Chukes Maxwell – The Meaning Of Life
Written by Joff Alexander-Frye
Photos by Nick Hook
Let me share a few sobering facts with you. Every week in Devon & Torbay, four people die by suicide. Two thirds of these people are not known to the relevant services and three quarters of them are men. The average cost to society, per suicide, is £1.6 million.
I recently met with Chukumeka Maxwell (or Chukes to his friends), co-founder of Community Interest Company (CIC), Action to Prevent Suicide. He is a deeply spiritual man with an amazing life story; overcoming sizeable and persistent adversity and still, at the age of fifty-eight, choosing to use his negative experiences as fuel to make sure that others never experience the same things.
Born in 1960 to a Nigerian father and a Jamaican mother, he grew up in the East End of London; Hackney to be precise. After moving to Nigeria at the age of five, unfortunately, civil war broke out there the very same year. His father, a High Court Judge, was imprisoned in 1967 as part of the civil war and Chukes was evacuated back to England, before moving to his mother’s home country of Jamaica in 1971.
Attending St Martins Prep School in Kent and then Christ Hospital Boarding School in Sussex, Chukes got used to being in the minority; one of four black or multi-ethnic (BME) children amongst a student body of eight hundred and fifty. He is also dyslexic and dyspraxic (although neither were diagnosed until the age of forty-three), so school was a difficult place for him.
After leaving the education system, he then embarked on a truly varied career. He worked in social services, attended Westminster Hotel School to train in Hotel Management, set up a high-end delicatessen in New Malden which won Best New Business in 1986 and, eventually, started a high-end catering business which ran events for A-List celebrities and the Royal Family, covered in Tatler and Hello magazines. It was around this time that he started playing semi-professional rugby for Richmond and qualified as a deep-tissue masseur, living and working in the houses of the rich and famous.
However, sometimes impressive accolades and achievements come at a cost. In Chukes’ case, the cost was that of his wellbeing and mental health. Suffering a breakdown (or as Chukes calls it, a breakthrough), he ended up moving to Glastonbury for seven years where he became a probationary Christian Buddhist monk, studying the teachings of the Buddha Maitreya. This was the start of an awakening for Chukes as he embraced the process of trying to resolve fractures within his soul, caused by multiple traumatic experiences in his upbringing.
Fast forward a few years and, as previously mentioned, Chukes is now one of two directors of Action to Prevent Suicide (ATPS), along with Matthew Rochford, who was also interviewed for this edition of Grow. ATPS is an organisation whose aim is to make society ‘suicide safer’. They plan to train Suicide First Aiders in workplaces around the region as well as Suicide Prevention Officers in every ward of Devon & Torbay. They also aim to train specialists who can work with young, LGBT+ and BME individuals, as they can sometimes have more complex and unique requirements.
As I mentioned, Chukes is a deeply spiritual man and there is no separation or disconnection between his belief system and the vision behind the work he does. He wants to see people restored, improved health, lives saved and tragedies avoided and, he believes, this can only happen when the whole person is cared for; mind, body and soul.
He spoke openly about how he manages to work in such a challenging role saying,
“I have to remember to do those things which cause me to be joyful. How can I help someone if I am not really joyful about life and my future? After all, hope is vital in life. When we have hope, the sky’s the limit, but when hope slips away, that is when people start to significantly struggle with their wellbeing and mental health. My vision is to train people in all walks of life who, when someone says, “I’m struggling”, know how to then engage with that person in an appropriate and meaningful way.”
“There is a great need for deep understanding and deep forgiveness before society can move forward from the murky past of how suicide has been handled; by religions, governments and societies in general. One small example of this is that we are working with Exeter Cathedral to organise a service of memorial and celebration of life for those who have died by suicide. A lot of those people were denied a church burial, so this is a small way of repairing some of those historical hurts.”.
As our conversation drew to a close, I asked Chukes what he gets up to outside of work. He looked me square in the eyes and said,
“Joff, there is no such thing as work/life balance. There is only life balance. If you do something that you love, it isn’t work. Work isn’t who you are, it is what you do. I think better mental health can be achieved by making your peace with that fact.”.
With recent investment from Resonance, a social investment funding organisation, and a variety of two-day, half-day and ninety-minute training courses on offer, ATPS are perfectly positioned to start making a significant impact on the local economy, community and population at large.
Chukes has become the somewhat reluctant face of their campaign but was keen to make it clear that he wants his organisation to get all the attention and support. With his capacity for compassion, selfless heart and single-minded focus to see suicide become a thing of the past, Chukes is a man on a mission.
You can find out more about this mission by visiting the website, connecting with @Chukes222 on Twitter or emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org to see how you might be able to partner with him to make Exeter, Devon and beyond a ‘suicide safer’ community.