The legacy of a caring 18-year-old student at Exeter University hopes to prevent more suicides

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Just three months after moving to Exeter to start college and seemingly quickly building a happy and busy new life, Harvey McWilliams was tragically found dead days before Christmas. The 18-year-old’s death on December 21, 2021 came as a huge shock to all who knew him and still do to this day.

The football fanatic, who used to live in Rowancroft Mews, is best known for his caring nature and always thinks of others before himself. To honor this lasting memory of him, memorials, fundraisers, events, and even a new line of scented products under his name have been launched.

Harvey’s devastated parents, Kelly and Michael, of Darlington, have reached out to thank all those people in Exeter and Darlington where he was born and raised, for coming together to ensure their son is never forgotten and to help other young people struggling with their mental health.

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Michael said: “Harvey tragically took his own life under tragic circumstances. It feels like it was yesterday. As you can imagine as a family we still struggle with this on a daily basis. It doesn’t feel real He was here one minute and the next minute he was gone.



Harvey McWilliams with his father Michael

“When someone dies by suicide, people say, ‘I didn’t know he was sick’. Harvey wasn’t. People think he was depressed and very depressed. It was just a certain chain of events that led him to where he is now.

Harvey was always inspired to check in with the sanity of his friends so he prioritized a lot of people.

“I always wondered how he did with his studies, football and everything. I’m learning and hearing more about Harvey now that he’s gone. We talk about him all the time and I think that’s a good thing to do.”

Harvey is described as having been a “big, big” football fan who enjoyed both watching and playing the game. Whenever he could walk, he kicked a ball and was an avid supporter of Sunderland Football Club.

Michael recalled: “He played for the Darlington Allstars for 12 years and then moved to another local team and so on. He was scouted by Darlington Football Club and was thrilled. They were in the domestic league so it was a big problem.

“While he was playing for them he was also studying and got the equivalent of triple A* which is the highest grade you can get. He was very academic and that got him to the University of ‘Exeter to study sport and exercise science.



Harvey McWilliams was a football enthusiast and player
Harvey McWilliams was a football enthusiast and player

“He started last September and went back to football and played for the Exeter Panthers. He had a girlfriend and was doing what typical teenagers like to go out and go to concerts.

“Harvey didn’t like to think that people couldn’t play football because they couldn’t afford shoes, so he would donate his own.”

This act of kindness inspired the Exeter Panthers to start the Harvey McWilliams Memorial Fund. He hopes to build lasting relationships within the local community and peer support groups such as Andy’s Man Club and also make football accessible to everyone.

In the summer, it will launch fun, all-inclusive weekly soccer games where people can borrow boots and return them at the end of the game.



New Exeter Royals FC badge
New Exeter Royals FC badge

Michael said: “Football isn’t just good for exercise, it’s also good for the mind. Exeter Panthers have now changed their name to Exeter Royals FC and their new kit will be red striped and white in honor of Sunderland Football Club, and added a tribute to Harvey on their new badge.

“They will also put a pair of his football boots in the trophy cabinet at their new clubhouse. It’s amazing what they are doing.”

Heartwarming gestures that also take place where Harvey grew up. The Arthur Wharton Foundation Museum in Darlington, established in honor of the first black professional footballer, has painted a mural outside its premises to remember Harvey. It is regularly repainted to honor different things and when it disappears a tribute will be organized inside the museum.

The Darlington Football Club has pledged to hold an annual memorial game in his memory and will also install a plaque in the ground.

Harvey’s mother, Kelly, runs an online gift shop called Kelly’s Smellies. As a tribute to him, the Harvey McWilliams collection was launched to keep his name alive within the family business while raising money for worthy causes.



Harvey's mural in Darlington
Harvey’s mural in Darlington

For the month of May, from the sale of each of the products, the profits will go to the Harvey McWilliams Memorial Fund.

Michael said: “We are overwhelmed with what people have done. The Manhealth group I belong to does something different every month to give something back. We have traveled 135 miles to 18 different football clubs in the north -is, including the big three clubs to raise funds and awareness for mental health and suicide.

“That’s what Harvey would have wanted because he’s always cared about everyone and the only way to continue is if I help him do that – and that will keep his name alive.

“I just hope someone reads this story and if they’re not feeling too well it will encourage them to talk to their doctor, support group, family or friend. I hope that by raising awareness we can just prevent a family from going through what we have then that will be awesome.”



The Harvey McWilliams Collection
The Harvey McWilliams Collection

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For more details on the range of scents dedicated to Harvey’s memory, visit https://www.facebook.com/KellysSmellies/

The new Exeter Royals FC team Facebook link, formerly Exeter Panthers Seniors, on their badge to remember Harvey. Nice touch. https://m.facebook.com/Exeter-Royals-FC-107787028561243/

The Samaritans are reachable 24 hours a day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you need an immediate response, it’s best to call them over the phone. You can reach them by calling 116 123, emailing jo@samaritans.org or visiting www.samaritans.org

Local help is also available from the charity Andy’s Man Club of Devon. He has groups across Devon with a mission to reduce the number of male suicide deaths. Find your nearest group on andysmanclub.co.uk to attend anonymously, free of charge.

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