A charity boss is set to run to every Premier League stadium in England as part of a gruelling 900-mile fundraising challenge.

Matthew Smith, who runs If U Care Share based in Chester-le-Street, unveiled his ambitious plan at an event at Close House in Northumberland yesterday. (Thursday)

Some of the region's most influential businesses and industry leaders came together to support the 29-year-old, who is at the helm of the North East's leading suicide prevention and mental health charity.

They have pledged thousands of pounds in support of the charity's vital work in the region which, in 2023, suffered its highest suicide rates since 1981.

Matthew Smith said: "I'm absolutely blown away by the generosity and support shown by North East businesses.

"It's a bit of a cliché to say that the people of the North East are the friendliest and most caring people in the country, but support for my latest challenge really demonstrates our sense of community and togetherness.

"It's no secret that suicide prevention and mental health services have struggled recently due to significant funding restrictions, so I can't thank everyone enough for believing in the charity, our mission, and myself.

"The money raised at the launch event will not only enable the challenge to go ahead, it will also save lives, support communities, and prevent suicide in a region that needs our help more than ever."

The charity supports people across the North East of England and offers services directly supporting suicide prevention, intervention and helping those impacted by suicide.

If U Care Share was established in 2005 by the family of Daniel O'Hare from Lumley, near Chester-le-Street who took his own life unexpectedly at the age of 19.

The Northern Echo: Daniel O'Hare died when he was 19Daniel O'Hare died when he was 19 (Image: Contributor)Daniel had no previous history of mental health problems nor had he shown any outward signs of his intention.

He was a normal young man, who was extremely popular and well known in his local community and had a large amount of friends and a family who loved him dearly.

He enjoyed football, spending time with friends and socialising.

He also had a job managing a family online retail business and to this day his family remain devastated by their loss and are still no nearer to understanding Daniel’s choice.

His younger brothers Matthew and Ben, along with cousin Sarah (then aged 10, five and 12) set up the foundation because they wanted to do something positive and prevent another family suffering a similar experience, as well as creating a lasting memory to Daniel.

The family started selling wristbands at football clubs featuring the message 'if u care share' and raised over £50,000 for mental health charities.

In 2011, If U Care Share Foundation became a registered charity with three main aims: Prevention, intervention & support of those bereaved by suicide.

Since then the charity has provided support to those who have lost loved ones to suicide, as well as help and advice to those who are at risk of taking their own life.

And their team of advisers have been delivering workshops on mental health education and suicide prevention in schools, Premier League, English Football League and Women’s Super League clubs and businesses and community organisations across the UK to promote positive mental health.

Every year the charity holds its on 'Inside Out Day' which coincides with World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10.

People are encouraged to wear an item of clothing 'inside out' to encourage people to start a conversation. The purpose of the message - supported by an annual t-shirt campaign - is to 'get what’s on the inside, out'.

It has been supported for the last four years by Premier League, EFL and WSL teams who have all worn and posed with the t-shirt in match warm-ups and training sessions.

The North East still has the highest rate of suicide among men under the age of 50. Six men every week take their own lives.

It is estimated that this has a direct impact on 135 people, including members of that person's family, friends, work colleagues, responders and health professionals.

In total it means at least 810 people on average are affected by suicide in the region every week.

Train operator Lumo was just one of the many leading North East firms represented at Close House near Newcastle for Matthew's challenge being revealed.

Martijn Gilbert, Managing Director of Lumo, said: "Our customers and communities are at the heart of what we do at Lumo.

"As a North East business, we are proud to partner with If U Care Share as they do invaluable work preventing and supporting those affected by suicide.

"All our onboard Customer Experience Ambassadors train with Samaritans when joining the company with many also training as wellbeing champions, including mental health first aid, to further support colleagues and customers in need of extra support.

"As the North East has the highest rates of suicide of anywhere in the country, we are doing all we can to play our part to help drive down this staggering statistic and hope supporting Matthew's challenge will be another step in helping save lives."

The challenge, which will begin in August, aims to not only raise £135,000, but to spread awareness of suicide prevention across the country, with the message that 'it's okay not to be okay' and that there is 'always a way'.

Professional golfer Lee Westwood OBE spoke to delegates at the event by video and said: “If U Care Share’s tireless work to save lives, support communities, and prevent suicide, is second to none.

But times are tough. Crucial suicide prevention funding has come to an end, meaning charities like If U Care Share are relying on the support of local communities and figures to continue their life-saving work. “Without their vital support this amazing charity will be unable to effectively support the most vulnerable region in the country – the North East.”

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Dave and Donna Armstrong from Blyth lost their son Aaron in 2018 who ended his own life when 25 years old. The couple attend the event to share their personal story of how they have managed since the loss of Aaron.

Donna, said: “I think with suicide it's not like an ordinary death. It's much more of a shock. I don't know where we would have ended up without the help from If U Care Share. The support they've offered us has been invaluable so we're pleased to help raise funds, support and awareness for the charity.”

This is Matthew's most ambitious challenge to date, just two years on from his 250-mile run from the charity's headquarters in Chester-le-Street to Downing Street to hand in a letter calling on the UK Government to include suicide prevention in the Levelling Up White Paper.

The Northern Echo:

The new challenge, born out of the charity's love for football and long-term partnerships with the Premier League, the League Football Education, and the Women's Super League, will play a pivotal role in raising funds for the charity's campaign for 2024, Mission 135.

Last year the World Health Organisation announced figures from the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) which show that on average 135 people, including family, friends and work colleagues, are impacted when one person dies by suicide.

The IASP figures show that for each suicide, approximately 135 people suffer intense grief or are otherwise affected, resulting in 108 million people annually across the globe, who are profoundly impacted by suicidal behaviours.