Marine’s own trauma inspires community mental health initiative

Tom on a training exercise in the jungle

Tom on a training exercise in the jungle. Photo: Supplied - Credit: Supplied

An Exmouth Royal Marine, who was inspired to set-up a mental health community group due to his own struggles, says the pandemic has meant his initiative is needed 'more than ever'.

Tom Merriman, 36, a physical training instructor at Commando Training Centre, Lympstone, launched RV-ONE – Rendezvous First Checkpoint – a few months before coronavirus took over.

The mission statement for the Community Interest Company is 'rehabilitating the mind through functional fitness, creativity and adventure'.

The founding premise revolves around social interaction as a means to boosting mental health.

Meet-ups, including beach fitness sessions led by Tom, got underway pre-Covid-19 and will resume when lockdown restrictions are eased.

Several fundraising challenges are set to take place this year, kicking-off with the Three Peaks Challenge in May.

“RV1 is the first checkpoint in any journey and we are all on a journey,” says Tom. “We all have a bearing in life and sometimes we come off our bearing, that is when RV1 can help.

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"RV is an abbreviation for rendezvous which means, a meeting between two or more people in a designated location at a designated time.

Tom on a training exercise in the jungle

Tom on a training exercise in the jungle. Photo: Supplied - Credit: Supplied

“RV-ONE isn’t just for people in the military or blue light services, it’s for anyone struggling with mental health,” says the father-of-three, who has completed tours of duty in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone.

“I set the group up because I was struggling myself. Sometimes, you don’t know where to go, and think you’re alone in your struggles. But there are places to go, and you’re not alone. The meet-ups are a relaxed space for people to talk and support each other.”

Tom in the gym

Tom in the gym. Photo: Supplied - Credit: Supplied

Working in partnership with Exmouth Community College, RV-ONE launched a snood design competition for students this February.

The winning design will be manufactured, with all funds raised through sales going towards funding a creative space for young people in the town. 

The snood design project encourages students to be creative while considering what mental wellbeing means, and fundraising for their local community space.  

Exmouth DJ Stuart MacCleod has already secured mixing equipment for the proposed hub.

“RV-ONE believes that prevention is best,” continues Tom, who is being supported by Exmouth-based military mental health charity Rock2Recovery through his journey.

“When mental health injuries occur in childhood or adolescence and aren’t treated, they can continue into adulthood, so, we wanted to team-up with the school to address the issue of mental health early.

“There was already a big demand for community mental health support before the pandemic. Now that demand is even bigger,” says Tom, who became a Commando aged 18.

Tom on a training exercise in the jungle

Tom on a training exercise in the jungle. Photo: Supplied - Credit: Supplied

“As a marine, team work is at the heart of my thinking. I was struggling, which led me to wonder whether there was anything I could do to help anyone else who was also struggling.”

In 2007, Tom’s own mental illness was instigated by a traumatic incident during a training exercise involving him being crushed and trapped in a vehicle.

He has been battling the aftermath ever since, so knows how important it is to seek support when you need it.

“I realised I had to get help,” he says. “And I realised that struggling with mental health is something lots of people go through.

"If you’ve got a brain, you’ve got mental health, and sometimes it will be healthy, other times, not so healthy. How you deal with it, is what’s important.”

Rachel Wright, head of post-16 at Exmouth Community College, who is taking on the Three Peaks Challenge for RV-ONE with fellow teachers Lucy Burch and Vicky Rowsell, added: “It is essential that we work with the community and build links to support our families at a time where it is needed more than ever, so we’re excited to be part of a project supporting this link.”

RV-ONE’s Three Peaks Challenge is now full, but to find out about future challenges, as well as for more information about the social meet-ups, visit www.facebook.com/rv.oneuk

To sponsor Team ECC, which is covering all expenses so every penny can go to the hub project, visit https://gofund.me/52dca8b9

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