Feeling Scene – an interview with The Ben Raemers Foundation co-founder, Rob Mathieson

07.07.2024 Exclusive, Checking in

Film stills: Richards
Interview: Genualdo Kingsford

For anyone unfamiliar, could you tell us a little about The Ben Raemers Foundation, its aims and the various activities it is involved in?
The Ben Raemers Foundation was set up in 2019 after Ben Raemers tragically died by suicide. Ben’s death had a huge impact on me and our friendship group, but he was also dearly loved by so many people all around the world. Seeing how many people were affected by Ben’s passing fuelled a desire to try to make something positive from something so devastating.

The foundation aims to support mental health within the skateboarding community. We do this in a number of ways. We make films covering various issues, we deliver suicide first aid training to people within the skateboarding community, and we share as much helpful information as we can on our website and social media. We put on and attend events, and collaborate with brands to help start conversations to spread awareness. This year, we also ran a counselling pilot project giving skateboarders access to free counselling.

We recently passed the fifth anniversary of Ben’s passing. How do you feel about the achievements of the Foundation since it was launched back in October 2019?
Personally, I’m so proud that we are still going. This shows that there is both a need and a desire for an organisation like us that is deeply embedded in skateboarding and that has the ability to reach people that may not be aware of what is available to them. 

How are things going in terms of funding and support? 
Good question! For now, we have funding that enables us to deliver some of the projects we think will make a difference and support people in skateboarding. In terms of support, we are always overwhelmed by the feedback we get about our work and the impact it has, and always appreciate it when someone contacts us through any of our channels to tell us how the foundation has made a difference to them and / or their community.

The SMiLe interview series has been a great success. What sort of feedback have you received, both from viewers and the interviewees themselves?
It’s been really amazing to see how the films have been received. I’m still blown away by the   conversations they start at our screenings. At the first screening, we had a list of dummy questions to ask the panel in case people were shy. We’ve never had to use them. At each screening, once one person starts talking, everyone starts to share. We’ve overrun our booking at every venue we’ve been to.

It’s also great to read through all the comments on our Youtube channel to see how the films are hopefully helping people. Nick (Jensen) told me he has had quite a few positive conversations with people who reached out to him since his film came out. I really need to say a massive thank you to everyone who has been part of the SMiLe series. It’s really brave for people to open up and talk so honestly.

How did you go about finding interviewees who were keen to speak so openly about their mental health?
The first film we made was with Nick. He’s one of my best mates, which made it easier to approach him with the idea. As I knew him well, I already knew some of the things we might talk about, but I still learned so much from that conversation. The same with Aaron (Herrington)… I already knew him a little bit and I knew he was mates with Ben. Everyone I have reached out to so far has already been outspoken about their own experiences in some way or another. 

Is the SMiLe series ongoing? 
It is. We’re in the process of gathering footage and editing another one right now, and we have a loose plan in place to hopefully film another this year. 

Tell us about the new film series, Feeling Scene
The aim of each film is to visit a city with some of Ben’s friends, check out the local skate scene and deliver some suicide first aid training to local skateboarders while also highlighting what mental health support is already available in that area. 

What made you pick Cardiff for the first film?
Quite a few reasons. We had already planned to run an SFA (suicide first aid) Lite training session at Spit & Sawdust, and because they were so engaged with our mission and had shown interest already, we thought it was the right thing to do. Chris Jones joined our board of trustees this year, and obviously he has a huge connection to the scene there. I skated in Cardiff many moons ago, and knew there were loads of fun spots there. Working with Spit & Sawdust also meant we didn’t have to gamble with the weather; an indoor venue was a wise choice for the first event.

The film was shot over a weekend, which included a skate jam / demo with visiting pros at Spit & Sawdust. Is the plan to incorporate something similar with each production?
Yeah, that’s the idea. A skate jam is a great way to get everyone from the local scene together having fun in one place. It also lets us have different generations of skaters come together and engage with us in different ways. We were also able to get a load of prizes (shoes, T-shirts and boards), and that meant we could reach the younger skaters who couldn’t attend the suicide first aid training, which is 16+.

Nick Richards, who has strong links to the Cardiff scene, made the first film. Is the plan to work with a filmmaker linked to each city for future films?
Ideally. Having Nick was great. If we’re trying to check out the local skate scene, it’s obviously necessary to have someone with us who knows it. Nick filmed, took us to spots, showed us where to get breakfast and introduced us to local skaters. He also has a wealth of knowledge about the Cardiff skate scene in general, so he was super helpful with the interviews and collecting archive footage. Big thanks to Nick!

What memories from the weekend in Cardiff stand out?
Watching Dykie’s Sinéad O’Connor performance in Now! That’s What I Call Skateboarding, which I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t seen before. Search that out on Youtube. The whole weekend went so well. It was a pilot, so we really had no idea how it was going to go, but the turnout was amazing and we had such a good weekend. I want to say a massive thank you to Christian (Hart) and everyone else at Spit & Sawdust. That place is amazing! Thank you to Trix (Mike Ridout) at CSC and everyone who came down on the day. One more massive thank you to Chris Jones, Barney Page, Jamie Platt, James Cruickshank and Brian Delatorre for coming skating with us and ripping the jam, too. 

Where else would you like to visit for the series?
We have a couple of other places pencilled in at the moment. There will be one more before the end of summer. We’re super happy with how the Cardiff shoot went, so we have gone straight into planning the next one. 

Tell us more about the Foundation’s suicide first aid training.
Susie (Crome, The Ben Raemers Foundation co-founder) actually trained and is now qualified to deliver the SFA Lite course, so we are able to deliver this ourselves now, which makes it much easier to set up and organise. The course is well set out and really effective. It gives learners the chance to have a safe conversation about a subject that is not usually spoken about so directly, and provides tools to be able to do this. We also offer this training free online. If anyone reading this is interested in taking part, they can keep an eye on our Instagram and website

The Foundation has been a staple at UK events lately. Can you tell us about that aspect of its work?
It’s amazing. Being a staple at events contributes to our destigmatization aim through normalising the conversation about mental health. The aim is to support these events by providing as much mental health messaging or training for organisers as possible. 

Aside from the Feeling Scene series, what does the Foundation have planned for the rest of 2024?
We’ve just finished a complete redesign of our website, so hopefully it now has a lot more to offer and provides better access to support. We will be relaunching the counselling project, which will give more people access to free counselling. We will be present at more events, both in the UK and abroad. We are working on an impact evaluation – we want to hear stories from people who have been impacted by our work – and we’re looking for a long-term sponsor or partner. Finally, we keep getting asked for the Ben T-shirts, so we will be doing another run of those as soon as we can.

How can people support the work of the Foundation?
Have a look at the fundraising pack on our website. We know that people feel good if they are able to give back, and organising a bit of local community action not only supports us financially, it also makes everyone involved feel good! Also, sharing our content helps massively, whether it’s films on our Youtube page or information we share on Instagram. The more these things are shared, the more people can see them and the more awareness we can create.

Finally, do you have any advice for anyone in crisis, or anyone close to someone in crisis?
In an emergency where someone’s safety is at risk, call emergency services or a crisis team. Please contact resources that are there to support people: GPs, hospitals and support lines such as Papyrus, Samaritans and CALM, which are all available in the UK. You can find links to global helplines on our website.   

You can watch Feeling Scene – Cardiff, UK here.