STEP into a meeting of A New Hope in Saltcoats’ Argyle Centre and you would think it was a group of pals enjoying a catch up and a cuppa.

But while the group looks relaxed, there is a serious reason for them meeting once a week.

You see they are members of A New Hope, a peer support group for men affected by mental health issues.

And chairperson Keith Lavelle, who is living with his own mental health issues, was inspired to set up the group three years ago.

“My best friend took his own life three years ago this month and it made me stop and reassess a lot,” said Keith.

“I kept wondering if he had someone to talk to would it have helped, and through my own struggles, I wanted to reach out.

“My mother-in-law gave me £50 and I decided to print some flyers and see if I could get a group started, if it didn’t work at least I knew I had tried.

“I didn’t think anyone would come but we soon had 14 men sitting around the library chatting to each other.”

And then a pandemic hit and for some members of the group, online meetings were not suitable, some Keith still hasn’t heard from.

“For almost a year and a half we were meeting every week firstly in the library and then at the Argyle Centre and then lockdown happened and things changed,” explained Keith.

“We tried online but some members couldn’t manage and there are a couple of people I had no way of getting in touch with and still haven’t heard from them.

“I’m hoping now that we are back at the Argyle Centre every Tuesday they will come along as I know it has been an incredibly difficult time for everyone not just those people struggling with mental health issues.”

At the meetings, Keith and the other members of A New Hope offer a safe environment where the men can talk about anything at all.

Keith went on: “It is a peer support group so we are not professional counsellors but we offer a listening ear in a safe environment for them to come along and talk about anything at all.

“It’s really more like pals having a conversation in a pub, we chat about anything and everything and I have been known to make jokes at sometimes inappropriate moments if I feel there is a lot of tension in the room.

“The most important thing is that we are there for each other, we can offer advice of course but just being there to listen to someone talk about something that is on their mind is what we are all about.”

The group also does some work with community development worker Gavin Ferguson who has taken the group out fishing and has plans for more projects in the future.

“Gavin has been so supportive,” said Keith.

“We are working on some projects including an area of Eglinton Park where we may be looking at birdwatching boxes, he has some great ideas and for some members working on a project can be really rewarding, it’s good to see people come back out after lockdown.”

A New Hope group meet at the Argyle Centre, Saltcoats, every Tuesday from 7pm to 9pm.