The emotive story of how two friends launched a networking app for suicidal veterans following the death of a PTSD-suffering comrade has helped a team of 25 cyclists raise an impressive £128,000 to help save others in distress on a charity ride to Normandy.
That total figure of donations is almost £88,000 over and above the Pink Pub Cycle Club’s initial fundraising target of £40,000 – a result which perhaps demonstrates how the All Call Signs’ pioneering approach in coming to the rapid aid of distressed members of the military community has captured the public’s attention.
The charity was founded by Dan Arnold and Stephen James following the loss of comrade Danny Johnston, who tragically took his own life due to the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 2018.
Dan is a veteran who can personally relate to those suffering from PTSD. He said:
"We see it routinely that when someone’s of low mood, they take themselves off grid with the intention of hurting themselves… and that’s not OK with us."
The charity’s peer-to-peer network app has already impressed Prince Harry, who has offered words of support to the venture.
It is the success of the charity’s rapid response-style system – which is credited with saving at least 11 lives in its first nine months of operation and which earlier this year had been launched 49 times, with 47 positive recoveries – that sparked a call to action by a group of friends to cycle 141 miles from Bognor To Pegasus Bridge, all on an odd assortment of “questionable” bikes worth £25 or less, to raise funds for the charity.
Raising any amount of funds is getting tougher for anyone involved in the myriad of charity activities that people now regularly take part in, and an England-to-France cycling event is by no means out of the ordinary.
So it is perhaps all the more surprising then that the team of cycling friends calling themselves the Pink Pub Cycle Club from Bognor Regis not only surpassed their £40K target – but smashed it by tens of thousands of pounds more, a testament to how much support the All Call Signs charity commands despite only being in operation for less than a year.
All Call Signs pulls no punches in its mission, with visitors to its website confronted with a powerful, thought-provoking statement in colourful language, stating:
“WE’RE SH*T AT TALKING. IT’S TIME TO CHANGE THAT.”
The introduction to the charity’s aims is brief before it gets straight to the service that suicidal people might need – ‘hit the button to chat,’ working somewhat like an emergency response service for those in immediate need.
Its aim is to use technology through its pioneering app, and the power of community, to improve the health of servicemen, women and veterans.
It has a three-pronged approach that it calls RAP … Response, Awareness, Prevention.
Response relates to its Beacon system – a geo-location emergency response application which sends out an immediate alert to any All Calls Signs members and relevant agencies whenever a vulnerable member of the military community goes missing, saying the mission is to get boots on the ground fast.
Awareness relates to the work it does via its blog, media outreach and social media to highlight the health needs of those in and around the forces.
Prevention is about its efforts to tackle the isolation someone might feel as they battle depression, anxiety or stress. The charity has launched a Listener’s program which aims to catch people at their most isolated and signpost them to volunteers who can help them, with a chat service on its app to reach help at the click of an online button.
As the charity’s emotive logo proclaims ‘We’re sh*t at talking’, it can be difficult for most people, especially veterans and military personnel to confine in another person. It helps to know that the person on the other side of the phone has had similar experiences and can relate.
The strong team of over 470 volunteers have all served in the Forces so know first-hand the stresses and struggles that come with daily life in and out of uniform.
Dan said: "We just hope that (it) really bridges a gap … by being able to log on to someone who’s been there … we found it’s been really well received by people."
The Pink Pub Cycle Club took on its challenge after finding inspiration in the powerful story of ex-soldiers Dan and Stephen, who set up the All Call Signs network following the death of their friend - and after tiring of witnessing so many veterans in their circles on the brink of suicide.
Oli Hicklin, one of the cyclists, said:
"… with the unfortunate passing of Danny Johnston, a very good friend of a lot of the team, we decided to do something for PTSD and that’s where we came across All Call Signs."
Dressed as the Home Guard, the 25 cyclists set off from Bognor to Normandy, full of hope to make it there in time for the D-Day 75 commemorative events.
Using ‘vintage’ bikes worth £25 pounds seemed like a good idea at first. It cut costs, blended in well with their costumes and made the ride even more of a challenge.
The team smashed their fundraising goal by 320%, which took away any disappointment that they did not make it to Normandy in time for the D-Day commemorations.
Malfunctioning equipment and other minor road disasters meant that they arrived eight hours later than planned.
Oli said: "We got there eight hours late… because of a couple of catastrophic bike failures - we bent the forks on one bike, a rear wheel gave out on another… it pushes you back all the time."
Despite the trying ride and tardy arrival, the team are feeling stronger than ever and are ready to reach even more ambitious goals in the future.
The team are already planning more fundraising events to support ‘All Call Signs’ which Dan hopes will help them continue to grow:
"The money the guys from The Pink Pub Bike Club have raised for us should expedite us opening our second physical location."
If you want to learn more about ‘All Call Signs’ and find out how you can get involved or donate, just head to allcallsigns.org.