A HEXHAM family is honouring the memory of a much-loved son who lost his life to mental illness.

The family of Laury Gratiet, 21, who died in 2020, are taking part in an ambitious sailing project to raise awareness of mental illness by sailing across the English Channel from Chichester to Port Blanc in northern Brittany.

Following his death his mum Solen and godmother Nina set up Blue Spirit, which grants sailing bursaries to young people experiencing mental health challenges or facing social or economic disadvantages. 

Solen and her family will be joined by filmmakers and a photographer documenting their nautical journey. The team will set off on August 2 and hope to arrive four days later.

Hexham Courant: FAMILY: Laury and Solen in Spain, in October 2016FAMILY: Laury and Solen in Spain, in October 2016

"More people are talking about mental health now but we want to create more openness about grief, mental health, and loneliness. Making a difference means there's something positive keeping him alive," Solen said.

Once in Brittany, community coastal sails will take place for disadvantaged young people, along with a traditional Celtic festival known as 'Fest Noz', to celebrate Laury's life.

Laury's best friend Camille, a Celtic musician, will perform with his Breton band while friends, family, and the community take part in traditional Breton dancing.

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Hexham Courant: SAIL: Laury sailing in August 2019SAIL: Laury sailing in August 2019

"Laury was passionate about sailing. He felt happiest when he was on the water and planned to train as a skipper - he wanted to cross the Atlantic with his girlfriend Marie. He was very charming, funny, and everyone said he could light up a room with his smile," Solen said.

Hexham Courant: LAUGHTER: Laury with mum Solen and sister Maia in Spain, October 2016LAUGHTER: Laury with mum Solen and sister Maia in Spain, October 2016

Solen said the family wanted to honour Laury through Blue Spirit and continue his passion for sailing.

"It makes you feel like you're close to the person you've lost," she said. "Nothing is going to make up for him but if I can make a difference in one person's life it will feel worthwhile."

Filmed by the award-winning Angela Robson, Oscar winner James Reed from Prudhoe, director of 'My Octopus Teacher' and Solen's cousin, and Joanna Duchesne from JD Works, 'In His Slipstream' is the working title of the project.

It will document the family's emotional journey as they learn to sail in memory of Laury, whose passions included sailing and the environment.

Nina, a documentary photographer and award-winning director of arts enterprise FotoDocument, will produce the photo essay.

After the expedition, footage will be used for screenings, public exhibitions, and Blue Spirit marketing and fundraising. Solen hopes the film is powerful, and helps people who are in her situation or Laury's.

Blue Spirit has set up a GoFundMe page and is hoping to raise £10,000. So far, the page has received more than £1,000.

To donate, go to https://www.gofundme.com/.