This article was first published in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald’s family column, written by me, in October 2013. Due to requests from various sources, I’m reproducing it here.
The day I met Holly Scott-Donaldson from Pewsey, she was sitting on the sofa trying to get comfortable as she awaits the imminent birth of her third child.
None of this stopped her talking to me, sorting out the washing and taking the odd telephone call.
For some, especially those in a corporate world, Holly, now 41, is a nesting mother-to-be luxuriating in being a stay-at-home parent. Appearances can be deceptive.
Those odd telephone calls related to her new business, Donaldson Business Bureau, which is growing fast and particularly engaging women in the county. Her clients are blue chip companies and small one-man or woman bands. Business is continuing as well as preparations for a new family member – a little girl.
When Holly started out in her career she could not have imagined being where she is now, living with her husband Rod, sons Magnus, five and Ranulf, two, in a picturesque rural town in Wiltshire.
She’d had a career in banking, IT and marketing after completing a degree in international business studies at the University of the West of England – UWE. She’s been headhunted for virtually every job she’s ever done. She’s travelled the world professionally and also spent time helping her father run his own hotel in South Africa.
“Single people in the corporate world will often realize that some of their colleagues are more settled and they are prepared to be more flexible. However, if you are not careful that behaviour can become a habit. In my job I was one of the last unmarried people so stuff rolled downhill to me which I did, but which weren’t necessarily part of my role.”
However on returning to work after having Magnus, the expectation was that this ‘stuff’ would still keep rolling Holly’s way.
“My professional relationships changed. I returned to my corporate job to a new team, new tech and I was in a situation where I was a cog in a wheel and my view of my job had changed. I was married now with a baby.
“I was trying to start everything from scratch, I had masses of guilt and I wasn’t feeling appreciated. I was so tired and often not emotionally strong enough but the demands on my time were still there.”
So when asked, Holly jumped at the chance to work for a smaller company as head of marketing. A happy couple of years followed.
“It was a great job until the day when I said one word to the directors – ‘miscarriage’. It was a Sunday, I’d had a miscarriage, was in hospital and was due in London the next day. I called one of my bosses, explained the situation and I feel I was never treated the same from that day onwards.
“The relationship collapsed. Previously I was part of the management team and we’d meet and discuss our direction together. Now, even though my job hadn’t changed technically, I was out of the loop, I was not included in those discussions and was issued with a set of instructions.”
However, Holly found herself in a professional trap. Doing a job she no longer liked but needing the money and feeling unable to move. Plus she was now pregnant with her second son.
“I reasoned with myself and thought I would just do my job and go home. But it was demoralizing, having my professional input denied just wore me down and over time it actually changed my personality. I was in a depressed state, and felt I was just living a humdrum routine with no vitality.”
Then she was told she was on ‘redundancy watch’ and her role was reduced from five days a week to two.
“It was equally devastating. My husband was unemployed at the time and I was the breadwinner. Overnight our finances plummeted. But I had to go on with it – I had no choice. So for two days a week I ‘played job’, it was so hard.”
Anxious to earn money for the other week days, Holly did what many mums do – enter the direct selling market.
“I found that time and again I was called on to train other people who wanted to sell the products rather than selling the products myself. I decided to make training and business advice, the focus of my own business and I pulled out of the direct selling.”
However, a few months into her third pregnancy, she was made redundant from her two days’ a week role. She believes the two things were linked.
“Looking back just a few short months later, I can see that I needed that to happen. I needed to lose that job. If you have got people sitting on your shoulder every day telling you they don’t value you, it’s no good.
“The first Monday when I got up and didn’t have to deal with that was the best day of my life apart from my wedding day and the birth of my children.
“There are so many women and mums out there in my position. They are worried and they have to put up with so much corporate stuff and often are made to feel second class. They are worth so much more than that.
“My message to anyone out there who is stuck – remember anything is possible. You can do anything you want to do if you’ve got the right people around you.”
(this article was first published in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald on October 17 2013, this content may be slightly longer due to the newspaper editing process)
TALENTED horsewomen Rosie and Sam Pyle have an exciting personal challenge ahead of them – the mother and daughter are about to go head-to-head in their first national competition together.
Rosie, who’s 14 and a student at Malmesbury School, is a rising star in British Show jumping and is following in the footsteps of her mum Sam, 46, who has also had an impressive career in the sport.
Next month, they’ll be taking part in the Dodson & Horrell National Amateur and Veteran Championships 2013 at the Aintree International Equestrian Centre in Liverpool. They’ve both qualified for the 90 cm class.
“My aim is to be better than my mum,” the teenager joked when we met at the family home in Sherston.
In spite of the joking, there’s no doubt this young woman has a bright future ahead of her. In the last year, her competitive spirit has taken her to more national events than ever before and her sights are now set very high.
“I want to be able to jump at the Horse of the Year Show just as my mum did – I even want to try for the Olympics. I was inspired by London 2012. Just watching everything and feeling the atmosphere, it just looks like an amazing experience and the thought of jumping for my country – that would be really good.”
Rosie & Saint are riding high – and hoping for more!
She’s also very clear about who inspires this ambition.
“My hero is my mum. I admire her because she had an amazing career with horses and, because her family didn’t have the money to buy the most expensive horses, they bred their own. She followed in her own mum’s footsteps and I want to follow in her’s.
“My granddad tells me stories about mum’s career, often around the travelling, the friendships and the adventures and it just sounds so much fun. Mum is still friends with many of the people she jumped with and I want that too.”
Most recently, Rosie was awarded the NAF Shining Star Award for her work as a member of the British Show jumping Wiltshire Junior Academy. She was nominated in September by coach Nicky Florence.
Nicky said: “Rosie is a pleasure to coach is always immaculately turned out at both shows and training. Her riding has gone from strength to strength as she is very understanding of her horse at all times and she always listens attentively to any advice she is given.”
At home, the Pyles’ family life revolves around horses. They have three of their own who all require daily care and exercising, as well as travelling nationwide to compete. Behind it all, Sam works as an estate officer at Charlton Park and dad James, runs his own independent estate agency James Pyle & Co.
Sam was brought up around horses – her dad Bob Rumble bred horses and her late mum was also an accomplished rider. Bob has already bred Rosie’s next horse, Hunny, who will be suitable to ride competitively in a few years.
Mum Sam said: “Horses are in my blood, I was brought up with horses and its second nature to me. I’ve not been a pushy mum but have always hoped that my girls would enjoy riding as much as I have.”
Sam describes her career in show jumping very modestly. She worked as a professional rider for ten years on the national circuit and competed in the Horse of the Year show. Given her background, it’s hardly surprising that her first child was on horseback from an astonishing early age.
“I would put Rosie in a saddle basket on the back of Didi and lead her when I was walking the dog. It was the easiest way and I did this from about six months old.”
Rosie first memory is, however, rather different.
“My earliest memory of riding is actually of falling off. I was riding my pony Thomas in a field with Dad leading and I fell off, I fell right next to a stone and remember crying because I’d been close to hitting the stone! I was probably about six.
“I also remember going to try my new pony Tommy and sitting on him and feeling really scared because he seemed so much bigger than Thomas. But I soon realized he was easier and I thought I could jump with him.”
Rosie’s life with horses is charted by the names of all who have played a role in her life so far – from Didi, to Thomas, to Tommy, to Gamble, to Ted and now Saint. Sister Katie, who’s 11, is now riding Ted as she begins her career on horseback.
Horses even play a role in her school life as Rosie is a member of the school equestrian team where she competes with her teammates Evie Dyer and Kirsty Poulton.
None of this though, comes cheap. Looking after three horses and travelling around the country is an expensive business. It’s a full-time family commitment to keep the sporting spirit strong within the home.
“I work at Charlton Park,” said Sam. “My job pays for the horses and to cover our costs as much as possible. James supports us all too, in fact we all support each other in any competitions we take part in.”
They did admit though dad James and granddad Bob often sneak off at the weekends to indulge their own secret pastime – boules!
This is one of my articles which appeared (in an edited version) in the Gazette & Herald newspaper in Wiltshire in September. I’m re-producing it at the request of several people who wanted to access an online link.
- Wishing my godmother well on her final journey….
Remembering Will Filer….
One of the hardest jobs a journalist has to do is to interview people who have lost a child – particularly if that death is sudden and unexpected.
Meeting Rachel Filer-Higginson, Ashley Higginson and their children Joshua and Hallie-Jane was no exception.
Many people may feel as they read this article that I, as a journalist, am invading the privacy of a family in grief. However, that’s not true. This interview was a mutual decision discussed over several months to share the journey these parents have taken.
Today they still struggle to come to terms with the death of their son William, known as Will. For them, many questions are still unanswered. His death was reported in a national newspaper as a suicide after Will had been taking a drug known as meow meow. Indeed his parents believed for weeks that drugs may have been involved. However, no drugs were found in his system.
That was the spring of 2010. Will had been found dead, or dying, by a local walking his dog in a field in Chippenham. Attempts to revive him failed.
“It was Monday 1st March,” Rachel tells me as she sits in the kitchen of her home in Oaklands.
“The kids had gone to school and Ashley said he’d just bumped into Will who’d said he would be up later. We were upstairs stripping the beds as we usually did on a Monday, when the front door bell rang. We thought it was Will and he’d lost his keys again.
“I saw this high-vis coat through the door and it was a young woman police officer or PCSO and she looked at me and said they’d found Will and he had hung himself and he was dead. She just kept on talking and she just wouldn’t shut up…he’d been airlifted to Swindon but I couldn’t see him for ages. You just keep hoping that it isn’t true because your kid wouldn’t have done that to you, he wouldn’t have hurt you so much.”
Quietly Ashley, stepdad to Will since he was four, also relives those moments.
“I was walking back from taking the children to school, I didn’t get home until 8.50am that morning and I saw Will who said ‘tell Mum I’ll be up later.’
“When Rachel went downstairs to answer the door, I just heard screaming, terrible screaming. There was a WPC, she didn’t know what to do with Rachel and we had to call our GP. Life as we knew it ended that day, I don’t think we slept for weeks after that.”
These terrible memories will resonate with any parent. However, there’s another side to Will’s story which has, and still is, torturing his mum and dad.
Will was a special child who had learning difficulties. From a very early age, it was clear he was different to other children. He couldn’t concentrate on anything for very long and he couldn’t keep still. He was statemented with a diagnosis of ADHD and went to various schools in Wiltshire where he was generally encouraged.
Although he couldn’t read or write by the age of eight, he went on to learn and exceed all expectations. His parents felt he was in a safe environment.
Rachel said: “My son never ceased to make me proud. I remember one sports’ day at school, there was a boy in the three-legged race who didn’t have a partner and no one seemed to want to be with him. My Will went up to him and tied their legs together and off they went. They came last – but they were the winners that day as the parents cheered and cheered them across the line.”
However when he turned 16 – things began to change for the family and for Will.
“There’s very little support for teenagers like Will, who have hidden disabilities, once they leave the school system,” Ashley said.
“And that’s got to change. Will may have been 16, 17 and 18 but he was not mature enough to cope on his own. I don’t think he matured beyond age ten or 11.
“He wasn’t so severely affected that his need was very obvious but he just couldn’t integrate or understand other people in the same way as most of us. Anyone who knew him, and talked to him would soon spot he was special.
“He so wanted to cope on his own but it didn’t work – and the problem was that we didn’t know how badly it wasn’t working until it was too late.”
Will wanted to leave home and live independently and he went to extraordinary lengths to make it happen.
“Once he went to the police station to say that we’d kicked him out,” Rachel said. “I told them to send him home as his tea was ready.”
“We understood he wanted some independence and when he was offered some accommodation he was thrilled but he was still here a lot of the time for his meals and for his washing to be done.”
However, Will’s unique response to life led to a number of difficult situations for him. Rachel gives an example of an incident, not in Wiltshire, which didn’t become known to the family until some time later.
“Will was an attractive boy and once went for a night out with some friends in another town. He met a girl and went back to her place. In the morning, she told him he had raped her. Will believed her, went straight to the police station, told them and was arrested, his clothes were taken, he was put into a white paper suit and the police went to interview the girl. She told them it was all fine, she was only joking. Will was released. We just didn’t know about it until after the event.”
Will was given a placement in accommodation which supports disadvantaged young people, some are homeless, some have drug or alcohol issues. His parents thought he was happy there but now they are not so sure.
“One of the rules of the home was that no alcohol was allowed. Will saw another young man drinking alcohol and told on him. This was not well received. But Will had a thing about boundaries, he always did,” Ashley said.
At the inquest into his death, Rachael and Ashley found out several things which they didn’t know. Statements from friends also suggested that he’d been taunted racially.
The most shocking revelation was that Will had apparently made three previous attempts to take his own life. This had included stealing someone’s medication and taking the tablets and trying to jump off a bridge, but he was found by police.
“We didn’t find this out until the inquest. When we questioned it we were told that he was 18 years old and he was entitled to his confidentiality but we were totally kept out the loop. In my view, this was wrong,” Ashley said.
“Will was vulnerable and because of that his vulnerability, we believe, was interpreted by some as weakness.”
“If we had had any idea that he felt so fed up we could have done something. He never showed that side of himself to us. He just walked with a smile, ” Rachel said.
There will be some who say that these parents had an opportunity to know the details of Will’s passing prior to the inquest – as they did receive the paperwork before the hearing. However, the stark detail of the post mortem was so traumatic, they told me, that they burned the paperwork, unable to read more.
There was one sad story which his parents believe did have a major effect on his mental health. He had a dream to join the Army – a dream which could never come true but which he believed for a time was in his reach.
“He did an Army preparation course at a local college. He really wanted to join the Army and ironically I begged him not to as he might die. He really saw it as the opportunity to have a new life, a career,” said Rachel.
“But he would never have been accepted because of the medication he had to take for his ADHD. He would have had to be clear of that drug for three years before he could be considered. He was told this but it just didn’t seem to register. When he finished the course, we were told that physically he was perfect but it just wasn’t going to happen.”
Some of Rachel’s and Ashley’s concerns around their son’s death still exist. But they’ve now decided to engage actively in a campaign to raise £20,000 to perhaps set up a helpline for other young people in Wiltshire who are similarly vulnerable and their families.
“We created Will’s Friends to raise awareness of people like Will who need some extra support in their lives. If I won the lottery, I’d set up a residential home for people like Will where they would feel safe with other adults around to ensure that they couldn’t be exploited but they could have some independence.”
No one knows how many adults with learning disabilities suffer abuse – and it’s possible they never will. It’s sometimes now known as ‘hate crime’.
A report by the NHS’s Information Centre in March this year said there had been a 24 per cent rise in ‘safeguarding alerts’ around vulnerable adults between 2011 & 2012.
‘Alerts’ are the first contact between a concerned person about a vulnerable adult and a local authority safeguarding team.
Of those alerts, 20 per cent relate to adults with learning disabilities.
The most common outcome, in around a third of cases, was ‘no further action’.
Will’s Friends can be found on Facebook.