By David Hennessy
Television host Laura Whitmore led the crowds on Saturday morning’s (6 May) Darkness into Light walk in Cricklewood, the annual anti-suicide walk.
Laura, well known for presenting TV shows such as Love Island, has supported the walk for many years.
In addition to the Cricklewood event, walks also took place at London Irish’s training ground at Hazelwood and- brand new for this year- Clapham Common.
Just 400 people attended the first Darkness into Light walk in Phoenix Park, Dublin in 2009.
There are now walks all over Ireland and as far away as Canada, USA, Hong Kong and Australia/ New Zealand, with hundreds of thousands taking part all over the globe. The annual walk is the flagship fundraiser for Irish suicide awareness charity Pieta House.
The London walks also raise funds for Immigrant Counselling and Psychotherapy (ICAP) in London, a mental health charity serving the community in the UK for 27 years.
The walk first took place in Cricklewood in 2012 when it was the first Darkness into Light to take place outside of Ireland.
Crowds gathered at the Crown Hotel in Cricklewood before 4am.
ICAP trustee Angela Byrne stood up in the Crown’s newly reopened bar to read a message from ICAP CEO Catherine Hennessy.
The statement read: “Thank you for walking this morning from Darkness into Light.
“As you hear this message, I will be walking at Clapham Common.
“By walking today, you are doing three hugely important things.
“As you step out into the pre-dawn, you are helping to challenge the stigma associated with suicide.
“Make no mistake, stigma and shame can kill.
“They kill because they stop people who are in distress seeking help.
“Secondly you are walking alongside and in solidarity with those who have experienced the devastating loss of a family member or friend to suicide. The pain of this loss is unimaginable for those of us who have not experienced it.
“Your visible support matters because it helps people to see that they are not alone with that pain.
“Finally you are helping iCap and Pieta House to provide counselling and support to those who are in distress and experiencing suicidal thoughts.
“ICAP offers counselling and therapy to the Irish community in Britain.
“Finally thank you for caring, for walking and all that you do to support this work.”
Laura Whitmore stood up to say, “I’ve been a supporter of this walk for a long time now so I see lots of familiar faces today and lots of new faces which is great to see.”
Reading a statement from Pieta House, she said: “You’re joining us this morning for the most important sunrise of the year.
“You are sending a powerful message of hope.
“You are also letting anyone in your community that may be struggling know that they are not alone, there is hope and there is light after dark.
“Of course, you are also raising essential funds to support Pieta’s life saving suicide prevention services and last year because of the kindness of supporters like you guys here today, we were able to provide 50,000 hours of intervention and bereavement counselling and we received over 100,000 calls and texts to our 24/7 helpline.
“You make all of this possible.
“Today as a united people on this walk here across Ireland and the world, we’re doing three important things.
“One, we’re putting our arms around- all of us as a community- those that have lost a loved one to suicide.
“You are giving time to remember, time to heal, a time to hope.”
Laura added herself, “I know from previous years the walk can be quite emotional and that’s okay and just allow that.”
Laura continued reading: “Two, you are helping all of us who are struggling not to lose heart, to hold on and to find a way out of the dark.
“Three, you are shining a light on the shadow of stigma. You are making it easier for all of us to speak up, to talk about how we are feeling and most importantly to ask for help if we need it so whether you are taking part today with family, friends, colleagues or here by yourself you are not alone, the entire Darkness into Light community here, all over the world on walks like this, we’re all together in unison.
“You are the light that will ignite hope, you are bringing the power of hope into many, many lives, you are light after the dark.”
Before people set off on their walk Tara Cronin, who brought the walk to London, read from Pieta House’s manifesto.
She said: “We wake up in our darkness in our thousands around the world.
“We rise up to challenge stigma, to banish self harm and to fight suicide.
“We keep in our hearts those feeling trapped in the darkest night, those haunted by sadness, those with an empty chair.
“We walk shoulder to shoulder until we drive out guilt and shame, until we stop the breaking of human spirit and we start connecting in conversation.
“With every step, we commit to acceptance, we commit to hope and we commit to life.”
Tara added: “Enjoy the walk and thank you so much for supporting Darkness into Light.”
The crowds set off from The Crown at 4.15am to walk 5 kilometres around Cricklewood, Gladstone Park before returning to The Crown.
Laura Whitmore told The Irish World after the walk: “It’s lovely to be here this morning for Darkness into Light. We’ve just finished our walk, it’s bright now so it’s really special just to start the walk when it’s still dark and then while the sun rises to be with this group of people.
“Everyone’s here for their own reasons, for great charities Pieta House and iCap and there’s a real strong Irish community today in North London.
“It’s lovely to be part of that and it’s really special.
“It’s so great just to have a home away from home, you feel you have that here with all the accents this morning.
“I feel Irish people, no matter where they are in the world, are great for looking out for one another which is what today represents as well.”
London Rose Hayley Reynolds told The Irish World: “It’s wonderful to be here this morning.
“It’s such an amazing opportunity walking with everybody, everyone has a story, it’s for such an unbelievable cause.
“It’s nice to be out here, see everyone get up so early, enjoy the sunrise. It’s been amazing.
“Walking you meet so many people, it’s a really nice chance to meet up and raise awareness for mental health and suicide.”
You can get more information on Darkness into Light, click here.
For more information about Pieta House, click here.
You can get more information about ICAP, click here.