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Bench built as memorial to rock star provides mental health support to fans

Built in the late 18th century, Haining House, with its grand triple arched entrance, quartet of Grecian-style columns and graceful floor to ceiling windows, occupies a delightful position in the heart of its 61-acres Selkirk estate.

Once home for prestigious lawyers and merchants, the Georgian country house with its beautifully designed gardens and lochside setting, is familiar to dog lovers who tread its woodland walks and pause at the statue of its most famous ‘resident’, Old Ginger, from which every Dandie Dinmont Terrier can be traced.

At the side of one path, however, overlooking the calm loch and overshadowed by towering oak trees, is a touching and very different modern memorial – one that is having a powerful impact on those who make the pilgrimage to visit.

Erected on a stormy November evening last year, a curved bench supported by oak logs from trees felled on The Haining estate and dedicated to tragic Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison has become a focal point for fans, some of whom travel hundreds of miles to pay their respects.

Once there, some say they experience particularly emotional responses to the bench and what it signifies: some leave trinkets and tributes behind, others have left uplifting notes and gifts for fellow fans.

In at least one case, the bench has prompted a wedding proposal.

While more than a few fans, particularly those familiar with the challenges of mental health, have told of finding unexpected comfort and feeling a deeply spiritual connection to the singer and chief songwriter of the indie-rock band, who took his own life four years ago this week at the age of 36.

After years grappling with alcohol and depression, he left two disturbing posts on Twitter, before leaving the South Queensferry hotel where he had been staying in the early hours of May 9, 2018.

There followed a frantic search of the area before his body was found the following evening – echoing one of the band’s most emotionally charged songs, Floating in the Forth, which documents the struggle between thoughts of suicide and staying alive.

Devastated fans of the band later raised money in his memory for a memorial bench in Kelvingrove Park, Glasgow, and a donation to the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH).

With a small sum leftover, the idea developed to create a more personal and bespoke bench, at a spot particularly attached to the singer.

It led Frightened Rabbit fan Abe Cartwright, who was instrumental in organising fundraising for the original bench, to Selkirk, where Scott was raised, and to the Haining estate, a place where he visited and where his family and friends had held a memorial gathering.

Having received support from the charitable trust that now runs house and estate as a community venue and arts centre, the design and creation of the bench took shape.

Far from the standard memorial benches found in parks across the land, it is a unique tribute to the performer with its own touching story.

Designed and built by three young carpenters from the Borders town, it is inscribed with the words “While I’m alive, I’ll make tiny changes to earth,” a lyric from Frightened Rabbit’s “Head Roll Off”, and features a curved seat supported by a pile of oak logs, reflecting another song, The Woodpile.

The bench, position in a delightful spot overlooking the loch, also features the band’s distinctive cross-like symbol.

Having been pieced together as Storm Arwen battered the country in November, it was unveiled at a gathering that included Scott’s family and close friends.

Over winter, local fans of the group left small trinkets at the site. But recent weeks have seen rising numbers from further afield make the pilgrimage to the spot to pay their respects.

Abe said the combination of the bench, the beauty of the location and Scott’s memory often have a powerful impact on visitors, with many talking of it being a particularly emotional but uplifting experience.

“The bench and the location are beautiful. We know it was a special place for Scott.

“It’s now a special place for all the Frightened Rabbit fans around the world who want to see it.

“There has been amazing feedback from people who talk about it being a very emotional and powerful place to visit.”

Ade is among those for whom the bench has particular significance.

“Four years ago, my thoughts were darker, I had a borderline personality disorder diagnosis, a couple of massive seizures and a fear of the future.

“I was very close…,” he continues, “but now I have strength, focus and I’m happy.

“It started with me wanting to do something (in his honour) but not sure what. Because of the bench, I have made friends all over the world.

“It brings all kinds of emotions; there’s joy and the sadness and the support that comes through from it all.

“The band’s music still resonates, but what it means to me now is the whole community of Frightened Rabbit fans.”

Frightened Rabbit fan Ian Bennett travelled from Coventry to visit the bench last week. He said it was a “bittersweet” visit that left him emotionally battered but also uplifted.

“I visited the bench in Kelvingrove Park before and it left me a bit cold. But “I have struggled with depression and anxiety and I have been suicidal. Scott was one of the first people to talk about his own mental health and he helped get people talking and realising that they are not the only ones who are struggling.

“I knew by going to the bench I would be giving myself a hard time, but it was beautiful. Even just walking around, people were smiling and saying ‘hello’.

“I never met Scott but I felt a closeness to him there. Someone had left a little pendant and it felt like someone just like me had been there.

“There was a lot of love and good people around.”

The creation of the bench even had an impact on the female carpenters who worked on it.

KJ Marquiss, who knew Scott from working in the music industry, had turned to woodwork to help with her own mental health when she heard of Abe’s hopes to make a bespoke bench.

“I didn’t really have the skills, or know how I would manage to build it but I was pretty determined that this was something I could do for Scott,” she said.

She designed the bench, and built it aided by friends, Laura Jaap and Islay Gray, and using some tools provided by the fans’ fundraising.

She said the bench is designed to echo the lyrics – keeping those who sit in it “safe from the surrounding world.”

“Individually each piece of wood that makes up the woodpile could represent vulnerability, but these pieces built up together expresses how vulnerability does not necessarily mean weakness, but can mean strength and security,” she added.

“From some angles Scott’s Bench will be camouflaged as just a simple woodpile – safely tucked within itself. Faced towards the front of the bench is the only time we will see how majestic it is, mimicking how we only really see the entirety of someone after we’ve explored every part of them.”

Some of the leftover wood is to be made into small Christmas tree trinkets which fans will be able to buy with proceeds going to Tiny Changes, the charity set up in Scott’s memory.

Ade added: “It’s been nice to see people come together at the bench and the love that they have for Scott.”



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