEN RAEMERS © ROB MATHIESON