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 STOKE-ON-TRENT, NEWCASTLE-UNDER-LYME, STAFFORDSHIRE MOORLANDS, SOUTH CHESHIRE

Charity’s teddy bear mascot spends day at Longton Fire Station to raise awareness of mental health in children



We recently welcomed a special guest mascot for the day in support of children’s mental health awareness. On 20 December, crews from Longton Fire Station spent their shift alongside Wing Commander AB, who is the namesake and mascot of Bear Force, a charity that supports children's mental health and promotes conversations with them about their worries.  As a symbol of children's mental health, the teddy bear mascot has a very important part to play in encouraging children to open up to their loved ones about how they are feeling.

The bear is named after Andrew Bland, who tragically took his own life in 2013 aged just 31, tearing apart the lives of his parents, Richard and Susan. This led to the creation of the bear, as a symbol of mental health awareness, and, earlier this year, the charity, with the mission of 'highlighting the importance of adults providing the time and safe places for children to talk and be heard'.Part of AB's job is to act as an ambassador for children's mental health across the world, accompanying various organisations, such as the RAF, HM Armed Forces and airlines, on their many journeys.Globetrotting AB has racked up an impressive 11 stamps in his passport, with his visits ranging from Canada to India, making many friends along the way, including William, Prince of Wales.His latest stop saw him take to the streets of Longton, as he spent the day riding around in a fire engine and assisting us in carrying out our daily duties.During his shift, AB attended training for road-traffic collisions, where he learned how to use our cutting equipment, before donning his safety apparatus and joining the crew as we were called out to a fire in the city centre.He then helped out with the fitting of smoke alarms in the community, before rounding off an exhausting day with tea and biscuits back at the station.We recorded AB's hard work in his log book, which documents all of his adventures around the world.Matt Rippon, Crew Manager for the Longton Fire Station White Watch, said: "Showing AB around the station and seeing him get stuck into the job lifted the whole crew's spirits."In essence, that is the very reason for his existence. Just by spending the day with us, he has brought about those important conversations that we should all be having with our loved ones and reinforcing the idea that it is okay to not be okay."The key to spreading this message is, of course, awareness. By being seen in a fire engine or by interacting with the community, who AB is and what he represents will hopefully spark that dialogue."If we have been able to encourage even just one child to open up about how he or she is feeling, then AB has done his job."Firefighter Gary Dumighan has been so impressed with the work that Richard, AB and the rest of Bear Force do that he is now a registered volunteer for the charity. As part of this, he will be keeping hold of AB until early January.FF Dumighan said: "Suicide is a silent killer, in the sense that those with mental health issues often suffer in silence."AB may just be a teddy bear, but we should never lose sight of the fact that he represents and bears the name of a real person. "What Richard has done in introducing AB and incorporating him into a children's book in order to promote this cause is inspirational."That is why I will be going into schools myself in the new year, to help to increase the awareness of children's mental health."It is such a worthwhile charity to support and I would encourage others to do the same."If you want to invite AB to your workplace, or for more information about Bear Force, please visit: Bear Force | Children's Positive Mental Health Charity







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