Almost 25 years ago, CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) was set up as a pilot scheme in response to rising rates of suicide among young men. Initiated by creatives Dave Gamble and Simon Labbett – now co-founders and ECDs of London agency Truant – it was launched as a fully fledged charity in 2006, founded by Jane Powell.
“I think people didn’t feel like they could connect with the charities that were out there at that time, like the Samaritans – they thought they were something to do with religion or just didn’t understand the issues they were going through, so we really wanted to set up something that talked to them on their level really,” Gamble explains.
Since its launch, CALM’s campaigns have been inspired by music labels, from taking over Sankeys Soap in Manchester and partnering with Tony Wilson at Factory Records in the charity’s early days, to a short film hosted by dance music platform Resident Advisor just last week. The charity has also orchestrated other creative campaigns, including its ominous installation of 84 life-size sculptures on the ITV building rooftop to represent the number of men who take their lives every week.
The helpline was inundated from the get-go, and over the years it has become a leading suicide prevention service in the UK. While Gamble and Labbett say it was originally aimed at helping young men, over time calls to CALM made by women have been on the increase too and so, a few years ago, after leaving CALM in 2017, Powell set about launching a new dedicated helpline for women and girls, and reached out to Gamble and Labbett to help get it off the ground.
The newly founded service, Polly, is designed to be a first port of call for women, girls, and anyone who identifies as a woman, and offers the opportunity to speak with female professional handlers through a confidential helpline and webchat. The idea is not to go up against other charities but work in tandem with them, by helping women identify the problem and directing them towards other services if needed. It will aim to guide women through the many charities out there and navigate the different avenues of support: “As Jane said, one of the insights was that if you have a drinking problem, you’re very unlikely to want to go to AA because you’re worried about your children being taken away, or you’re also admitting a problem before you’ve even gone on that journey,” says Gamble.