The impact of the Old Melburnians Dick Cotton Fellowship

Our years at high school are some of the most pivotal in our journey of personal development. I remain grateful for my time at Melbourne Grammar School – a place that nourished my academic interests, but also enriched my connection to sport, charity, community, the arts, and the outdoors.

That legacy remains with me six years later and I am reminded of it often, even now – living on the other side of the world in Paris – in the importance I attach to a varied life lived with purpose.

This is the ethic that inspired me to apply for the Old Melburnians Dick Cotton Fellowship in 2021, an annual grant offered by the Old Melburnians Council to young OMs who want to pursue an important community project or volunteer work.

I have been enthusiastic about mental wellbeing since I first encountered debilitating anxiety following my mother’s diagnosis with brain cancer in 2014. The context of the COVID-19 pandemic spurred me to contemplate how I could best channel my personal struggle into some meaningful benefit for others.

Supported by the faith and generosity of the OMs Council in a Dick Cotton Fellowship, I was able to enter Lifeline Australia’s 12-month training program and become a volunteer telephone crisis support worker.

One year later, I couldn’t be more grateful to Anton Leschen and the Old Melburnians Council for the trust they placed in me and my mission. Lifeline takes a call every 30 seconds from a person around Australia experiencing crisis – I think this a testament to the shared and growing challenge that is mental wellbeing in our community. I was attracted to Lifeline because I believe that loneliness and disconnection are our two great nemeses as they relate to mental wellbeing. Human connection is astonishingly centring and regenerative. Sadly, many people do not have access to the same support networks that many of us share, and this is the crucial gap that Lifeline seeks to fill. It is a small effort for maximal impact.

Although I am currently pursuing a masters degree abroad, I will be able to readily resume my work at Lifeline once I return to Australia. My work at Lifeline has been perhaps the most meaningful and transformative experience of my life. I have learnt skills that make me a better person to myself, my friends, my family, and my community. I have had the tremendous privilege of supporting people at moments of incredible vulnerability and help them take steps towards wellbeing.

While people tend to ask about the challenging or confronting aspects of the work, many of my Lifeline colleagues will tell you about the powerful sense of hope, connection, and commonality that you gain. The human condition is shared between us all – it is truly remarkable what we can achieve when we realise this truth and be kinder, gentler, and more understanding with each other.

Tom Akhurst (OM 2016)
2021 Dick Cotton Fellowship recipient

Applications for the Old Melburnians Dick Cotton Fellowship open mid-year. Further information is available at: