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parents

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….

I Think Excellent Customer Service Is More Important Than Ever – Do You Agree?

Good customer service is very important to me – is it important to you? In fact during 2014, I made a point of praising anyone who gave me, or my family, excellent service and being very clear when service was not up to scratch.

One mantra I’ve heard repeated several times is ‘why is this important when you can buy so much online now?’ – to me, there is no difference between excellent customer service on or offline. If it wasn’t important, why would services like Amazon and Ebay ask for reviews? And do you ever read the reviews? I do – and does it influence a buying decision? It certainly does for me.

cafe in Ireland with words 'come on in, the kettle's on the boil'

Excellent Customer Service

 

In the real world, shopping has to be more and more like an experience – and a good experience at that – why? because it’s so much easier, more convenient and often cheaper to buy online. Therefore, real world shopping must offer something extra. There must be some added value which engages the emotion. These are absolute musts for 2015.

If anyone is in doubt – look at the success in my home town of Swindon of the Designer Outlet Village, where experience is at the heart of shopping. People come from all over the country to shop there – they anticipate a bargain and they also anticipate an experience. This flagship centre for McArthur Glen – the company which runs the site – is a testament to good service. The mailing list for this one outlet centre alone is huge – a list many of us would be thrilled to manage.

So what is bad customer service? For me, it’s any person within any business who makes me FEEL slighted, stupid, silly, of little value – EVEN IF I’M IN THE WRONG. Remember the old adage ‘the customer is always right’ – there’s sense in that. No one can argue with how a customer feels, even if that customer is being unreasonable. Here are a few things I personally class as ‘bad’ service:

*Being ignored when I ask a direct question – this once happened to me in an Apple store where the member of staff, started talking to another customer during a conversation with me – I left and  made no purchase.

* Being continually hassled by staff when it’s clear I’m browsing and taking in the shop and what it has to offer. Once is enough.

* Being made to feel stupid when you can’t work out the intricacies of the ‘bill’ – this happened to me recently at Dominos Express in Swindon where the manager insisted I was unintelligent – his view changed however when I told him I was a journalist (something I should not have to do to be treated well). I will never enter that shop again. Not because the pizzas aren’t good – but I will be reminded of how I was made to feel.

*Being pushed aside by a telephone call – if I’m being served and the staff member receives a telephone call, I expect to come first – not be dismissed in favour of a telephone. This will guarantee I will leave without making a purchase.

*Being told ‘we can’t do that because the system won’t accept it’ – this has happened to me several times, when you want to amend a standard order, especially in food outlets. Where you cannot make a small change because a computer system is set up to offer no options. Again, a great reason for me to leave.

However it’s no good being continually negative. I now take the time to thank people for good service, fill in surveys where requested and give feedback. Nothing will change if you don’t engage. I have no idea what happens to that feedback, i just know it’s worth doing. Some excellent customer service highlights for me this year:

* the patience of a store manager when one of my children was horribly embarrassed about having a bra fitting and was tearful on entering the shop.

* the excellence of an American company which supplied me with a faulty product and replaced it within 48 hours, from America, at no extra cost and did not insist on the faulty item being returned.

* the responsive attitude of a Mini Service member of staff in Swindon who listened when I explained a complaint, put it right immediately and then sought me a better deal to make me feel better – hence work on my car which I thought would be £200 at least was actually £25. Now how will I feel on entering those premises again?

So it’s all about excellent customer service – but the onus is also on me as a consumer to give feedback, to say thank you and to praise as much as possible those who go the extra mile.

I’d be interested in your experiences too….

Wiltshire journalist shares her story to inspire women throughout the UK

Have you ever thought – I’d like to write a book? I’d like to tell my story? Can I write a book? Would anyone actually be interested? 

 

As a person who does a lot of writing as part of my business, it may seem strange to tell you that I’ve often asked myself all of the above. When I was a child I always wanted to be an author but, as I got older I wondered if I truly had anything to say of value. I was also pretty sure I couldn’t sustain a story of fiction for long enough.

After several years of running my own business I realise that I do have a lot to say, and some people will want to hear it.

 

In fact, I’ve learned that we ALL have something to say and there will always be those who want to hear it. All of us have value.

 

Once I truly accepted this fact, I found it surprisingly easy to share one of my stories. I’m now in a place where I’m not worried about those who don’t want to listen – those people will always be around – I’m reaching out to those who are life’s do-ers. Those who at least have a go at their ‘thing’ and those who want to live life with few regrets.

This week, my first foray into writing about myself in a book came to fruition. The book – available on Kindle – is Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game – http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00KB2XRYI .

It tells stories from a dozen business women from across the south west who want to encourage and inspire other women to try and to persevere if they want to start or develop their own business. Each story is very different. It’s thanks to my women’s business club – I Am Woman – that I’ve finally taken the plunge. I’m already thinking now about doing an entire book covering many aspects of my professional life.

My story shared in Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game

My story shared in Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game

My story about starting my own business and what I learned in those early days is not what you think. I’m not the business person who nurtured an idea, let it grow and then went into it with rose-tinted glasses and making a million in a month. My story is very different.

I had my dream job – and I lost it. I never wanted to be self-employed, I didn’t want to run my own business and I was devastated that life had thrown me such a curve ball. However, I couldn’t change the fact that this had happened. All I could control was what I did next – and that’s the story I tell. Looking back, I realise my more negative start actually stood me in good stead. It didn’t mean I didn’t make any mistakes – I made loads. But my view was always realistic and I seemed to be able to spot when something wasn’t working. To find out more, of course, you’re going to have to read the book.

Is this being arrogant? Some might think so – but why do we women often feel embarrassed about blowing our own trumpet? Is it because men think less of us? Not in my case – I actually think it’s more because some women think less of us. Some cannot stand the fact that others are more ‘out there’ than they are. Women can be women’s own worst enemies. Truth is, I don’t actually care what anyone thinks, those who are interested will read the book, those who are not – won’t.

So I’ll end on these two notes – the woman who writes thousands and thousands of words each year about others has now written some words about herself. She also remembers one very important lesson in life which has sustained her. It was a saying which a teacher, Christopher Drew, put into my autograph book on the day I left primary school back in the 1970s. It’s always reminded me that life is always a journey of discovery and, thankfully, there’s so much more left to learn:

‘HE WHO KNOWS NOT AND KNOWS NOT THAT HE KNOWS NOT. SHUN HIM FOR HE IS A FOOL’.

 

Wiltshire family share an amazing love story…

This article first appeared in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald in early February 2014.

 A love story

A love story

Today mum Liz Badcock is a loving mother, doting wife and fledgling entrepreneur.

As she turns 40 this year and enjoys watching her 20-month-old son Harry grow up – she knows she’s lucky to have him, her husband Phil or her new business as a weight consultant.

Liz, who lives near Chippenham, is a recovering addict. She’s spent 20 years battling alcohol and drug dependency, a problem which began in her early teens.

“I had a lovely childhood,” Liz told me. “I’ve got loving parents who have always done everything they can to support me. I cannot, in any way, say that I wasn’t loved at home.

“However, I was always a needy child who craved attention. I grew up well before my time and at 14 I was out clubbing and drinking and getting a lot of male attention.

“Most of my early teens were relationship after relationship, getting used for sex, getting drunk and taking ecstasy and cocaine. I got engaged at an early age, cheated, drank heavily and was never happy.

“By the age of 21 I went from one abusive relationship to another, taking drugs and alcohol to numb the pain and resentment towards myself for putting up with it.”

Liz began a cycle of heavy drink and drug use alongside self-harm and many related issues. Even when she met her husband Phil, who comes from Swindon, she was unable to deal with her various addictions.

“We married on August 29 2003. I drank all day and stayed up until 4am , then I began to drink whisky. On our honeymoon I drank vodka and orange every day trying but failing to disguise it. When we got back my husband insisted that I see a doctor and they diagnosed me with depression and anxiety.”

A partial recovery began with Liz becoming dry for a few years and she began dealing with her weight problem, losing seven stones in six months.

“However I was taking huge does of valium each day to help me diet and smoked very heavily.

“I was sober until December 2007 but things were no better really.

“My doctor stopped prescribing me valium so I took out loans and credit cards and sat at home while my husband was at work, ordering pills from the internet. The amounts were huge when I finally went into rehab in 2008 I’d spent £57,000 on drugs and alcohol.”

During this period of time, Liz and Phil had tried for a baby through IVF with no success. This failure led to a suicide attempt, more attempts at rehab treatment and various relapses into addiction.

Husband Phil stuck by Liz throughout always believing she could change her behaviour.

“Lots of our relationship I was either drunk or high on valium. He always supported me and he’s always been strong. I don’t know, if the boot had been on the other foot, whether I would have been strong enough to support him if he’d been an addict.”

Then in September 2011, something fundamental changed in Liz and Phil’s lives.

Liz said: “I went to the doctor’s after another binge and told her I was late for my monthly, believing this was due to the alcohol abuse. She said I should do a pregnancy test which I thought was a joke. I did the test and found I was pregnant.

“I knew I had to give up the valium, the alcohol and smoking and I also wanted to lose weight once the baby was born. I tried to make amends with all of the people I had hurt and I promised myself I would do right by my unborn child and felt that this was a miracle and a blessing. I quit everything. Harry saved my life.”

Being a recovering addict and being pregnant isn’t an ideal combination. Liz knew that her history could affect Harry in the womb.

“I knew due to my lifestyle that Harry could be at risk. In the early months I had a scan every month as there was a chance that Harry could be very small. At my 20 week scan, it was clear that everything was fine and that he was looking healthy. In fact I then had to have scans to ensure he didn’t grow too big so that I could deliver him safely.”

Harry was born in June 2012 weighing in at 9lbs 11oz. However, Harry wasn’t the only one who was heavy. By the time of his birth, Liz weighed 22 stone and, even after having her son, she still tipped the scales at over 17 stones.

“I knew I had to do something about it so I went back to the Cambridge Diet plan which had worked for me before. However this time, I was going to approach it differently. No drugs this time.

“Now I’m down to 12 stones and will soon fit into size 12 clothing. I’ve still got some way to go but I’m on healthier journey.”

In fact, Liz has now become a weight consultant herself and she’ll be opening her own Cambridge Diet business at Body & Soul in Corsham, Wiltshire at the end of March.

“As I face my 40th birthday, believe me my life looks a lot different. I’ve learned to love myself and I’ve come to believe I am a good person. I know life is to be enjoyed and people deserve love and respect.

“I’m now in a position where I can go into a pub with my friends  – something I’ve never achieved before – and it doesn’t matter that I don’t have an alcoholic drink, I don’t even want one. I used to envy people and now I just think why would I have a drink? Why would I ruin everything? I’ve got a great husband and a happy, healthy child.”

 

 

 

 

 

Grandparents inspired to take action after daughter-in-law’s traumatic pregnanc

This article was first published in January 2014 in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald.

Grandparents Bruce and Bev Bodio are on a mission to help expectant mums deal with difficult pregnancies.

The couple, who live in Stockwood Road, Devizes, were so inspired by an invention which helped their daughter-in-law Carrie, that they’ve turned her story into a business venture.

Carrie, who’s 43, gave birth last year to her daughter Evie after going through a pregnancy which almost crippled her.

“When I had my older daughter Millie ten years ago, I developed a hernia. These can cause problems for pregnant women in varying degrees. Basically it causes aching, a dragging sensation, stinging and can be agony when you are on your feet for any period of time.

“With Millie, it was there and it was achy but it was manageable. However, when I became pregnant with Evie the weakness was already established and things became much, much worse.”

During the second trimester of the pregnancy, the hernia in Carrie’s abdomen got bigger and caused constant pain which restricted her movements.

“Very quickly, I was so debilitated I couldn’t even stand to make a cup of tea. I couldn’t go shopping or do anything without holding my abdomen to relieve the pressure. The only relief was to sit down all of the time.

“I ended up going to the hospital and was told that I would need surgery once the baby was born and I just had to put up with it. They wouldn’t do anything during the pregnancy because of the risk to the baby.”

Various aids exist in the UK to help women with pelvic, hernia or back pain during pregnancy but for Carrie, they didn’t work.

“I looked and tried the belts on the market and found they were expensive, ugly, huge bands which were uncomfortable, unsightly and they didn’t work for me. I wouldn’t have been able to wear them with leggings or nice clothes.”

Carrie tried several do-it-yourself attempts to support the hernia, including wrapping a coat belt around her abdomen so she could go out. Nothing worked for any length of time.

“Eventually,  I gave up and did some research online to try to find something which was more suitable.”

That research led her to contact an American mum, Caroline Christensen, who also suffered hernia problems during her pregnancy. Like Carrie, she couldn’t find any product on the market which worked – so she designed her own.

Carrie said: “She told me she’d love to sell in the UK but didn’t have any idea how to do it and the cost of buying a single item and having it delivered here  pushed up the cost.

“I was so desperate to get something which worked – but there was always the risk that it would be a waste of money. For most people when they are having a baby, they don’t have money to throw away.”

Carrie took a chance and received the product known as the Baby Belly Band. She also told her family about it.

“Within minutes of putting it on, I felt like a different person. I felt secure, it’s flexible and I knew it couldn’t hurt the baby as it’s soft and stretchy. Overnight my life was transformed. I could wear leggings and nice clothes without worrying that everyone could see I was wearing a ‘hernia aid’.

“I’m not one to bang on about this or that wonder product but this simple invention gave me such freedom.”

Unbeknown to Carrie, her finding the Baby Belly Band was only the start of this story.

Mother-in-law Bev said: “I decided to look into the product and do some research. To see the transformation in Carrie who was finding it difficult to stand or walk, made me realize that we had to do something to get this out to other women affected by hernias.

“Women with these problems can face months of discomfort, worry and stress which is just not healthy for them or their babies.”

Bruce said: “I’ve been self-employed for 20 years and am a specialist in helping companies sell their products internationally. This is my area of expertise. Carrie knew I did something to do with distribution and mentioned the belly band to me, but that was it.

“I just couldn’t believe that one day she couldn’t even make herself a cup of tea and the next day she was able to go shopping in Bristol.”

For information on the Baby Belly Band, which is licensed as a medical product, visit www.babybellyband.tel

Or e-mail bev@tricorn4.com

 

 

 

Fracking – is it on your radar yet? Coming to the south west in 2014….

This is an article which appeared in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald on January 2 2014 and includes an interview with mum Becky Martin, a scientist by profession.

As 2014 dawns, it could be a very important year for one campaigning mum from Wiltshire.

Becky Martin is the parent behind a new group Frack Free Families which campaigns against the removal of shale oil or gas from the ground – even if it’s for exploration purposes.

Already Becky can be seen handing out leaflets in town centres across Wiltshire, including Salisbury and Swindon, as well as joining forces with other concerned groups. She recently spent day at a protest at Barton Moss near Irlam, Manchester where drilling took place in November and December.

“I became interested in this subject some time ago as a scientist – I’m a biologist and had a career in cancer research before having my son.

“I looked into hydraulic fracturing and did what research I could and I was horrified. I just had to do something about it.

“This is entirely outside my comfort zone. I’ve never campaigned about anything before or taken such a strong stance on any issue. With this subject it was a case of ‘I have to do something about it’.”

Becky often takes her two-year-old son Aidan with her when she hands out leaflets to make the point that families will be affected by this search for a new energy source.

“Being a mother has been the driving factor behind this for me. What are we leaving behind for our children? We could be risking their health with this process and it’s insanity.

“Even taking that into account, it isn’t even going to deal with our long-term energy needs. Even if shale gas was magnificent, it isn’t going to solve our energy problems,” Becky said.

The extraction of shale gas and oil – and in some cases coal bed methane – is likely to become a familiar theme here during 2014. It’s a process which has been used in America for many years but is still in an exploratory phase in the UK. It is just one measure the government is looking at to ensure energy sustainability in the future. Renewables is another.

Becky said: “We have to look at, and invest more in, renewable energy such as solar, wind and tidal power. Shale gas is just too risky and we could be spending money on the burgeoning renewables sector. It’s crazy to me that we’re not looking more seriously at offshore wind farms or tidal power. We’re an island for goodness sake, and that could create a sustainable energy future. We must move away from fossil fuels.

“Apart from anything else, shale gas will not help us with our main addiction when it comes to energy use – our cars. It will not solve the problem of our addiction to petrol.”

A licensing round for exploratory work around is due to be held in the first six months of this year. These licences could allow boreholes to be drilled and/or well pads to be created in Wiltshire. This means companies involved in this exploratory work – such as IGas, Cuadrilla and Celtique – will be able to bid for the licenses.

For Becky this is must not happen. Like many anti-fracking campaigners, she is concerned about the potential for contamination of water sources caused by the process of drilling. She’s also concerned about the long term health effects for communities living around drilling sites.

“Fracking fluid for the process is an unpleasant mix of chemicals. I’ve been told it contains nothing more than that which is under my kitchen sink. However these cleaning fluids are incredibly toxic and we’ll be pumping that into the ground in large quantities. Some of the chemicals used are very, very dangerous such as oxirane.

“There are also risks around what could be released by the process itself. There are naturally occurring radioactive materials in the earth which we would not want to contaminate our water.”

She wrote to her own MP, John Glen, expressing her concerns. He replied in detail:

“It is worth mentioning that the deposits of shale gas identified by the British Geological Survey in Wiltshire are extremely minimal – and located in the north west tip of the county. The majority are in central and northern England.” 

 “I’m afraid that I’m strongly in favour of fracking. I welcome the potential it has to provide with a vitally needed new energy source, and to catalyse a new industry in the UK.” 

However, Becky disputes that there will be any significant creation of jobs for local communities. She claims that in the Fylde area near Blackpool, where the first UK explorations were carried out, only 11 per cent of the workforce was recruited locally.

John Glen also says there is little credible evidence to show that contamination of water sources could occur if proper regulation and procedures are in place.

“It’s important to note the differences between water systems here and in the USA. In the UK, most aquifers like within the first 300m below the surface. Fracking operations will taken place some 2km down – migration of methane or fracking fluids could therefore only occur through fractures in the rock which would allow the chemicals through.”

Becky claims research from America suggests this method of obtaining energy is having adverse health effects on nearby communities – effects which emerge after a period of time. She believes this is not being taken seriously at home.

“There is evidence from Pennsylvania which suggests that children are having frequent nosebleeds, headaches and other problems when they live very close to the drill sites. I would also urge anyone to seek out the film Gasland which looks at the experiences of families living close to sites where shale gas and oil are extracted.”

Becky also claims there are a number of myths around fracking which are common among the wider population. The most common one, she claims, is that obtaining shale oil or gas will bring down the price of energy.

“Many politicians have now openly said that this will not happen including Ed Davey, David Kennedy and Lord Sterne. This will not make energy cheaper.”

Factoids: 

What is fracking? –  or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock layers deep within the earth. Fracking makes it possible to produce natural gas extraction in shale plays once unreachable with conventional technologies.

Germany has taken a different stance and has concluded, due to lack of data, the precautionary principle should be adhered to and a moratorium around fracking is in place.

For the American documentary about communities living near hydraulic fracturing sites – you can find Gasland the Movie on YouTube.

Frack free families can be contacted by joining the Frack Free Families group on Facebook.

 

Showjumping is in this family’s DNA – meet Rosie Pyle

(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!

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!

 

Meet Will Filer – his disability was hidden, was he failed?

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....

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.”

 

Interesting info: 

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.

 

 

 

The police, young people and mental health…in Wiltshire…

Today I’m reproducing an article I wrote for my family column in the weekly newspaper, The Gazette & Herald, which covers much of the county of Wiltshire. It was published on Thursday August 29 2013  and I’m reproducing it here at the request of one of my Twitter followers, an organisation which I much admire, Wiltshire Mind. To follow me on Twitter, you’d be most welcome at @mum3fi, and you can find the Gazette & Herald @wiltsgazette. 

 

Some time ago,  I wrote about an Ofsted report into the safeguarding of vulnerable children in Wiltshire and the fact that the county’s local authority had been found wanting.

I also reported on the fact that the 2012 report had prompted action to be taken and went through some of the measures to improve the situation for vulnerable and looked-after children in the county. I should point out that the report didn’t suggest any children had come to harm as a result of failings.

However, buried within that 2012 report was a comment which really stood out for me – and which I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of ever since.

It said ‘the established practice by police of using section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 to hold some children or young person in custody where they have committed an offence is inappropriate’.

It goes on to say ‘this practice is under review given that there is now a dedicated CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) out-of-hours service that can provide more timely and potentially more appropriate assessments’.

This prompted me to find out about Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983. It’s headed ‘mentally disordered persons found in public places’. It allows that a constable can remove and detain someone for up to 72 hours until he, or she, is examined by a registered practitioner or mental health professional.

What does this mean? Have the police in Wiltshire – or anywhere else for that matter – been holding young people and children, in custody for up to 72 hours when it’s suspected they might have mental health issues?

Since raising questions around two months ago, I’ve been on a journey of epic proportions around the ‘system’. But the answer to my key question is – yes.

A number of children each year have been arrested and held, usually when they’ve committed an offence, and the police believe mental health issues have contributed in some way.

Several times the term ‘Freedom of Information’ was used by various voices but last week I finally got some figures from Wiltshire Constabulary. They are:

2009 – four children (under-18s) were held under Section 136.

2010 – six.

2011 – four.

2012 – three.

But to confuse matters even further these are not the definitive figures. The police have recorded ‘pure’ cases – those where a child clearly has, at first point of contact, mental health issues. However, there have also been a number of cases where an arrest has been made and police officers have subsequently sought help as they’ve suspected mental health issues.

Taking these cases into account as well, the total number of children between the end of 2010 and the end of 2012 who were held under Section 136 was 23.

So what has been done about it? The Wiltshire Safeguarding Children Board (WSCB –  partnership between Wiltshire Council, Wiltshire Police and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust) insists much has been done.

In December 2012, mental health services for under-18s was taken over by Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, known as Oxford Health.  It immediately introduced the Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) Protocol.

To cut through the jargon this means when police officers respond to a young person in ‘significant mental health distress or crisis’, the officer contacts CAMHS from the scene by phone. They can do this 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Emergency mental health assessments can then be offered or an appointment within 24 hours.

The officer provides information including:

*         Presentation – how is the young person behaving?

*         Need for medical attention – is the young person hurt?

*         Circumstances of the incident

*         Concerns regarding safeguarding or welfare

The CAMHS worker checks the electronic health record system to see if that young person is known. If so, the worker may speak directly with the young person and propose a safety plan or speak to parents or carers.

If distress can be reduced through a phone conversation, the young person is normally offered an urgent assessment on the morning of the next working day.  If concerns remain, an emergency assessment can be offered in a safe location such as a CAMHS clinic or police station within two hours.

If the young person is not known, there may be unknown risks and an urgent mental health assessment can be offered.

The options are discussed with the officer at the scene who always reserves the right to use a 136 detention or other police powers.

In a statement WSCB said:

“It’s a system which enables officers to gain a mental health perspective to inform their decision-making and consider alternative options.  It also ensures CAMHS are alerted to mental health concerns at an early stage stage and can offer an urgent assessment whether the young person is detained or not.

“The benefits of this collaboration between mental health services and the police, is that distressed young people who require urgent mental health support can receive this quickly, in the least restrictive manner which ensures their immediate needs and risks are reduced.”

The Board says that so far, the new system is working.

“We are pleased to report as result of this protocol there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of 136 detentions under the Mental Health Act of young people under 18 years.

“In the last two years, prior to the introduction of the protocol, there were 23 ‘136’ detentions – this has reduced to three since December 2012.”

Mental health issues in the under-18s - how do the police deal with this?

Mental health issues in the under-18s – how do the police deal with this?

 

We’re not talking about many children, of course, but we are talking about children. Children suspected of having some kind of mental health issue. Children who could, quite legally, be  held for up to three days. Let’s hope this new support system keeps on working.

 

 

 

Tired Swindon dad spells out demands of being a father…

Guest post from my Twitter friend @Ianaf72 or Ian Francis from Swindon – we had a little twitter chat about being tired and I challenged him to write a guest blog. Here it is!

‘Man was made at the end of the week’s work when God was tired’

I’ve included this quote, not because it’s particularly relevant to this blog, but because I hope it would make me seem more intelligent to the mums who work in media reading this site.
I’m not intelligent.  The fact I’m typing this, when I could be taking the opportunity to sleep, is proof of that.
And in my case, that is my failing: that I don’t manage my time effectively and take the opportunities I have to rest.  I could play the sympathy card and state that I’m tired because I’m a modern dad with a two and a half year old daughter (which is partly true) – but she sleeps much better nowadays.  I’m just bad at listening to my body.
Now's the time to sleep? or is it?

Now’s the time to sleep? or is it?

Take last night.  My wife was away (she was working, not on a jolly) and I was solely in charge.  I managed bath-time and bedtime with efficiency, and got to eat before midnight.  I went to bed early (I was in bed by 8.30!) What did I do? Did I crash, safe in the knowledge that I’d get a few hours solid sleep? No – I did some work (I did work, promise) – 1 point to me; I then spent far too much time on twitter (as always) and then played Football Manager (you’ll know that ladies, it’s what takes loving partners away from you for weeks at a time).  Minus 2 points.  I finally turned out the light at 11.30pm.
So – I can whinge and whine that I’m tired; and I can tell myself that it’s the pressures that life places on me – but the reality is, I’m obsessed with the unimportant things which steal time from us all if we’re not careful.
I guess I can catch up with my beauty sleep whilst being made to watch Despicable Me for the 200th time.

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