In the early morning of October 9, 109 bright yellow flags one by one were struck into the cold winter, Salford earth. With a gentle breeze, the flags fluttered on the cloudless, sunny day, each projecting a dark shadow behind it. Throughout the day the public passed, stopping in their tracks to gaze upon the stunning installation. People left the display being shocked and upset. Each of the 109 flags represents someone who has died of suicide in Salford within the last five years.

The Office of National Statistics reported that in 2017 alone in the UK there were 5,821 suicides in the UK. In 2013 for men aged between 20-49 suicide was the leading cause of death in England and Wales. As well one in five people throughout their life will experience suicidal thoughts. Suicide is still a taboo issue however.

The Salford charity Start is a creative arts organisation based in Salford to help people combat mental illness through different forms of creating art and also offers one to one counselling.

Courtesy of Dennis Baldwin

This year it is celebrating its 25th year and wanted to do something impactful – the Surviving Suicide Art Exhibition is the result. Running at the Salford Museum and Art Gallery until 4 November, the exhibition features artwork made by people who have survived suicide or have been affected by it.

On the 9 of October 109 flags were installed outside the museum alongside a “sea of hands”. Throughout the course of the day, the general public was invited to write positive, supporting messages on to a hand and place them in the ground.

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Alongside the main exhibition, which features artwork created in sessions with artist Kate Eggleston-Wirtz, who created one of the bees as part of Bee In The City, which involved 101 bees in addition to 131 smaller bees which were dotted around Manchester and were sold raising £1,128,250 for the We Love MCR Charity.

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Kate worked with a rotating cast of participants for two hours every week for 12 weeks, in which the participants created different pieces of artworks.

Kate says art was a good idea for the project as it “calms people, it’s the process of putting your thoughts on paper or making it a physical thing and a talking point.”

Dennis Baldwin, Communications and Project Coordinator, says the main goal for the exhibition is to break down the stigma attached to suicide as it is a taboo subject which people do not like to talk about. Dennis describes the issue as a “big black scary clown”. However it hasn’t been easy to get media coverage for the project.

“As the media’s not interested in suicide, it is a taboo subject again that’s feeding into the stigma. There’s nothing glossy about it, there’s nothing exciting about it. It’s a true hard fact that people will experience these thoughts.”

START has a lot planned for the future. To begin with, the work on display at the exhibition will go on tour to gateways and sporting clubs around Salford, to further promote and get the word out about the subject.

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Also, START is planning on starting a memorial garden which is happening in conjunction with Salford Council and Salford University. The garden will be built by volunteers and feature plaques made by suicide survivors or people who have been affected.

Next year they will also be delivering a ‘builder’s lunch’, where they will go out and give out pizza to people in the construction industry.

They are also wanting to make the Vigil they hosted at Salford Quays in September on World Suicide Prevention Day an annual event. The vigil remembered the 1,279 in the local area that has committed suicide in the last five years.

Although suicide may still be a taboo issue in Salford, however, it is becoming increasingly more talked about and acted upon. It does not have to be the local scary big black clown no one is talking about anymore.

• If you would like to get in contact with START you can ring them on 0161351 6000 or contact them via their website, which contains useful contact information if you need any help. They have a centre located at 62 Broad Street, Salford M6 5BZ.

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