When you’ve reached crisis point, teetering on the edge of life, it can be that numbing to your senses, that sound is no longer a thing. Nor touch, or vision, even willingness, can be forfeited. So anything, that can distract a person and trigger a good memory, a hopeful one, just a flicker can be enough to provoke enough emotion to have a change in heart, take a step back, towards a life that can heal. Rocco Hawkins, was so numb in a moment that he had to be told about his alcohol induced attempt to end his life on a bridge. Notified officers had wrestled him to safety, allowing us to later be graced with the experience of witnessing the driven shine of a soul that can emerge from such deep depression.
Bridges of hope, is a thriving new effort of communication set up by Rocco, to those who are suffering in low times. Direct, to the point, colourful messages of love and hope, strategically pinned along bridges. They don’t require a phone call, interaction, explanation or anything of that nature, only a few moments in time, and attention from the reader.
“I put a personal letter right in the middle of every bridge because statistically, apparently, people that do jump from bridges, mainly walk to the middle of the bridge. So that’s where I put my letter. It gives them a chance to see it, open it, and hopefully by the time they’ve read it, they will be out of that mindset.”
The messages have proven more than popular amongst the public. So far to knowledge, 18 lives have been saved by these incredible messages, two as young as 15. A young boy went missing for 5 days and returned home holding one of the messages that Rocco had left. Both boys admitted that there were things in the letters that stopped them from committing suicide.
The reason that these messages are proving to be so effective is that Rocco is a real local person who has stood in the same shoes as the reader he is trying to connect with. Comforting them, that there are other options out there, and that people do care.
Two days after the first bridge in Derby, UK, had been decorated, the attention had caught the eye of the Telegraph, a famous newspaper, after being contacted by a person who was grateful that someone out there had taken the time out of their day to selflessly put these messages up for strangers. Since then, locals have gathered behind Rocco with both words of support and by volunteering to help him spread his messages to as many people as possible, some of which have their own survival story to inspire them and share. The city council has also approved the permanent fixture of these messages across all Derby bridges, welcoming volunteers in support of Rocco to help him pin up, maintain, and most importantly, spread the word. A great deal was struck with Rolls Royce, where company officials got in contact with Rocco to offer laminating services for the messages so they would permanently withstand the natural weather changes.
“I went along every day with these new laminates from Rolls Royce thinking yep! These aren’t going anywhere for a while!”
Territory of specific councils isn’t always clear common knowledge. Rocco received a surprising backlash from a neighbouring council where the parish is responsible for a large majority of decisions being made. One bridge on Cole lane, and one in Victoria Avenue, which is a road and foot bridge.
“I had to go through the parish and had a microsoft meeting with them and a few other people who said they would try and get the signs permanently fixed on better, to avoid them becoming detached and obstructing a driver, despite being secured with multiple cable ties each. There was one person who disagreed, saying that there hadn’t been a suicide on either bridge for 50 years so we don’t need to have these messages on them.
On the Cole Lane Bridge there was a 15 year old on there, and he was in a bad way, and he took my letter out of the envelope and took it home to his mum. That’s happened twice now, on different bridges. The messages on the Cole lane were there for 7 months, never ever being touched. Then this 15 year old lad goes on there, picks up a letter, goes home, two days later, all those messages were taken down. His mum was absolutely livid, she was fuming.”
The boy’s mother contacted the council and the parish stating her disgust in their decision to remove a beautiful tool that has been there for so long and helped save her son from committing suicide.
In a letter from the Samaritans, where they confirmed that they are not a crisis point of contact, also said that the messages of hope should be taken down sensitively. A shocking order which has come from the organisation that perceives a good image and being there as a lever of support. The news has, by no surprise, not gone down well with very many people.
“The Samaritans have been around for a long time, during which the government has pumped a lot of money into, because before recently, they were the main source of help to contact if someone needed it. But now, a lot more people are talking, especially men, which is good, but they don’t like it. It goes to show that they don’t want anybody else to join in helping”
It was reported by a Good Samaritans open day attendee that they were told that all you are as a phone’s operator, is a listener. If the person on the other end says to you at any point ‘right im going to jump off this bridge now,’ then you have to stay with them on the phone whilst they do it. They can’t try and talk them out of it because it’s against that person’s will. After learning this protocol, the female attendee left the event and retracted her desire for a position.
Another woman reported that her husband once contacted the Samaritans in a moment of need, and they told him, “Don’t worry sir, we will stay on the phone with you whilst you do what you need to do, we will be here with you”. The absurdity doesn’t end there, another story where a phone responder told the distressed caller to ‘just go home and make a good cup of tea or a bath.’
The group have removed all of Roccos messages in their area, and since replaced them with their own signs in exactly the same “distracting” places on the bridges, with their phone number on and a short statement saying, ‘ we’re here to listen”. Zero appealing connection prospect in comparison to Roccos work and a very sad display of how rather than realising they are out of touch with what the people need, and doing an internal reform, collaborating with good people, not bullying a fantastically precious life saving concept out of town like a sore loser. Their replacement signs also contradict a former complaint made about the messages of hope saying that people will stop to read them, which could result in a trigger, potentially leading to a fatality, so they need to be removed as to not incite a popular spot for suicide.
Derby city council decided to react, and flaunt their full support for Roccos Bridges of Hope by lighting up a newly built bridge on the A52 in rainbow for a full weekend, in honour of his work, which is great to see the council actually getting behind something beneficial for the people so firmly like that.
Bridges of Hope is forever developing the more we get behind it, where notes are appearing in people’s windows to encourage Roccos mission, finding ways to get around any fight back.
The following text is broken up into sections that allow you to pass over if you wish, as some topics may be triggering. The aim is not to offend or offset anybody, but deliver you the full story whilst still delivering you the Jolly outcomes.
Rocco Hawkins who comes from the East Midlands in England grew up in and out of poorly matched foster care after his parents divorce that saw his mother admitted into a mental health hospital and took to drinking alcohol at the early age of 13.
He was in a coma for months at the ages of 7 after being attacked by a dog. The injuries were so severe that doctors informed that if he was to wake up then he might be subdued to lasting mental and physical problems. The newspapers at the time rightly mentioned Rocco as ‘the miracle child’ for his waking up and making a full healthy recovery.
As a child, Mr Hawkins attended 9 different primary schools as a result of being passed around between different homes, which also led to a lot of bullying, and young Rocco, shutting away.
At the end of January 2019, Rocco was badly assaulted and left with a fractured skull, two bleeds in the brain and two fractures in his neck and spine, after being jumped from behind by two strangers on his way home from his brother’s house. The men took 80 pounds from his pockets, punched him unconscious and continued to stamp on his head after he had already passed out. Mr Hawkins woke up in the hospital to the police by his bed who had to re-detail his memory of the attack.
Very bravely, Rocco went to see his attackers face to face in court, where he witnessed the CCTV footage of the assault which has since had a strong presence replaying in his mind.
“I didn’t have to go but I wanted to see them face to face because I never got a chance to when they assaulted me because it was from behind. It was very cowardly, so I wanted to show them that I could turn up to court on my own, and face them, which is what I felt like I had to do. I also wanted to watch the video. I knew it would be hard for me, but I had to do it.”
One of the men who pleaded an innocence to hating violence and it being out of character, was pulled up on his word with a long history of battery of women amongst other charges and got a 5 year sentence for GBH and intent. The other guy who threw a punch but nothing after Rocco was unconscious, got 20 months and is already out on probation. Despite uneasy feelings regarding the lenient sentence, there is speculation that there was a fall out between the two attackers over the situation, which is an important moment in the development of human character to now nurture and guide into a more positive direction, now that there has been a serious consequence to ill intended actions and a huge clear reiteration in what’s right and wrong.
“I literally isolated myself. I couldn’t go out, I had this neck brace on for 4 months because if I did go out on my own, I would constantly have the urge to turn around because I was assaulted from behind, I was too anxious.
From the age of 13 I’ve always been a heavy drinker, mainly from childhood experiences. There was a shop over the road that was the only place I went to.
I was only going to the shops across the road to buy alcohol then go back home. I wasn’t eating properly, I wasn’t washing, I wasn’t doing anything at all. I was really really depressed, I really thought this is the way I’m gonna die, I’m going to drink myself to death by the looks of it. Then I ended up going to that bridge. Totally out of my mind I wasn’t thinking of what I was doing or how I got there, it was basically just going there, over the other side of the rail, and I was just looking down the police said. They said I was just emotionless and they managed to sneak up behind me, grab me and wrestle me back over. And then the next day they told me what I was doing which was really scary.
I thought to myself, everyone has heard a story of someone committing suicide or how they do it but i never had a thought to go there, i didn’t have a choice whether to live or die that night, so it was a massive wake up call because I never ever thought that someone could go there, do it, and never even have the choice to do it.”
Rocco spent a voluntary four months in a mental health hospital to stay and be comfortable, feel safe and orgonise himself, where he detailed spending an initial time in a mostly zombie like state whilst a medical balance was being explored. Once the right medication was found and settled in with, it was the beginning of a more peaceful road to freedom for Mr Hawkins.
“I stopped when i walked out that door, took a deep breath of fresh air, and said to myself, right, that’s it now, my life changes form here no more alcohol,
This time it registered in my mind, and it stuck.
“People ask me how I manage to stay on track and I tell them, a bloke once told me in a AA meeting that it doesn’t matter what kind of help you get, or who helps you, you will only quit when you are ready to. I kind of brushed it off at first but now I really believe it and 2 years on I still haven’t had a drop of alcohol”
About the bridges
The brain behind the bridges was roused whilst Rocco was reminiscing over a bridge noticeable from his mother’s house, where he was adjusting back to healthy life. Mr Hawkins describes having an urge to make a distraction and do something to help the next person which is when the very first message was created.
“The very first message was, ‘place your hand on your heart, can you feel that? It’s called ‘purpose’. Another one done that day said, ‘your story isn’t over yet’. And I just put them two on with a bit of colour with a personal message which I tried to keep as brief as possible , because when someone’s going through their hardest moment you have to act quick. So I just wanted to let them know that I have been there and I know how they are feeling and stuff like that. That was it, I went back to mums and then 2 days later the telegraph was ringing me.
Rocco is still conversing with officials to get his signs back up on bridges, especially where his notes have been replaced with a poster that is unarguably shit. Until then, windows of hope, boards of hope, benches of hope you name it, are all emerging beautifully, with the original task still in sight, of targeting as many bridges as possible.
What he’s doing now
A poster image of directing your energy into something effective is not a strong enough image to portray for you to hold. Since being sober, Rocco has channeled his emotions into productivity and is pushing new limits in ranging directions, proving himself a stronger being each day and leading the inspiring way forwards. Mr Hawkins is also trying to get beer mats printed off to place in pubs, hoping to strike an open conversation between friends and family, and provide relevant contact numbers for guidance.
Bridges of hope is now an official registered charity who will be raising funds to be able to access prisons and hospitals and more, getting messages on park benches, on billboards, there is absolutely no limit to this cause.
Rocco is a huge advocate for rights against parental alienation fighting for people to be able to have contact with their children where family court has notoriously not served fair justice.
Having completed a 200 mile (321kms) bicycle ride in 24 hours, nobody can argue the unique levels his determination is taking him.
“I put myself through a lot of strain. My mum and my Partner are always like no no no, if I do something, I always have to do it over the scale. Like I have to put my body through pain. But whilst i’m out on my bike, it really frees my mind”
The machine of a bike that took him on this mammoth journey is still pending a name. Rocco’s initial bike was named Katherine, the next being named Dolly, after the brand of the bike being called voodoo. Get it? The new bike was donated by Huub who is well known for their quality bikes and running gear, so that Rocco could reach more areas and get decorating more areas with his beautiful messages of hope in bridges.
Currently this november Rocoo is steaming ahead with the 3,000 push ups in a month challenge. “Training weights in the gym is completely different to training with body weight but don’t worry, I’ll do it” He tells The Jolly Times confidently.
When we asked if he had made any observations and had feelings on depression, anxiety and suicide becoming more common amongst young teens, Rocco agreed and shared some opinions that should be heavily considered as a parent or an individual old enough to control what you consume and affects you.
“Social media has a big effect with bullying, especially if someone has special needs. It’s not the same as when I was a teenager. There wasn’t any social media or anything like that. I don’t believe in any of these programmes such as love island or made in chelsea, i don’t think they should be aired, it gives people a bit of a false reality of the way they need to be, the way they need to date and it’s just wrong and fake. Teenagers think they have to be a certain way.”
Whatever country you are reading this article from, help doesn’t have to come from your postcode or a certain number. There is endless support, alot of which can be found on the bridges of hope facebook page.
If there was ever a soul to get behind and propel forwards, it’s Roccos. What incredible efforts, perspectives and insights this interview has brought to The Jolly Times and hopefully yourselves. We can’t wait to see it grow.