The Taxi Watch programme, operated by the suicide prevention and awareness charity Talk To Tom, teaches professional drivers how to spot the signs of a person suffering through a suicide crisis, how to react, and how to get the person to safety.
The county council is one of the first local authorities in the country to offer local drivers this training, which is based on the charity’s hugely successful QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) programme. The training has been commissioned as part of the council’s broader suicide prevention strategy and is supported by Eastbourne Borough Council and Lewes District Council.
Taxi Watch was originally founded by Irish taxi driver Derek Devoy, who developed the initiative after encountering two suicidal individuals in one night.
Representatives from the councils involved were recently joined by Derek and drivers from Eastbourne taxi firms, as well as a representative of the independent taxi drivers from the Unite Union covering the Lewes district, to mark the launch of the programme.
Eastbourne taxi firms 720 Taxis and Sussex Cars will be supporting their drivers to take part in the upcoming training courses.
Cllr Carl Maynard, lead member for adult social care and health, said: “Taxi Watch is a fantastic initiative that can help save lives, and I am delighted we are offering this training to taxi drivers in Eastbourne and Seaford.
“The course will equip taxi operators with the skills needed to identify a mental health emergency, giving them the tools they need to help save a life. I urge drivers who operate in Eastbourne and Seaford to sign up for the free training courses taking place in May.”
On his first night back driving his taxi after struggling with his own mental health and attempting to take his own life, Derek came across a man in distress on a bridge.
Derek said: “I stopped and talked to him, and he told me he wanted to die as he was going through a repossession order. Later that same night, I encountered another man in distress. Thankfully due to my own experiences, I was able to communicate with them in a somewhat meaningful way.
“But I realised that surely other drivers were similarly coming across people struggling. It led me to think that perhaps not every driver would know what to do or say in such a scenario, so the Taxi Watch idea was born.
“Without question, this will save lives in East Sussex, just as it has already saved hundreds of lives in Ireland.”
Taxi Watch, which was founded in 2014, became a Talk To Tom initiative in 2020.
Ray Cullen, CEO of Talk To Tom, said: “We are delighted to be bringing this award-winning and life-saving programme to the people of East Sussex. It will, without question, have a massive impact on the local community and put an extra layer of safety in place for those who may be struggling with their mental health.
“The key, as with any medical emergency, is early recognition and early access. This is why Taxi Watch is so important. In a suicide crisis, there will always be subtle signs that a person is in distress, so it is vital for drivers to learn the skills necessary to spot these signs. Coupled with the fact that drivers are often on the roads during the early hours, taxi professionals are in a unique position to be an extra safety net for people struggling. In short, this simple course could make them someone’s hero.”
While the training will initially be offered to drivers operating in Eastbourne and Seaford, it is hoped to extend the programme across East Sussex subject to funding.
Training sessions will be held at the Kings Centre, Eastbourne from 9.15am to 2.30pm on Tuesday, May 24; Wednesday, May 25; Friday, May 27; and Saturday, May 28. A further session will be held on Thursday, May 26 at Seaford Golf Course.
Taxi drivers who would like to find out more or sign up for the training should email Alex Hagger at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on Taxi Watch visit www.taxiwatch.co.uk