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Fiona Scott

What did you do when your friend died of breast cancer?

On February 13 this year my friend Ainslie died of breast cancer after fighting the dreaded disease for 12 years. I knew Ainslie was going to die, at the time of her death she had cancer in her brain, was wheelchair bound and her body was less and less able to function. Given that I knew she was going to leave, I was always so sure I’d know when the time came. However I did not.

It was a full 24 hours later – while away with my family on a weekend break  – when I got the text from her husband Phil to tell me she’d gone.  I went into the state of shock which comes when someone who is part of your life is taken, a parting even worse if that someone is young, in this case just 47. My son told me he’d never heard me cry like that. 

Ainslie Duffell

Ainslie, who fought breast cancer for 12 years

I asked him what he meant. After all, I’m so soft I’ll cry at a tv advertisement which pulls on the heart strings. He’s seen me cry regularly, hundreds of times. He just said ‘it wasn’t like that’. I think he meant I was howling – making that kind of sound you make when you are almost separate from yourself wondering why on earth you are emitting such a strange, animal noise. 

When home, i visited Phil and Alex to see them following Ainslie’s passing. It’s one of those moments you dread but know you have to face and I did it with one of my children who felt she wanted to be there. It was such a shock to walk into the house and see Ainslie looking at me from the sofa – my heart flipped. Perhaps there’d been a mistake – but how could there be? It was actually Ainslie’s sister, Lindsay, who looks like her, or who looks like her before cancer took over Ainslie’s body and tried – but did not succeed  – to rob her of her essential self. 

What do you do when your friend dies from cancer? When you could do absolutely nothing to help her when she was here apart from being there? You can – donate money to her funeral fund, you can support her family in the days following her death, offer to do some practical things like cook meals, do shopping, clean the house. However, having suffered loss myself before – that’s not where the best and most positive route lies. Do those things. Do them as a matter of course, but don’t let that be it. The best route for me lies in letting everyone know this person mattered  weeks, months or years down the line. For everyone achieving that may look different. 

I lost my dad when he was 58 and I remember him daily by talking about him and ensuring my children know what he looked like, the funny things he said and did. What he did or didn’t like. How he influenced me for good and ill. When I lost my brother in law at just 49, it was about honouring his children, seeing him in them, trying to support my sister through the worst times of her life – and trying to keep on doing it even when it’s hard to do so. That’s family. But what about a close friend?

When I went to Ainslie’s house to see Phil and their son Alex, following her death. Alex and Phil told me they had a plan. In her journal, Ainslie had said how sad she was that she was unable to see Alex achieve his first century at cricket. Alex is a rising young star on the Wiltshire cricket scene and the sport is his passion – as it is Phil’s who is a sports journalist and qualified cricket coach. Why was Ainslie unable to see her son play on that day? As a wheelchair user, the cricket club where Alex plays regularly has very poor wheelchair access and nowhere for a disabled or very ill person to view a match safely or in any degree of comfort. Although very proud of her son, Ainslie’s wish to see him play could not be fulfilled. Her journal revealed the true extent of her sadness.

Now I know nothing about cricket save it can involve teams dressed in white carrying bats, using very hard red balls and the word ‘runs’ comes into it. It’s not a sport I’ve ever been interested in and my only abiding memory of it is the novelist DH Lawrence refers to the ‘chocking’ of the cricket ball hitting the bat in one of his novels. I’ve always liked the word ‘chock’. When Phil & Alex asked if I would support them in a five year project to rebuild the cricket pavilion at the Purton Cricket Club in Wiltshire so that no other wheelchair user would be denied access – I said yes. 

As I said before, I could do nothing to help Ainslie while she was alive battling this horrible, disgusting disease – but this is something I can do. I can do my little bit to support Phil & Alex as they attempt to create a legacy in Ainslie’s name at a cricket club which will be 200 years old in 2020. I’m proud to have been asked and I’m proud to do my bit. 

Could you do your bit by sharing this blog post? It will be one of many charting this journey over the next few years and highlighting events to raise money. At this early stage, just over £5,000 has been raised to get the project off the ground. It will be a long journey ahead with obstacles, hurdles and great moments. But it will never be anything like the journey which went before….so this is what I’m doing for my friend Ainslie….

What is the potential return on investment of PR?

Many business owners hear the term ‘public relations’ or ‘pr’ and think ‘I don’t need this, there’s no evidence of a return on investment’ or, as I’ve heard more than once:

‘I want bangs for my buck’ or ‘where’s the bums on seats?’.

Personally, I tend to back off from any business owner who thinks he or she needs my services – and then say things like ‘PR it’s not really that important but I think I ought to do it’ or ‘my product is so fantastic that that article should have sold a million overnight, that press release didn’t work’.

PR is one tool in a marketing strategy and a very valuable one – but it’s a long term, slow burn affair. It’s not, or very rarely, able to fill a stadium with your customers overnight or even in a week or a month. It’s about being visible and understanding how the media and social media works and putting yourself out there to be discovered. Also, if you’re selling a product everything else has to work, like your website, your telephone, your e-mail. You have to be available!

In a time of recession it’s the PR which gets abandoned very quickly. Why is this? Is it not even more important what you project outwards about you and your business at this time? Through traditional and social media? Through advertising, leaflets, brochures, events, e-mailing or whatever strategies you use? Is it not important to be part of your business and geographical community? To have a view on the issues affecting that community?

There are some organisations or business people who just get this – look at the charitable sector, they absolutely understand the value of PR day in, day out. They just get it.

At a recent business event I attended, I spoke to Graham Hill, who discussed these very things with me. He runs a telephone answering company called Verbatim near Newbury. He belongs to various business groups and last year, one of those groups honoured him.

He was  the first Oxfordshire member of the Entrepreneurs’ Circle to be awarded “Entrepreneur of the Month” twice in less than a year for making stuff happen in his business. So a group of which he’s a member honours him internally. Deservedly so.

I’d like to say I was responsible for what happened next but I’m afraid I cannot – Graham didn’t know me then! But Graham’s story is one which shows what CAN happen when you get the message about PR.

A simple press release went out detailing his award with photograph. In terms of cash spend – the most this would have cost him was £500, probably less.

Graham Hill gets the award for Enterpreneur of the Month for the second time in 2012.

In Graham’s words this is what happened:

1.    the Thames Valley Chamber of Commerce then invited me to speak at their lunch  which led to a couple of sales enquiries.

2.    Then Executive Television, which produces  30 minute documentaries on business and entrepreneurial subjects (aired on Sky information channel 212 and BBC/ITV digital) got in touch.

3. We have just completed the filming, one of four companies interviewed about “Effective Business Communication” Once they have a date to broadcast they will email 5000 IOD members information etc.

So from one little press release we have positioned our business as opinion makers / formers.

What will this publicity be worth globally? What would it have cost if that documentary was turned into advertising space? Four firms featured in 30 minutes – let’s say, conservatively you’ll get seven minutes air time – thousands and thousands of pounds.

Not all press releases will have the same effect but sooner or later one could – and once you are established as a leader in your field in your area, a commentator on your sector, the sky can literally be the limit. And hopefully you’ll take your friendly neighbourhood journalist along with you……

 

Child benefit, Leveson – a 2012 rant from a Wiltshire mum

As journalists, we are not often able to express opinions about political things – and many of us just don’t want to – but today is different.

Today I feel the need to say what I think both as a journalist and as a mum – and it’s two gripes here:  the Leveson inquiry and child benefit.

LEVESON:

I’ve waited a few days to say what I think of the Leveson inquiry, sometimes it’s best to wait and take stock before opening one’s mouth.

My first point is that a small number of journalists, mainly working on national newspapers, have acted in a despicable and unacceptable manner to ordinary members of the public, and the families of celebrities. Neither of these do I condone.

I also don’t condone senior owners and managers in newspapers getting all cosy to politicians and senior police officers to create some comfortable ‘honey pot’ where deals are done. For this there is fault on all sides.

I have less sympathy with celebrities who court the newspaper press when they feel like it – and moan when they don’t like the type of coverage they get. However, no celebrity should have his/her phone hacked and family members harrassed in any way. Journalists who have used these methods are breaking the law.

People who break the law in any profession are unlikely to be stopped by introducing more laws. For some, the story will always be the goal whatever the means.

I’ve been a journalist for more than 20 years and I’ve never hacked anyone’s phone, nor have I ever been asked to do so. I’ve never camped outside someone’s house because my employer is interested in writing about their private lives. I was asked to do this just once – I said no. I just didn’t feel it served any public interest at all.

Does this mean I would never write a story of that nature? No – I would and I have, but only when that part of someone’s life encroaches into their public life eg. in criminal cases, politicians who are caught out and action taken against them which comes into the public domain.

Do I think a law should be introduced to control the Press? No, I don’t . The past is paved with good intentions – but whatever the intent of such a law, it could mean that later it’s used to restrict the freedom of the Press even more – and we have a restricted press in this country as it is.

“What!” you may think – well, when I first moved from newspapers into television, I had such a shock when it came to what could and could not be done. In television, the guidelines laid down are far more stringent than in any newspaper and they are, in my personal experience, strictly adhered to.

Take secret filming for example. Due care and attention must be taken before secret filmig is ever approved. As a producer, you cannot just think or suspect that someone is doing something wrong, illegal or immoral – you have to have a strong case. That then has to be approved by the highest manager in the building at the time with a legal opinion. If you jump that hurdle and carry out secret filming, there is another process to decide if it can be used or not. I have been involved in such cases and that secret filming has never been aired.

When journalists break the law they should be prosecuted. I cannot support any restriction of freedom of the press beyond what exists already in the UK. There are thousands of journalists in this country working in towns, villages and cities who are doing a good job bringing stories to light, spreading information and allowing people to have a voice – and some of those stories save lives, bring people justice and raise awareness. This happens every single day.

If you are in any way considering that journalists’ rights should be restricted further. Look no further than revolts, uprisings all over the world where freedom of speech and expression is at risk. The Press in all its forms is one of the first things to be sacrificed or taken over in a time of conflict. It happened in WW2, the Falklands, still happens in China and lately, only last week, communications were cut off in Syria.

CHILD BENEFIT

Image of a five pound note

Money, money, money…..

As a family we’ve known for some time that we will probably lose our child benefit. Now it’s happening, and we are going to miss that extra bit of income each month. We are not a family on very low income, but neither are we a family where the child benefit goes into a savings account for our children’s future – it’s part of the budget for the month, as was always intended.

I do, however, accept that it’s going, I’ve long felt that it’s a benefit which should be means-tested. But this cutting of child benefit is not means tested. It’s a clumsy, discriminatory money-saving tactic which will do damage to this government in my view.

There are two things which have really angered me about this decision to cut child benefit. The first was illustrated when recently talking to some friends. We are two families where both parents work and each have three children. In my friend’s family, the husband is just earning below the higher rate tax level, the mother is also just earning under that higher rate as she has a middle management role and she works part-time. This keeps her earnings below the threshold. My husband is a higher rate tax payer, I’m self-employed and my earnings are not stable. I’ve been self-employed for almost four years and in only one year have I earned enough to match this other family’s household income. On average their family income is about £5k a year more than us – but they can keep their child benefit. How can that be right? In my view, we should both lose it.

The other thing that has really riled me is the letter to my husband where he could opt for me, his wife, to lose the benefit. The benefit is in my name but I’ve received no communication at all. As the higher rate tax payer, he has the letter allowing him to cut off that money on my behalf – which proves to me this is just done for ease of administration. This discriminates, mostly against women and particularly against women who stay at home and don’t go out to work.

Maybe this government thinks all of those families with healthy incomes, but where both partners are under the threshold, will volunteer to lose their child benefit out of a sense of moral duty. Will they b******s!. Would you?

I could have made the decision to keep the benefit with my hubby declaring it on his tax return next year, but then we’ll get hit with a big tax bill. I suppose the only benefit of that would be that I could keep the money, earn interest on it and then pay it back at the relevant time. A part of me wants to do that to be bloody-minded.

However, the plot thickens. You can opt out of child benefit online – where the higher rate tax payer signs in – but the partner – fills out the form. You then get a confirmation that you have ‘requested’ for that benefit to end. The whole wording suggests it’s a voluntary act, like you’ve made an altruistic decision to give up that money to help the nation. That kind of wording really worries me – could it be used against you at a later date if your circumstances changed and you needed to re-apply? Or if it was introduced again universally?

However, I’ve had to ‘volunteer’ to give up my child benefit because of my partner’s earnings. So I either have to bear that loss or I have to try to find extra work to make up the difference each month. Happy New Year!

 

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