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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….

Are you a South West entrepreneur thinking ‘why bother with Twitter’?

Today I was asked to write a blog post about Twitter – so I’m happy to oblige.

Why? Well, as a media consultant and journalist I often hear comments like ‘why bother with Twitter?’ or ‘I’m on Twitter but I’ve no idea what to do’.

These phrases are familiar because a few years ago that’s exactly what I thought. When I became self-employed in 2009, I had a Twitter account which sat there doing absolutely nothing. I would occasionally send out a tweet but couldn’t really see how much good it would do for me in business.

However after about 18 months, for some reason, I really thought about it compared with other social media platforms. I realised it’s potentially a great way to connect with people – and here’s the key thing – very quickly with minimum effort. Also as a journalist, I’m often looking for good stories so this could be an effective way to achieve another good outcome. So I set myself a challenge – to give Twitter a year and try to systematically build my audience to work for me more effectively.

I put out of my mind the fact that Twitter is global, has billions of accounts, loads of spam accounts and can be risky in terms of trolling etc. I trusted my common sense to deal with these issues as they arose (and they have from time to time and I’ve dealt with them as needed). I decided to use Twitter according to my agenda, my audience and my desired business reach. Therefore good connections for me are in the south west and London, they are people rather than organisations and one key thing – I share, I share a lot, I share as much as I tweet and I share things which interest me or which I think are generally interesting. If you do this, I guarantee at some point someone will say to you ‘I really enjoy your Twitter feed you share some good stuff’ or ‘Oh yes, I saw you talking about that on Twitter’.  You are creating your own news service.

Fiona 2013 - 3

Very quickly, having made that decision to take Twitter seriously, it became addictive and I got engaged in various conversations. I then decided to think about the best times to tweet – and you will find me talking most in the evenings and the mornings.

However the pivotal moment came when I saw a tweet asking for someone who could write a script and who had experience in the education sector. I answered as I met those criteria with a phrase ‘that’s me’. That tweet led to another tweet, which led to an email which led to a telephone conversation which led to a paid-for trip to London for a meeting which then led to a project which paid me £3,000. This was a short-term piece of work which I could relate directly back to a single tweet with a company which would never have found me – or vice versa – if it wasn’t for this amazing social platform.

That sold me on Twitter and I’ve had many great outcomes since. I’ve been offered work by people who’ve engaged with me, made the effort to research me online and then offered me work. I’ve been able to place publicity for clients and myself, and I’ve raised my profile in my own community in the south west. I will often go into a room full of business people – many of whom I’ve never met – and  people start talking to me as if they know me. Talk about the best ice-breaker.

Another outcome is that those who are beginners now pay me to get them started on Twitter – a totally unexpected outcome. So I’ve actually put my ad hoc strategy into something more strategic and started to apply it across Facebook and, more recently Pinterest. I don’t claim to be an expert, I just understand the concept of social conversation over the internet and how to control some of that conversation. I’m still discovering and I often go to workshops by others to increase my own personal knowledge.

My top tips are:

Really be clear as to what is a good outcome on Twitter for you. That way you can track success.

When you make a clear connection – take the conversation from the virtual world to the real world.

Share, share, share.

And finally please follow me @mum3fi

 

Rolf Harris, sexual abuse and the world of television and the media

As we know – this week, entertainer Rolf Harris was sent to prison for abusing children – using his celebrity status as a cloak for his disgusting activities. His past has now caught up with him, he’s paying the price and so will his family. Justice perhaps for those he abused.

He’s one of a line of people, often most famous in the 70s and 80s,  who have been accused – and some subsequently convicted – of allegedly having one public persona and another private persona which is infinitely darker, sexually motivated and criminal.

Within hours, more women, many over the age of consent, starting talking about Harris’s  inappropriate behaviour towards them. Then there also came the voice of those who think all of this is nonsense, a snowball out of control.

I have some sympathy with this I suppose because in those decades, some behaviour was more acceptable than it would be now. When I started out in the 1980s, I lost count of the amount of times I had my bottom pinched or slapped, or talked to someone who kept their eyes aligned with my boobs or who, on one occasion, actually told me his wife didn’t understand him. I could handle all of this  – more than handle it in fact. Several times, I pinched a man’s bottom in return, told someone my face was up here and, with the ‘wife doesn’t understand me’ line, I laughed in the face of the CEO of a large company who said that to me. Positions of  ‘power’ don’t impress me.

However, there were darker moments. Times when I felt the undertone was completely ‘other’ and the threat was something more. There’s a difference between banter and feeling compromised. I remember once visiting the home of a successful businessman who suddenly, quietly and firmly sexually propositioned me in front of his wife – I ran out and drove off at a rate of knots. I also remember one man, then in his 50s, and someone I often saw in the course of  my job, who would keep coming up behind me and gently stroking the back of my neck. It was very invasive.

Therefore, if you know this, you might understand why I got caught up in an online spat with someone who was using phrases like ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ suggesting that somehow women are ‘cashing in’ on Harris’s  conviction. There seemed to be a suggestion that these women were out for money. Or were unworthy of being believed, or were somehow complicit because they didn’t do anything about it at the time.  However, I would challenge any one to do something different to those victims, in the same circumstances.

Are you being abused?

Are you being abused?

Anyone who is a journalist would know that the majority of people who suffer abuse – both men and women – don’t tell anyone at all for very long periods of time. Sometimes for ever.

They will often feel they are somehow at fault, that something they did or said, did make them complicit in the act of abuse. There are refuges nationwide full of people who’ve put up with abuse for very long periods of time. 

 

This online ‘banter’ made me very angry – because I know what Rolf Harris was like and I’ve known for years.

 

Why didn’t you say something I hear you all cry? It’s very simple. I’ve never met him, he did nothing to me.

However, he did do something a good friend of mine – she told me – and I believed her. Why didn’t she report it? Well, that’s a matter for her – but I can probably hazard a guess. She probably thought it wasn’t worth the hassle.

Why? 

Remember the man who stroked my neck that I mentioned earlier? I did confront him and told him not to touch me again after he’d done it several times. I also did report it to my boss – a lovely man but one who appeared out of his depth and probably felt it was too minor a thing to escalate. Maybe he was right. I’d not been groped intimately. It was just the feel of that man touching me was all wrong, that’s very hard to convey in a telephone call – to your boss.  To this day, I don’t know if he was told by anyone other than me that he was out of order.

However, I was a young journalist, just starting out. I’d heard all of the stories about the ‘casting couch’ though, frankly I’ve only ever met one person in my career who I thought used her womanhood to achieve her goals. I wanted a successful career and I didn’t want to get caught up in a scandal or a case which could become something really nasty. Life in the media as a working class woman was hard enough.

Imagine that man being a celebrity like Rolf Harris? Who would believe me at that time? And even if they did, what would have happened? To me? Would it have possibly damaged my career? Anyone could have accused me of inviting the attentions of a famous man. Who would have wanted to employ me as the person who’d accused Harris? Would I inadvertently become damaged goods myself?

Now, more than 20 years on,  it would be different if someone acted inappropriately towards me.

Of course I don’t look the same, I’m older, I don’t have the slim figure I had then.

However, I have the same drive, the same passion for my chosen path – but I also have experience. My experience has shown me that if someone makes me feel threatened – I should listen to that instinct and act on it.

If someone acts inappropriately towards me – is he going to do it to someone else? Has he done it to anyone before me? Experience has taught me that it’s highly likely. For that reason, today, I’d make much noise.

And to those women who found the courage to speak out – you might inspire others who have kept such abuse a secret – thus throwing the spotlight on offenders who’ve been able to hide their behaviour for a life time.

 

Race for Life was an emotional event for anyone affected by cancer – most of us!

At the weekend, my 12 year old daughter Georgia took part in her first ever fundraising event – the Swindon Race for Life to raise money for cancer research.

Starting out...

Starting out…

She’d decided to do this only a short time ago after being inspired by a friend at school who had her hair shaved off to raise awareness when her mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was puzzled by how this one event had affected my daughter so much. After all, cancer is a disease we’ve had knowledge of. We have two close friends who are facing it as we speak, three other friends who have had it and are in recovery. We’ve also lost family members to it. However it was this one particular case which caught her imagination.

Very quickly, with the help of lovely Linda, our childminder and a regular Race for Life participant, Georgia planned her strategy and set a target of raising £50. She took it upon herself to gently tell neighbours she was doing the event, telephoning family members to let them know and mentioned it to all of her friends at school. Very quickly she’d raised £45. I mentioned it on social media, not an appeal for money, merely a mention.

It was this which showed me just how deeply as a society we are affected by cancer. The following day, another neighbour who’d seen my social media post, put a donation through the door of £40. The same day, another friend who doesn’t live locally, called and pledged another £25.  Very quickly she’d raised well over £100.

On the day of the race, Georgia left early to warm up and prepare. As we arrived to support her, we walked across Lydiard Park and I wondered how many people would be there. After all, the event has been running in the town for several years. I could not believe my eyes when there was a sea of pink before me – and that didn’t include supporters. Thousands of women, of all shapes, sizes and abilities were gathered to do their bit.

Waving everyone off on the 5km course, wave after wave of women walked, ran or jogged past and it showed how many lives are touched by this disease and the human price of it began to hit you. The emotion was so unexpected. Apart from seeing my own child go off to do this event – I marvelled at the older lady in her mobility scooter, the girls with their hula hoops and the mums with pushchairs on their way.

You're never too old to fight cancer

You’re never too old to fight cancer

It was a day when I was proud of my own child, but also proud of Swindon and of all of those women who had gone out of their way to raise thousands and thousands to help beat this awful disease. We’ve pledged to do the event next year – and this time, I’ll be joining in with my other daughter as we both felt our little effort, matched with the little efforts of thousands of others, all turn into one big effort to defeat this dreadful disease in all its forms.

We Did It!

We Did It!

 

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’.

 

Swindon PR guru takes time off by visiting Exmoor’s hidden zoo.

Have you ever been to Exmoor Zoo? Have you ever heard of Exmoor Zoo?

If you haven’t I’d heartily recommend a visit. Situated in the Devon countryside, down a little country lane, this zoo has more of a family feel than any I’ve visited. We were spending a weekend in the Exe Valley so this location was less than an hour’s drive away.

While nowhere near the scale of Longleat Safari Park or zoos in Bristol or Paignton, it has a charm all of its own and is suitable for families, or those without children.

We visited over the Easter bank holiday and the cost was less than £50 for five of us. Given that’s close to the cost of a cinema visit for us, we hoped it would offer at least a couple of hours of enjoyment and entertainment. We arrived at 11am and left the premises at around 3pm.

When we arrived it was already busy but there is an additional car park as the one near reception is quite small. One tip is to use the toilet on the way in as there are no toilets around the site. This is due to the site not being connected to the mains (it’s all explained on notices around the reception area).

Immediately on collecting tickets as we’d booked online (be aware a family tickets is two adults two children so, in our case, we had to pay an extra amount for our third child), we were given activities for the children to take part in. For me, this is always a good sign. My children love having to find or discover something. So it was a trail where they could collect stamps of animals and another where they could answer tricky questions and then get an Easter egg at the end.

As my children are a bit older, this meant they often ran off for a short time to fill in gaps on their Easter ‘find an animal’ trail.

The zoo has the sense of being a garden, you move quickly from one animal to the next – but there’s also a feeling that the staff know what you are thinking. There are some spaces where you wonder if that space is big enough for the animal within – then you read the blurb and that question is answered.

There is animal activity all around, so bird, bee and bat boxes which children can look at. I personally love the bigger animals but found myself enraptured by the smaller ones too.  I didn’t get the feeling of there being animals which were just ‘making up the numbers’. Even the sparrows had their own special spot.

On site, there are lots of activities where families can get involved in including talks, feeding the animals and holding animals. We’re not good with this in our family, we tend not to like to stick to any timetable or dictate our time around set events, but plenty of families did take part. As you walked around you heard them saying they had to be ‘here’ or ‘there’ at a certain time.

Anticipation was built up by continuous reference to the Exmoor Beast which intrigued the children, who love a sense of the mysterious. So it was quite magical when the zoo’s own beast, languidly stretched, walked down from its perch and marched around its pen.

Another thing which I enjoyed was the good use of the natural landscape and of look-out points around the site. Some of the site is quite steep and rugged, but the animals seemed to like it. Don’t get me wrong, the site is quite accessible, though some paths will be trickier for pushchairs and possibly wheelchairs.

Somerset, Devon, Wiltshire

One of the pumas resting in the sunshine at Exmoor Zoo

 

 

The only odd point was one small enclosed look-out area, overlooking the antelope,  where there was a picnic table in the middle where a family had stopped for lunch. In this small space, this seemed to have two effects, putting off some people from going into have a look across the enclosure as there wasn’t a lot of wriggle room, or interrupt the family who found themselves being watched closely as they tucked into their sandwiches.

Also one of the children’s Easter egg discoveries was in this small enclosure, so it encouraged more and more eager children to mill around the eating family. If I had one tip, it would be to remove that seating as it did seen to give visitors a confused experience. Families do tend to create a private bubble around themselves so it’s easy to feel like you are intruding on them.

However, further around the site the play area for children is very spacious and there’s plenty of picnic room. There’s a small café on site and the quality of the food is excellent. Much better than in other venues. The price tag for five came to £40 but this is fairly normal for us – and in many places would cost far more.

All in all – it was a good visit, value for money, more educational than expected and lots of fun. Even the small egg given as a reward for the children completing the trail was decent and not a disappointing, tiny, hollow piece of low-grade chocolate.

Find out more here –  http://www.exmoorzoo.co.uk

 

 

 

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Wiltshire mum breaks free of corporate trap

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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