A Watford mum whose young nephew tragically took his own life has swum 24 miles in lakes to raise money and awareness.

Helen Smith lost her 12-year-old nephew Charlie to suicide in 2010 - just two months after his mother, her sister Heather, died unexpectedly of a heart attack aged 36.

The tragedies hit the 54-year-old and her other sister Hayley "incredibly hard", with both turning to swimming to ease the pain.

She said: "Water became the place where we could scream, cry and shout without anyone knowing", adding "we just couldn’t comprehend it or feel comfortable talking about it".

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The pair eventually started raising money for charity – including £21,234 for the British Heart Foundation – and this week they swam three lakes in Cumbria also in aid of suicide charity Papyrus.

Helen, a mum-of-two, said: “We are trying to do some good, and when you keep going back to the same people for donations you need to keep upping the challenge.”

Hayley, 52, added: “Charlie's suicide was incredibly difficult for us to understand and process, and it still is.

“Over 200 school children are lost to suicide every year.

“If you think about it, that would be an entire primary school.

“There is a stigma I suppose, it tore the family apart, it’s taken us years until we felt we could talk about it.

“It happened in 2010 and only now we feel we can voice our feelings about it.”

The sisters swam Windermere (18.08km), Ullswater (11.8km) and Coniston Water (8.8km) over three days, and are now planning to swim the Channel starting on Sunday.

Papyrus is a UK charity dedicated to the prevention of suicide and the promotion of positive mental health and emotional wellbeing in young people.

In a social media post, it said: “Papyrus would like to wish Helen and Hayley a huge good luck as they take on their open water swim challenge, in loving memory of their sister and nephew, Heather and Charlie.”

More information about the charity can be found on its website.

If you feel affected and wish to find support, you can contact the Samaritans on 116 123 via phone for a confidential chat or email jo@samaritans.org.

Watford Observer: Helen and Hayley after completing their swimHelen and Hayley after completing their swim


Watford Observer: CharlieCharlie


Watford Observer: Helen and Hayley swimmingHelen and Hayley swimming

To donate to the sisters' cause visit the fundraising page here.

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