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Perth man says writing group has helped him banish dark thoughts after horror A9 bus fire

Jack Ewan has found that writing has helped him recover from the shock of being in a St Johnstone supporters' bus that went up in flames on the A9. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson.
Jack Ewan has found that writing has helped him recover from the shock of being in a St Johnstone supporters' bus that went up in flames on the A9. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson.

A Perth man says a creative writing project has given him a new lease of life after two major incidents left him contemplating taking his own life.

Jack Ewan, 26, was devastated at the loss of his dearly-loved grandfather John in August 2021.

Four months later he was on a St Johnstone supporters’ bus that went up in flames on the A9 after the Scottish Cup semi-final against Celtic at Hampden.

It left the Tulloch resident badly shaken and fearful of travelling on buses.

He turned to alcohol and one night found himself next to the Tay considering his future.

Thankfully he was talked round by the police.

Jack Ewan at Perth Theatre. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson.

Jack has since found recovery through documenting his experiences creatively in a project run by Perth Theatre and local mental health charity Mindspace with writer Jane Archer.

In this feature Jack relives these painful moments and explains how putting them onto paper has helped him rebuild his life.

Late starter has embraced the art of words

Jack Ewan derives great pleasure from the art of writing.

But it wasn’t always this way.

As a pupil at Tullloch primary and Perth grammar schools he wasn’t interested in English and didn’t consider writing a worthwhile pursuit.

But Jack, who is autistic, saw its value after a support worker at charity Autism Initiatives referred him to Mindspace.

Initially he partook in a paddleboarding project before joining the creative writing class.

“I thought I wouldn’t be good at that,” he said.

“But it has turned out to be one of the best things I have ever done.”

The teddy rescued by dad

The writing has given Jack an outlet for his most vivid, meaningful and poignant memories.

One of the first involves his favourite teddy, who he says looked like an Andrex puppy.

He was given to Jack as a baby and the pair became inseparable.

That was until he lost him when he was around four years of age.

“I was heartbroken and sent dad out every night to find it,” Jack said.

For six weeks his father Graham drove around Perth on the hunt until one day, perhaps miraculously, the teddy was spotted in the window of a toy shop.

“The funny thing was that my dad was working at the time so just abandoned his work van where he was and then got him,” Jack said.

During their weekly sessions, members of the writing group are encouraged to read out their work to each other.

“After I told them that I still had the cuddly toy a few in the group said it had changed their attitude towards throwing things out,” he added.

Balhousie tour guide was huge influence

The project – My Life, My Story, My Stage – has been delivering free creative writing workshops since February 2022, after the first group was formed.

Jack is part of the second group, which got together a year later.

Members work towards a showcase where they each read out their strongest material.

Jack wants his to be about his grandad John, who worked for the former North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board and was involved in building the dam at Ben Lawers.

Balhousie Castle, home of The Black Watch Museum. Image: Gark Baker.

He was perhaps best known, however, for his role as a tour guide at Balhousie Castle, home of the Black Watch Museum.

“He was one of those people who everyone got on with,” Jack said.

“He was a big help to me. He would sit with me on a Friday night and do maths and English to help me out.

“I lacked confidence and he would tell me that I am maybe not as good at this as other people but that I have my own skills.

“So he was a massive influence.”

‘Flames were shooting past’ as bus went up

John’s passing was hard for Jack to take – and the horrors of the A9 bus fire had a compounding effect.

The incident took place near Gleneagles on November 20, 2021, when the St Johnstone supporters’ coach went up in flames on the way back to Perth from Glasgow.

The supporters’ bus went on fire on the A9 near Gleneagles in November 2021. Image: Twitter.

Jack was on board with his mother Lynne, some of her close friends and his uncle Dennis.

“The tyre just blew,” he recalled. “The driver pulled into the slip road, came up the stairs and said we all need to get off.

“By the time me and my uncle got off the bus the flames were shooting past so it was quite scary. That shook me.

“I was worried about my family.

“We were quite lucky because the police were coming back up the road. They had seen it and shut the road quickly.

“There was a paramedic there who had just finished his work as well, thankfully.

“It could have been a lot worse.”

Mental health struggle after trauma

While all were physically fine, Jack struggled to recover mentally.

“I couldn’t get on a bus for two months after that,” he said.

“One day I had to go to Ninewells for an appointment.

“The way the bus was laid out, there were no seats downstairs so I had to go up the stairs, which was hard.

“I made sure I had a seat next to the fire door just in case.”

Police stopped Jack from entering Tay

Torn apart by the pain of his grandad’s death and the trauma from the fire, one night Jack headed to the Tay with the intention to end it all.

“I tried to take my own life,” he said.

“I was going to go into the Tay.

“I had been drinking that night to numb the pain of my grandad’s death, and the bus thing as well.

“After the two it all just built up.”

Jack is grateful for the support he has received from Mindspace. Image: Stephen Eighteen/DC Thomson.

But, from nowhere, the police arrived.

“Two came to talk to me as they finished their shift and two others came to help me,” Jack said.

“I was fortunate that night that I met them.

“They said they weren’t here to judge me but to help me.

“They were really good.”

New job and exciting study plan

It is hoped that PKavs will continue to finance the writing project beyond late March, when the funding runs out.

It has enabled Jack to share these experiences on paper and with the seven others in his group.

It has also helped him come to terms with unwanted emotions.

Jack is now comfortable to travel on buses again and has recently started as a bar worker at Perth Theatre.

He is planning to do a technical theatre course at Perth College from September.

“Going forward I am trying not to allow myself get to such a low point and stay positive,” he said.

“A lot of people say they notice the difference and I can’t thank enough the people who have helped me get top this stage.

“Jane is one of those who has helped me with my confidence.

“It’s amazing to think where I am now compared to where I have come from.”

‘Poster boy’ has taken ownership of his life

Jack is a glowing testimony to the work carried out by Mindspace at its base in York Place, Perth.

The 34-year-old charity provides counselling, a peer support hub and recovery college for children and adults with mental health challenges.

Alice Pearce and Jack at Mindspace’s Perth base. Image: Stephen Eighteen/DC Thomson.

Alice Pearce, a senior recovery facilitator at Mindspace, said: “Jack is one of the success stories and show what Mindspace is trying to encourage.

“We want people to learn skills to self manage.

“Jack has taken every single opportunity – he has gone to other groups as well – and worked out what works for him and really runs with that.

“People want medication that makes them feel better but there is no quick fix and magic cure.

“It is about putting tools in place, making networks and we couldn’t have a better poster boy than Jack for doing that.

“He really takes ownership and says ‘this is the rubbish that has been my life but this is what I am going to do with it.’

“He should be proud.

“In this line of work you can hear things that are devastating but stories like Jack’s and many others make it worthwhile.”

Staged performance comes next

Recently a number of participants in the first group came together to write ‘The People in the Room’, an emotional reflection on what the writing workshops meant to them.

Perth Theatre and Mindspace created framed prints of the work and presented them to participants at an informal meet-up.

The framed piece of writing. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson.
Some of those involved in the project: Front, left to right, is Alice Pearce, Nick Williams (chief executive of Horsecross Arts, which manages Perth Theatre), Jillian Milne (Mindspace chief executive) and Katie MItchell (Perth Theatre outreach producer), with writer Jane Archer behind Nick and Jillian. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson.

They will next be involved in a staged performance of their stories by actors at Perth Theatre.