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Paula Macintosh was powered by a passion to bring about change, say her family

PUBLISHED: 17:02 30 March 2019

Paula Macintosh with Jack Russell/poodle cross Rocky. Bought three years ago, as a puppy, he became her constant companion and helped take Paula’s mind off her health issues. They’re pictured at a Time to Change dog walk in Christchurch Park designed to raise awareness of mental health  Picture: Brian Turner

Paula Macintosh with Jack Russell/poodle cross Rocky. Bought three years ago, as a puppy, he became her constant companion and helped take Paula's mind off her health issues. They're pictured at a Time to Change dog walk in Christchurch Park designed to raise awareness of mental health Picture: Brian Turner

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On Monday friends, family and those helped by Paula Macintosh will pay tribute to the 'Time to Change champion' who arrived in Ipswich more than a decade ago looking for a fresh start.

The 2017 'bandage' awareness event at Ipswich County Library. Brian Turner is on the left, Paula Macintosh is in the middle, and with them is Lucy Twaits  Picture: GEMMA MITCHELLThe 2017 'bandage' awareness event at Ipswich County Library. Brian Turner is on the left, Paula Macintosh is in the middle, and with them is Lucy Twaits Picture: GEMMA MITCHELL

Paula died recently – in her sleep, at home in the Chantry area of Ipswich. She was 52.

She will be remembered as a someone powered by a passion to bring about change.

It takes courage to sit in public with an unmissable bandage around your head but that is what Paula did in a bid to tackle misunderstanding and prejudice.

The bandage was a prop to highlight the “unseen injuries” of mental ill-health. Paula wore it during an awareness-raising event at Ipswich County Library a couple of years ago.

It was part of the national Time to Talk drive to get more people speaking openly about mental health. Paula was among a local band of campaigners dubbed the Caterpillars.

She told us then that being part of the group, and talking to the public at such events, gave her confidence.

She said: “Being alone is the hardest thing about mental health problems. It makes your problems worse because you go over and over them in your head and it makes you think too much.”

Partner Brian Turner called her a “Time to Change champion”. She hadn’t sat on her hands and accepted the status quo, but did her bit to combat ignorance and apathy.

Life in the East End

Paula was a cockney – born in the East End, within four miles of Bow Bells. She spent the bulk of her life in London, married, and had sons Wayne and Rees.

Sadly, says Brian, she endured difficult times and her marriage broke down.

A charity pointed her towards Ipswich, where there was a place to stay and a potential fresh start to be had, and she arrived in Suffolk just before Christmas 2008.

She was lonely for the first six or seven months, and had a number of moves. She became a residents’ representative at a hostel where she was staying.

One day, she travelled to Bury St Edmunds for a reps’ meeting. It’s where she met Brian, also a rep, who was living in a Felixstowe hostel.

“We met across a table,” he says. “I was asked to accompany her back to Ipswich – I was going to Felixstowe – we got talking and she asked for my number. We met up again a couple of days later,” – they went round Christchurch Park in Ipswich – “and were together ever since.”

Things were looking up – especially when Paula’s hostel managed to get her settled down and with her own place in 2010.

“Over the last 10 or so years she found Ipswich was a lovely place and she called it her home,” says Brian.

“She didn’t really want to talk about London or go back, because of the memories. She found Ipswich was not as busy or as big – not as fast-flowing as London was. Everyone had a friendly attitude or approach.”

Working for others

When back pain and arthritis allowed, Paula liked doing voluntary work. She helped at the British Red Cross centre in Chevallier Street, Ipswich, for instance, and went to some events (such as The Suffolk Show) as a first-aider, says Brian. She also volunteered with the Salvation Army furniture project in Felixstowe.

“She always wanted to help people out – and animals.” Ill-health held her back, though. Paula had sciatica, a heart condition and the arthritis, and Brian says her quest to get better often felt like a vicious circle.

“She was passionate about talking to people and trying to eradicate the stigma of mental health issues, and also helping people understand what it was like trying to live with a painful condition such as arthritis.

“She had good days when she was able to do little bits, and then she’d have days where she’d be in such severe pain she couldn’t do anything.”

With mental health, she thought services to help people ought to be better; and many people weren’t keen to talk about mental health because they didn’t understand it.

Her plea to anyone with a family member, friend or colleague in difficulty was to talk to them, listen, and try to understand what they were going through. And help them feel they are not alone.

Artistic soul

Paula enjoyed doing art, and going to weekly Open Space sessions at Ipswich County Library.

The drop-in group (also at other branches) is run in partnership with bodies such as Suffolk Mind. It includes helpful discussions on issues such as eating healthily, and friendship.

Final goodbyes

A funeral/cremation is organised for Monday, April 1, at the City of London Cemetery in Manor Park. It starts at 3pm. Brian hopes to arrange a memorial service, at some point, in Ipswich – the town that adopted her.

“She managed to find peace and quiet here, and feel at home,” he said.

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