This article first appeared in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald in early February 2014.
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.”
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
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.”
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.
This article was first published in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald on Thursday November 14 2013 and it’s reproduced here by request.
Ever heard of the artist Syd? Or the Stencil Shed? If you live in the Malmesbury area, these names should be familiar.
Syd, whose real name is Luke Hollingworth, lives in the town, works in the town and has found his artistic niche in his adopted county. His street art can be found in the rural community and he uses the pseudonym ‘Syd’ which was a childhood nickname.
Even on the day I visited he was wondering who in Wiltshire would allow him to put an image on a boring wall or brighten up a dull space.
“I’m always looking for a space to create art. At the weekend I did an image of a green hare on a wall which was dull and needed brightening up. But I want to create art which is fun, sometimes thought provoking and I want to create it legally with cooperation.”
Today Luke’s life as a 37-year-old husband and father in Wiltshire is a far cry from the ambitions of his childhood – when he vocally vowed he would never become an artist like his father Brian who is an accomplished sculptor.
Luke just didn’t believe there was any money to be made in the world of art. He went to university to study business and began a career in sales and marketing. He worked for big brands including Coca Cola and Dyson.
It was a job with the latter company which brought him down from Nottingham to settle in Wiltshire. Then he met his wife Mandie and gradually the art began to take over. He left his job to try his hand at being an artist who can earn money.
Locally, Luke became best known two years ago for entering the Shed of the Year competition – an event originally flagged up to him by his mum Shelley.
“My shed had become my workshop when mum told me about this competition. It really appealed to me and I decided to try some unusual marketing to get people to vote for me.”
In 2012, Luke spent a night hiding his art works around Malmesbury and on the back of each item was a note asking people to vote for him and his shed. His efforts led to local and national media coverage. In 2012 and this year, he’s come third in the overall competition and has also won the award for Best Workshop and Studio Shed on both occasions.
Visiting the shed is an amazing experience. Apart from gorilla guarding the path, there are eyes which stare at you as you approach and a silver skeleton by the door. Then on entering, it’s a cosy haven, complete with woodburner and mini-bar!
My favourite creation was Luke’s modern day take on the Michaelangelo paintings in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City – not the first thing anyone expects to see on the ceiling of a garden shed.
His art does have a Banksy feel but with a strong Wiltshire edge. Many make a subtle political point – and the jackdaw features heavily. Luke tells me that the people of Malmesbury call themselves jackdaws.
In fact Luke’s work has been mistaken for a Banksy before. He once did a piece of artwork in Glastonbury, showing organizer Michael Eavis dressed as a gangster.
Now, 15 months after the birth of his first child, Luke’s vision of success doesn’t look the same as it did before.
“I would be really proud if Daisy said at school ‘my dad’s an artist’. You do what you have to do to get by and to pay the mortgage but doing something you love and are passionate about is even more important to me now. I want Daisy to be proud of me and to recognize this or that art as my work.”
His passion for art is growing with age and experience. When Daisy’s first word was ‘owl’, he painted her an owl to capture that special moment.
“That painting in our kitchen will always be Daisy’s and will remind me of her with its bright, big eyes and piercing look.”
When Luke decided as a young man that he was not going to try to make a living through art, his chances of denying his creativity were ridiculously slim. Yet even at a very young age, his talent bubbled to the surface. He won an award for his sculpting talent aged just eight. At home, creativity was all around him.
Where did that hare come from?
“I’d often help Dad with the finishing off his ‘littlelies’ as he called them – small sculptures of frogs and hares that he made to sell. At Christmas we always had an exhibition at home and we always helped Mum and Dad prepare and invited people around to see the artwork.”
The reality and struggle of trying to earn a living as an artist was apparent then.
“There were times when Dad was stressed and anxious and now I realize these were times when money was tight, there were recessions and it was very hard to make ends meet.”
Now aged 37, Luke jokes that he’s become exactly like his Dad – clearly a personal hero in his life. He’s a working artist who also has a foothold in a ‘normal’ job too. He’s a gardener at local Abbey House in Malmesbury for the Pollard family.
“You do what you have to do. My wife used to laugh at me saying I was the guy with the business degree who was doing the weeding.
“But I have to say, all in all, I’m very happy and fulfilled in my life.”
Luke’s marketing stunt for Shed of the Year 2013 was to create a mock-up work of artist Damian Hirst, pickled in formaldehyde, and he put it in a field for cows to admire.
You can see Luke’s artwork at:
www.thestencilshed.co.uk or www.facebook.com/TheStencilShed
And his Dad Brian’s work (based in Nottingham) is:
This article was first published in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald’s family column, written by me, in October 2013. Due to requests from various sources, I’m reproducing it here.
The day I met Holly Scott-Donaldson from Pewsey, she was sitting on the sofa trying to get comfortable as she awaits the imminent birth of her third child.
None of this stopped her talking to me, sorting out the washing and taking the odd telephone call.
For some, especially those in a corporate world, Holly, now 41, is a nesting mother-to-be luxuriating in being a stay-at-home parent. Appearances can be deceptive.
Those odd telephone calls related to her new business, Donaldson Business Bureau, which is growing fast and particularly engaging women in the county. Her clients are blue chip companies and small one-man or woman bands. Business is continuing as well as preparations for a new family member – a little girl.
When Holly started out in her career she could not have imagined being where she is now, living with her husband Rod, sons Magnus, five and Ranulf, two, in a picturesque rural town in Wiltshire.
She’d had a career in banking, IT and marketing after completing a degree in international business studies at the University of the West of England – UWE. She’s been headhunted for virtually every job she’s ever done. She’s travelled the world professionally and also spent time helping her father run his own hotel in South Africa.
“Single people in the corporate world will often realize that some of their colleagues are more settled and they are prepared to be more flexible. However, if you are not careful that behaviour can become a habit. In my job I was one of the last unmarried people so stuff rolled downhill to me which I did, but which weren’t necessarily part of my role.”
However on returning to work after having Magnus, the expectation was that this ‘stuff’ would still keep rolling Holly’s way.
“My professional relationships changed. I returned to my corporate job to a new team, new tech and I was in a situation where I was a cog in a wheel and my view of my job had changed. I was married now with a baby.
“I was trying to start everything from scratch, I had masses of guilt and I wasn’t feeling appreciated. I was so tired and often not emotionally strong enough but the demands on my time were still there.”
So when asked, Holly jumped at the chance to work for a smaller company as head of marketing. A happy couple of years followed.
“It was a great job until the day when I said one word to the directors – ‘miscarriage’. It was a Sunday, I’d had a miscarriage, was in hospital and was due in London the next day. I called one of my bosses, explained the situation and I feel I was never treated the same from that day onwards.
“The relationship collapsed. Previously I was part of the management team and we’d meet and discuss our direction together. Now, even though my job hadn’t changed technically, I was out of the loop, I was not included in those discussions and was issued with a set of instructions.”
However, Holly found herself in a professional trap. Doing a job she no longer liked but needing the money and feeling unable to move. Plus she was now pregnant with her second son.
“I reasoned with myself and thought I would just do my job and go home. But it was demoralizing, having my professional input denied just wore me down and over time it actually changed my personality. I was in a depressed state, and felt I was just living a humdrum routine with no vitality.”
Then she was told she was on ‘redundancy watch’ and her role was reduced from five days a week to two.
“It was equally devastating. My husband was unemployed at the time and I was the breadwinner. Overnight our finances plummeted. But I had to go on with it – I had no choice. So for two days a week I ‘played job’, it was so hard.”
Anxious to earn money for the other week days, Holly did what many mums do – enter the direct selling market.
“I found that time and again I was called on to train other people who wanted to sell the products rather than selling the products myself. I decided to make training and business advice, the focus of my own business and I pulled out of the direct selling.”
However, a few months into her third pregnancy, she was made redundant from her two days’ a week role. She believes the two things were linked.
“Looking back just a few short months later, I can see that I needed that to happen. I needed to lose that job. If you have got people sitting on your shoulder every day telling you they don’t value you, it’s no good.
“The first Monday when I got up and didn’t have to deal with that was the best day of my life apart from my wedding day and the birth of my children.
“There are so many women and mums out there in my position. They are worried and they have to put up with so much corporate stuff and often are made to feel second class. They are worth so much more than that.
“My message to anyone out there who is stuck – remember anything is possible. You can do anything you want to do if you’ve got the right people around you.”
(this article was first published in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald on October 17 2013, this content may be slightly longer due to the newspaper editing process)
TALENTED horsewomen Rosie and Sam Pyle have an exciting personal challenge ahead of them – the mother and daughter are about to go head-to-head in their first national competition together.
Rosie, who’s 14 and a student at Malmesbury School, is a rising star in British Show jumping and is following in the footsteps of her mum Sam, 46, who has also had an impressive career in the sport.
Next month, they’ll be taking part in the Dodson & Horrell National Amateur and Veteran Championships 2013 at the Aintree International Equestrian Centre in Liverpool. They’ve both qualified for the 90 cm class.
“My aim is to be better than my mum,” the teenager joked when we met at the family home in Sherston.
In spite of the joking, there’s no doubt this young woman has a bright future ahead of her. In the last year, her competitive spirit has taken her to more national events than ever before and her sights are now set very high.
“I want to be able to jump at the Horse of the Year Show just as my mum did – I even want to try for the Olympics. I was inspired by London 2012. Just watching everything and feeling the atmosphere, it just looks like an amazing experience and the thought of jumping for my country – that would be really good.”
Rosie & Saint are riding high – and hoping for more!
She’s also very clear about who inspires this ambition.
“My hero is my mum. I admire her because she had an amazing career with horses and, because her family didn’t have the money to buy the most expensive horses, they bred their own. She followed in her own mum’s footsteps and I want to follow in her’s.
“My granddad tells me stories about mum’s career, often around the travelling, the friendships and the adventures and it just sounds so much fun. Mum is still friends with many of the people she jumped with and I want that too.”
Most recently, Rosie was awarded the NAF Shining Star Award for her work as a member of the British Show jumping Wiltshire Junior Academy. She was nominated in September by coach Nicky Florence.
Nicky said: “Rosie is a pleasure to coach is always immaculately turned out at both shows and training. Her riding has gone from strength to strength as she is very understanding of her horse at all times and she always listens attentively to any advice she is given.”
At home, the Pyles’ family life revolves around horses. They have three of their own who all require daily care and exercising, as well as travelling nationwide to compete. Behind it all, Sam works as an estate officer at Charlton Park and dad James, runs his own independent estate agency James Pyle & Co.
Sam was brought up around horses – her dad Bob Rumble bred horses and her late mum was also an accomplished rider. Bob has already bred Rosie’s next horse, Hunny, who will be suitable to ride competitively in a few years.
Mum Sam said: “Horses are in my blood, I was brought up with horses and its second nature to me. I’ve not been a pushy mum but have always hoped that my girls would enjoy riding as much as I have.”
Sam describes her career in show jumping very modestly. She worked as a professional rider for ten years on the national circuit and competed in the Horse of the Year show. Given her background, it’s hardly surprising that her first child was on horseback from an astonishing early age.
“I would put Rosie in a saddle basket on the back of Didi and lead her when I was walking the dog. It was the easiest way and I did this from about six months old.”
Rosie first memory is, however, rather different.
“My earliest memory of riding is actually of falling off. I was riding my pony Thomas in a field with Dad leading and I fell off, I fell right next to a stone and remember crying because I’d been close to hitting the stone! I was probably about six.
“I also remember going to try my new pony Tommy and sitting on him and feeling really scared because he seemed so much bigger than Thomas. But I soon realized he was easier and I thought I could jump with him.”
Rosie’s life with horses is charted by the names of all who have played a role in her life so far – from Didi, to Thomas, to Tommy, to Gamble, to Ted and now Saint. Sister Katie, who’s 11, is now riding Ted as she begins her career on horseback.
Horses even play a role in her school life as Rosie is a member of the school equestrian team where she competes with her teammates Evie Dyer and Kirsty Poulton.
None of this though, comes cheap. Looking after three horses and travelling around the country is an expensive business. It’s a full-time family commitment to keep the sporting spirit strong within the home.
“I work at Charlton Park,” said Sam. “My job pays for the horses and to cover our costs as much as possible. James supports us all too, in fact we all support each other in any competitions we take part in.”
They did admit though dad James and granddad Bob often sneak off at the weekends to indulge their own secret pastime – boules!
This is one of my articles which appeared (in an edited version) in the Gazette & Herald newspaper in Wiltshire in September. I’m re-producing it at the request of several people who wanted to access an online link.
- Wishing my godmother well on her final journey….
Remembering Will Filer….
One of the hardest jobs a journalist has to do is to interview people who have lost a child – particularly if that death is sudden and unexpected.
Meeting Rachel Filer-Higginson, Ashley Higginson and their children Joshua and Hallie-Jane was no exception.
Many people may feel as they read this article that I, as a journalist, am invading the privacy of a family in grief. However, that’s not true. This interview was a mutual decision discussed over several months to share the journey these parents have taken.
Today they still struggle to come to terms with the death of their son William, known as Will. For them, many questions are still unanswered. His death was reported in a national newspaper as a suicide after Will had been taking a drug known as meow meow. Indeed his parents believed for weeks that drugs may have been involved. However, no drugs were found in his system.
That was the spring of 2010. Will had been found dead, or dying, by a local walking his dog in a field in Chippenham. Attempts to revive him failed.
“It was Monday 1st March,” Rachel tells me as she sits in the kitchen of her home in Oaklands.
“The kids had gone to school and Ashley said he’d just bumped into Will who’d said he would be up later. We were upstairs stripping the beds as we usually did on a Monday, when the front door bell rang. We thought it was Will and he’d lost his keys again.
“I saw this high-vis coat through the door and it was a young woman police officer or PCSO and she looked at me and said they’d found Will and he had hung himself and he was dead. She just kept on talking and she just wouldn’t shut up…he’d been airlifted to Swindon but I couldn’t see him for ages. You just keep hoping that it isn’t true because your kid wouldn’t have done that to you, he wouldn’t have hurt you so much.”
Quietly Ashley, stepdad to Will since he was four, also relives those moments.
“I was walking back from taking the children to school, I didn’t get home until 8.50am that morning and I saw Will who said ‘tell Mum I’ll be up later.’
“When Rachel went downstairs to answer the door, I just heard screaming, terrible screaming. There was a WPC, she didn’t know what to do with Rachel and we had to call our GP. Life as we knew it ended that day, I don’t think we slept for weeks after that.”
These terrible memories will resonate with any parent. However, there’s another side to Will’s story which has, and still is, torturing his mum and dad.
Will was a special child who had learning difficulties. From a very early age, it was clear he was different to other children. He couldn’t concentrate on anything for very long and he couldn’t keep still. He was statemented with a diagnosis of ADHD and went to various schools in Wiltshire where he was generally encouraged.
Although he couldn’t read or write by the age of eight, he went on to learn and exceed all expectations. His parents felt he was in a safe environment.
Rachel said: “My son never ceased to make me proud. I remember one sports’ day at school, there was a boy in the three-legged race who didn’t have a partner and no one seemed to want to be with him. My Will went up to him and tied their legs together and off they went. They came last – but they were the winners that day as the parents cheered and cheered them across the line.”
However when he turned 16 – things began to change for the family and for Will.
“There’s very little support for teenagers like Will, who have hidden disabilities, once they leave the school system,” Ashley said.
“And that’s got to change. Will may have been 16, 17 and 18 but he was not mature enough to cope on his own. I don’t think he matured beyond age ten or 11.
“He wasn’t so severely affected that his need was very obvious but he just couldn’t integrate or understand other people in the same way as most of us. Anyone who knew him, and talked to him would soon spot he was special.
“He so wanted to cope on his own but it didn’t work – and the problem was that we didn’t know how badly it wasn’t working until it was too late.”
Will wanted to leave home and live independently and he went to extraordinary lengths to make it happen.
“Once he went to the police station to say that we’d kicked him out,” Rachel said. “I told them to send him home as his tea was ready.”
“We understood he wanted some independence and when he was offered some accommodation he was thrilled but he was still here a lot of the time for his meals and for his washing to be done.”
However, Will’s unique response to life led to a number of difficult situations for him. Rachel gives an example of an incident, not in Wiltshire, which didn’t become known to the family until some time later.
“Will was an attractive boy and once went for a night out with some friends in another town. He met a girl and went back to her place. In the morning, she told him he had raped her. Will believed her, went straight to the police station, told them and was arrested, his clothes were taken, he was put into a white paper suit and the police went to interview the girl. She told them it was all fine, she was only joking. Will was released. We just didn’t know about it until after the event.”
Will was given a placement in accommodation which supports disadvantaged young people, some are homeless, some have drug or alcohol issues. His parents thought he was happy there but now they are not so sure.
“One of the rules of the home was that no alcohol was allowed. Will saw another young man drinking alcohol and told on him. This was not well received. But Will had a thing about boundaries, he always did,” Ashley said.
At the inquest into his death, Rachael and Ashley found out several things which they didn’t know. Statements from friends also suggested that he’d been taunted racially.
The most shocking revelation was that Will had apparently made three previous attempts to take his own life. This had included stealing someone’s medication and taking the tablets and trying to jump off a bridge, but he was found by police.
“We didn’t find this out until the inquest. When we questioned it we were told that he was 18 years old and he was entitled to his confidentiality but we were totally kept out the loop. In my view, this was wrong,” Ashley said.
“Will was vulnerable and because of that his vulnerability, we believe, was interpreted by some as weakness.”
“If we had had any idea that he felt so fed up we could have done something. He never showed that side of himself to us. He just walked with a smile, ” Rachel said.
There will be some who say that these parents had an opportunity to know the details of Will’s passing prior to the inquest – as they did receive the paperwork before the hearing. However, the stark detail of the post mortem was so traumatic, they told me, that they burned the paperwork, unable to read more.
There was one sad story which his parents believe did have a major effect on his mental health. He had a dream to join the Army – a dream which could never come true but which he believed for a time was in his reach.
“He did an Army preparation course at a local college. He really wanted to join the Army and ironically I begged him not to as he might die. He really saw it as the opportunity to have a new life, a career,” said Rachel.
“But he would never have been accepted because of the medication he had to take for his ADHD. He would have had to be clear of that drug for three years before he could be considered. He was told this but it just didn’t seem to register. When he finished the course, we were told that physically he was perfect but it just wasn’t going to happen.”
Some of Rachel’s and Ashley’s concerns around their son’s death still exist. But they’ve now decided to engage actively in a campaign to raise £20,000 to perhaps set up a helpline for other young people in Wiltshire who are similarly vulnerable and their families.
“We created Will’s Friends to raise awareness of people like Will who need some extra support in their lives. If I won the lottery, I’d set up a residential home for people like Will where they would feel safe with other adults around to ensure that they couldn’t be exploited but they could have some independence.”
No one knows how many adults with learning disabilities suffer abuse – and it’s possible they never will. It’s sometimes now known as ‘hate crime’.
A report by the NHS’s Information Centre in March this year said there had been a 24 per cent rise in ‘safeguarding alerts’ around vulnerable adults between 2011 & 2012.
‘Alerts’ are the first contact between a concerned person about a vulnerable adult and a local authority safeguarding team.
Of those alerts, 20 per cent relate to adults with learning disabilities.
The most common outcome, in around a third of cases, was ‘no further action’.
Will’s Friends can be found on Facebook.
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?
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.
Gardening – a term which fills me with dread. I’ve always hated gardening and everything that goes with it.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike gardens, I appreciate the effort which goes into a garden but I just don’t want to bother with all of that myself. If I had a choice between gardening and reading a book – the latter would win. As would cooking, cleaning, ironing, walking, driving and much more…
The only time I choose to go to a garden centre is to meet someone for coffee and cake – never for any other reason. A couple of years ago, a close family member bought me gardening vouchers for my birthday and I almost spit out my dummy. When, some months later, I raised the issue I was told that I was ‘approaching the age when I’d be into that sort of thing’. A comment guaranteed to ensure that when I hit 60 I’ll be even less interested in gardening than I am now!
Today, however, I was part of a family team of gardeners. Having stared at the weeds growing up alongside our house for a couple of months, my need to deal with a problem boiled over. And my usual strategy – kicked in. We all muck in and do it in a morning – or I will be spending all day doing it myself. Always works.
So I now have cuts and bruises from pulling brambles, after my gloves ripped and my feet were black after realising that gardening with crocs on probably wasn’t such a good idea.
I then had to go to a garden centre with my other half to buy some plants to fill the space left by weeds and brambles. Somehow we actually ended up at B&Q – a place which also ranks in my list of awful places to visit.
This is not the flower bought today for our garden
So today’s lesson is this – I still hate gardening but having grasped the nettle (quite literally several times) the place looks a little better.
How many months until I have to do some more?
It’s with some pride that today I can shout about my new FAMILY column in the local weekly newspaper in Wiltshire. Rush out and buy it on Thursday! Or even better buy a subscription.
The Gazette & Herald, which covers Chippenham, Malmesbury, Devizes, Calne, Marlborough, Pewsey and all the villages in between, is sister paper to the Swindon Advertiser, the Wiltshire Times, Wiltshire Business and other publications.
My first Family pages for the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald on Thursday.
I’ll be writing about anything and everything which affects families and parents in these areas of Wiltshire, but I want to be interactive. I would welcome any suggestions for subject matter – both serious and more light-hearted. Interviews with people who live or work in the county are a key factor.
If you are a parent in Wiltshire who has had to grapple with difficult issues eg. domestic abuse, eating disorders, bereavement, obesity, mental health issues, bullying, caring, chronic illness, disability, debt, homelessness – please share your stories. What can others learn from your experience?
If you’ve got a consumer problem that you’ve been struggling with, I’ll try to help. Or if you are a parent who has achieved something amazing, let me know.
Sometimes I’ll be having a rant on something that’s annoyed me, there’ll be consumer items, guest blogs, and lots of mentions of social media. The more interactive the better. If you comment via letter, Twitter or Facebook, I may use those in the following week.
This is an adventure and I’d like you to join me – email@example.com