Inspired by Luke

02 October 2019 | North West England

Rachel Walmsley and Son Elliot

Mental health charity uses fitness to help teenagers and young men

An inspirational support group set up in memory of a young dad who took his own life is helping to break the silence around mental health through sport and fitness.

Luke’s Lads offers young men a gym session, followed by the chance to talk with others about their mental health in a supportive environment.

There are also separate sessions for teenagers, women, and girls.

The group was set up by the family and friends of Luke Naylor after he took his own life last year.

Before he died, he had found that hitting the gym helped him deal with his mental health struggles. When his family and friends saw how much it was benefitting him, they suggested he start a group where men could address their mental health issues while getting fit.

Sadly, Luke lost his battle with depression before he could launch his plans. The 25-year-old from Norristhorpe left behind a one-year-old son, fiancee Laura, his mum Susan, dad Richard and sisters Katie and Jenny.

Determined not to let his death be in vain, his family decided to open a free mental health support and fitness group in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire, to try and encourage men to open up about their feelings. Called Luke’s Lads, it was founded by Rachel Walmsley, with support from the Naylor family. Rachel is best friends with Luke’s mum Susan.

She says: “Luke was like my fourth son, all our kids grew up together and the two families are so close. He was struggling for two years after he was dropped from his professional rugby team following an injury. For him, his whole world collapsed.

“Luke bottled up his feelings and worries, finding it difficult to reach out and talk about his mental health. One of his greatest passions was fitness and weight training which he turned to in darker times. Sadly it wasn’t enough, but we have since found this happens a lot in sports. They have their whole career in front of them and then suddenly it is taken away from them. Suddenly you feel like you don’t have a purpose and very quickly you can go to a dark place.”

Rachel added: “Despite it coming too late for Luke, we hope that even if one life is saved it is all worth it.”

Using the hashtag, #dontbottleitup, Luke's Lads encourages and supports men to talk about their feelings in an alternative environment. All ages are welcome from 16 up and the team have all had mental health training.

The group offers a free male-only 45-minute circuit training and 30-minute support session with a safe place to speak. The men will talk about the high and low points of their week. They also have a WhatsApp group.

The fitness group was only the beginning. In just over a year the positive reaction from the local community was overwhelming and it was clear there even more demand. They now go into schools to talk about Luke’s journey during assembly and meet with children who are struggling.

“After we opened Luke’s Lads we were inundated with inquiries, including from parents worried about their young teens. So a few months later we opened Luke’s Lads Juniors for those aged from seven to 15. Then we started to also get calls saying there should be something for women and girls too, so we decided to launch a women-only group called Butterflies. They also have a junior division. The groups come under the umbrella charity Timestep Dance.

“Unfortunately, we do see an increasing number of youngsters self-harming and with poor mental health. We have parents come up to us and say thank you for saving their child.

“We aim to be preventative, but sometimes we do have to do interventions. We are trained in that. It is so sad to have a young person come up to you and say they have a plan and know what they want to do. But the good thing is that they tell you, so you can intervene and give them hope.”

Rachel’s son Elliot, 25, was best friends with Luke. He is now wellbeing facilitator for the charity. “For him, doing this has really helped him come to terms with the loss of Luke and focus on helping others. Ultimately, we would like to take Luke’s Lads further afield and reach as many people as possible.”

​For more information go to

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