A NEW health and wellbeing suite has been officially opened at a Torfaen school after an intrepid challenge organised by mental health charity The Mindstep Foundation.

Walking on behalf of the foundation, a group of 18 - the self-styled ‘Mindstep Trekkers’- took on the tough 177-mile sponsored hike down the Welsh-English border along the famous Offa’s Dyke national trail.

Funds raised meant St Alban’s RC School in Pontypool was able to complete a dream project to open a state-of-the-art facility dedicated to a former head of sixth form and PE teacher Frances Margerison, as well as former school volunteer Max Davies, who died in 2018.

Mr Davies, aged 22, was the eldest son of Lloyd Davies, one of the founders and trustee of the Mindstep Foundation, which was set up to fund mental health research, awareness and support after his son died following a short battle with clinical depression.

St Alban’s headmaster Stephen Lloyd said: “The Mindstep Foundation was the key charity behind the funding of this fantastic resource for the St Alban’s community. The source has sad origins in the untimely loss of Max Davies, who had completed work experience at the school, in the hope of pursuing a career in a similar setting.

Free Press Series: Lloyd Davies at the opening of the new gym at St Alban's RC SChool in Pontypool

Max Davies' father Lloyd Davies at the opening of the health and wellbeing suite at St Alban's RC School in Pontypool

“His demise led to the determination of his family and their friends to raise money to support the school where he had made his own contribution. There is a plaque commemorating Max above the door to the suite, which lends it real meaning.

“The health and wellbeing suite is also dedicated to a very special former member of staff, Frances Margerison who devoted herself to the pupils of St Albans for many years.

"Sadly, Frances passed away in January 2019 at the age of 54. She would be beaming with pride not only at the excellent facility we now have but also, as a former Welsh rugby player herself, at the achievements of former pupil, Sisilia Tuipulotu, who made her debut in the Women's Six Nations for Wales against Ireland last month.

“A life that inspires others goes on forever. The facility represents the legacy of these two wonderful people, both of whom would have been very pleased to meet the past students who kindly gave their time to support the opening event: Will Gregory who represented the championship-winning Newport Dragons U18 team, Thea Rogers, who represents GB Archery and Joe Cowell and Ben Moa who have both earned caps for Wales Under 20s internationals this season and have great careers ahead of them.”

Continuing, Mr Lloyd said: “I can’t thank Lloyd and the Mindstep Foundation enough because of the impact this will have on the lives of current pupils and also on the future generations of pupils to come to St Alban’s.

“This is so significant for the wellbeing of our pupils. It’s phenomenal for their mental wellbeing. The difference a facility like this makes is incredible. They can come in here and socialise and be active. We have also already seen the difference between pupils and staff – it has really gelled the community spirit together.”

Lloyd Davies, managing director of conveyancing legal practice Convey Law in Newport, joined other donors and the school’s leadership team and governors to cut the ribbon of the new facility.

The father-of-four said: “It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be involved with this project which we hope will make a real difference to the mental health and wellbeing of young people who attend the school.

“Max spent a couple of happy weeks volunteering here in 2018, working with the teaching team alongside my great friend and a teacher at the school Richard McLennan.

"It is a fantastic school with wonderful pastoral care. Richard inspired us to fundraise for the gym during our pilgrimage along Offa’s Dyke and he was a mainstay in the team, injuring his ankle badly during the trek. We trekked nearly 200 miles and climbed I don’t know how many peaks for this wonderful initiative - it just shows you what can be achieved when we all work together.”

Max Davies, who was a talented rugby player and a former pupil at Monmouth School for Boys in Wales, was a third year student at Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent when he died.

His father said: “The Mindstep Foundation was established following Max’s passing to fund research into the causes of suicide and support those who have been bereaved or who are at risk of suicide. As Max’s family, our mission is to take steps, however small, towards ensuring that no-one suffers the loss of a loved one to suicide.”

The Foundation has so far raised thousands of pounds for mental health research and support and is committed to raising £100,000 over the next two years to help fund landmark work at the University of Glasgow into the causes of suicide. For more information visit mindstepfoundation.com/