A suicidal mum has been helped to put her life back on track thanks to Ellesmere Port’s sports village.

Rachel Williams, 43, was overcome by anxiety and grief when she absconded from the Chester hospital ward where she was being treated and tried to end her own life.

“I knew I’d been going downhill for a while. I’d self-harmed in the past but this time I wanted to die,” she said.

“If it hadn’t have been for my children I don’t think I would have come through.”

Nearly a year on Rachel, from Whitby, is coming to terms with her troubled past, coping with her mental illness and moving on.

She’s playing an active role in her local Girl Guides Rainbow programme, where’s she’s nicknamed Sunshine and has enrolled on a fitness programme with Cheshire Change Hub which she believes has saved her.

“I’m amazed how going to gym has improved both my mental and physical state. It’s given me a new lease of life,” she says.

Mum of two Rachel was born with a rare spinal condition called sacral agenesis, a congenital disorder which affects a baby’s development. In Rachel’s case her legs and feet failed to develop properly.

“During her childhood she struggled to walk and by her late teens relied on mobility aids and a wheelchair.

“A lot of doctors were surprised that I was still able to walk as I got older and even more surprised when I became the first person in the UK with the condition to give birth - twice.

“Then in 2013 I remember experiencing more and more pain and one morning I simply couldn’t move my legs.”

Rachel Williams says a Cheshire Change Hub exercise programme at Ellesmere Port Sports Village has helped her put her troubled past behind her

It was a devastating blow made worse by the traumatic death of her unborn daughter 38-weeks into her pregnancy.

“I gave birth to the baby, my husband Paul and I called her Jasmine. She had a heart condition which had gone undetected,” Rachel explains.

Rachel believes the baby’s death was the trigger behind her mental health issues.

“I became increasingly depressed and full of anxiety. Anything, even small things became huge problems. I used to think my husband was going to die, or something was happening with the children.

“Because I was now in the wheelchair all the time I found it hard to get out. I’d been used to going to the old Epic leisure centre to swim and exercise but that stopped and I put on three stones in weight.”

With family and friends fearing for her safety Rachel was sectioned under the mental health act.

“I was actually pleasantly surprised how nice the facilities were and how different the psychiatric units were from what I’d imagined them to be.”

For three years Rachel ended up on a merry-go-round of being admitted and discharged from different hospitals across the region.

Medication helped but the vital drug experts had recommended was expensive and not routinely available on the NHS.

“I believe I’m still number seven on the waiting list. I tend to move up one place each year,” she says.


In July last year Rachel relapsed. The family agreed she should voluntarily return to hospital under psychiatric care but on one fateful day she fled the ward and tried to take her own life.

“My family and in-laws have been wonderfully supportive. I’m here today because of them and the kids,” she adds.

In February this year Rachel grabbed a lifeline offered by Cheshire Change Hub and Brio Leisure, the council’s leisure arm which runs the sports village.

The two organisations work with people with different medical conditions, including mental health issues and offer support through tailored exercise and fitness programmes.

“I was so sceptical at first. I went to Ellesmere Port Sports Village expecting to find they couldn’t cope with me, let alone anyone in a wheelchair, how wrong I was.

“The staff are so experienced in assisting wheelchair users and they have an attitude which encourages you to focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.”

Rachel’s three day a week programme has now increased to six times a week visits. She’s rekindled her love of swimming and is a familiar face both in the gym and aqua fit classes.

“Coming here has completely changed my outlook for the future.

"I couldn’t help feel that people patronised me when I was out, but when I’m in the gym I can tell that other users are genuinely happy to see me, it’s made me feel like an equal for the first time.

“My husband has also been inspired to come along and he’s loving it. My Cheshire Change Hub programme is coming to an end soon but there’s no way I’m stopping, I can’t imagine not coming to the sports village and making the most of life,” adds Rachel.

Cheshire Change Hub is a health and wellbeing service which offers residents of West Cheshire the support needed to live healthier, happier lives.

Residents who want to quit smoking, lose weight, get more physically active or exercise safely around a special medical condition can access programmes and for those who are eligible it’s completely free of charge.

People can find out more by calling 0300 777 0033 or by contacting Brio Leisure centres across Cheshire West. Details are at www.brioleisure.org.