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Dad Ian McQuaid, of Newark, sets up Lew’s Roots in memory of son who died of suicide

A devoted dad is setting up a charity to help people with mental health issues after losing his son to suicide.

Ian McQuaid of Newark, lost his son Lewis, aged 27, in April 2022 and has now set up Lew’s Roots — aiming to encourage people with mental health issues, autism or those feeling lonely, to grow chilli plants, either from a seed or a small plant.

“Lewis was diagnosed with autism and over the years struggled with his mental health, we started growing chillis together which became one of the few things that took his mind off how much he hated himself,” said Ian.

Ian McQuaid and his son Lewis
Ian McQuaid and his son Lewis

At one Christmas get together, years ago, the family decided to ban alcohol and have a chilli roulette evening with fun and games.

The following year, Ian and Lewis started growing chillis together. However, growing them inside came with problems — including over and under watering, aphids and learning to keep them warm.

Ian added: “The extra care needed to look after our chilli plants would often make Lewis angry but it distracted him from things he had on his mind.

“Whilst he hated the extra work needed to care for the chillis, his feelings of hatred for himself were soon replaced by the care of the chillies.

“Over the years growing chilli’s made us both angry, smile, laugh and amazed, but the most important part was the time we spent together.”

With time, the duo started growing more chillis, of different colours, varying heat and learning about the Scoville scale, which rates the potency of the pepper.

When Ian lost Lewis to suicide, he decided to carry on growing the chillis in his memory, which also helped him cope with his bereavement.

He said that growing the chillis gave him a temporary distraction from the sadness and were a link to Lewis, who he no longer had in person.

“They make me think of Lewis every time I touch them and they make me realise that the world is still a beautiful place,” he added.

He wants to keep Lewis's legacy alive by creating Lew’s chilli seed packs and providing people a starter kit, with instructions so they can grow their own chillis.

Lew’s Roots also aims to create a network where people can come together to talk about mental health and wellbeing — fostering a shared community of interest in chillis and mental health.

Since January this year, Ian has grown about 800 chillis in a spare room at home, to be able to create the Lew’s Roots Chilli boxes.

He said: “It’s the first thing I do when I get home. Each one needs love, care and attention.

“People think I am mad at how much time I spend growing chillis but I just want to bring a smile to a person who hasn’t smiled much recently.

“You get totally wrapped up when you’re with them, the time just flies by and, for someone with mental health issues or for someone who doesn’t feel they fit in, chilli growing is just perfect.”

A nine-year-old pupil at Welbourn Primary School, Martin McCrossan, of Newark, who loves gardening and growing chilli with Ian has been helping him with Lew’s Roots regularly.

Ian McQuaid and nine-year-old Martin McCrossan
Ian McQuaid and nine-year-old Martin McCrossan

Martin, also known as Little Man, has been raising funds for the charity project including selling cakes and homemade lemonade last year. However, he now hopes to sell plants he has grown from saved seeds.

"Growing chillis and helping ‘Chilli Ian’ takes my mind off stress and helps me with developing with the world,” said Martin.

Ian will showcase his project at The Growing Hub at this year’s Nottinghamshire County Show on May 11.

Community development officer Jenny Palmer and Helen Ellison, the senior health improvement officer from Newark and Sherwood District Council, have supported Lew’s Roots from the start.

The Environmental Services team is also currently supporting Ian by providing additional growing space.

Samaritans offer FREE round-the-clock, confidential support to anyone who wants to talk through their problems, which could include relationship and family problems, bereavement, financial worries, job-related stress, or college and study-related stress.

Call Samaritans on 116 123; calls are free from any phone, or visit www.samaritans.org to find out about the wide-ranging support on offer from Samaritans and other organisations.

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