Lorraine

I ask Lorraine if she use to consider herself a shy person, but she says, “no, really outgoing, very gregarious”. Yet Lorraine suffered from loneliness for six years. During her period of loneliness she was still working. She was, and still is, a nurse. She found chatting to patients and work colleagues was never a problem, but as soon as she got home she would shut the door and close herself off from the world. I always associated loneliness with the elderly, who don’t see anyone on a day to day basis, but Lorraine comments that my assumption is misguided. Loneliness is not just experienced by the elderly, “it can be single mums, it can be children. Loneliness is kind of like a state of mind, so it can happen anytime, even in a crowded room.”

Reading up on loneliness it is described as a lack or loss of companionship. This seems to be the case with Lorraine, mixed in with circumstances that made it easy for her to shut herself away. Her relationship had broken down with both her son and daughter, and although she had tried to contact them, they stopped communicating with her. She had lost their companionship. She was also suffering from PTSD after an abusive relationship with her second husband. “I suppose you could say I was a battered wife.” Scarred from this relationship she held a distrust of others. Her home was her only safe haven. Lorraine needed some time alone to recuperate emotionally, but she also needed to recuperate physically, having had a hip replacement due to the early onset of arthritis. Rather than recuperating and bouncing back in to society, the habit of shutting her door on the world had been embedded. She had become resigned to the idea that this was how her life was and this was how it would always be.

Things changed for Lorraine when out of the blue her son phoned her and asked her to come along to a personal development course he was attending. Going along to the course, she witnessed her son stand up on the stage, in front of 200 people, and say “I’m inventing the possibility of a relationship with my mum.” She says there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, including her own. “That was the start of the ball rolling, of coming out of isolation and the end of loneliness for me”. She tells me her relationships with both her son and daughter are now good, and are growing day by day.

As a practise nurse, Lorraine sees loneliness in many patients at the surgery. “Sometimes they are considered time wasters and actually they don’t need anything physical, but they just come in because they are alone”. She will just sit and talk with these patients and try and direct them to the help they need.

Lorraine still experiences loneliness now and again, but as she says, “I am choosing to come out of my shell, so now the loneliness seems to be drifting away”. She says she prefers to be in the company of others as much as she can. She is also a singer song writer, so she is out and about, performing at the various open mic sessions in the area. I feel she is now living the life she wants and making up for her lost time. She describes life in the following way. “On your gravestone there is the date at the beginning (showing when you were born) and the date at the end (showing when you died) and in the middle there’s a ‘dash’. That’s my life”. She is making sure that ‘dash’ is as fulfilling as it can be. “I can choose to grow fat and old and die and get eaten by my dogs,” she laughs, “or I can choose to go out there and make a difference in the world.”

Lorraine is certainly trying to make a difference in the local area. She is holding a festival at Potten End to raise awareness for the Campaign to End Loneliness. The residents of the local retirement village have been invited to join in and she is encouraging those who attend to bring someone who might be alone – a neighbour or a relative. With Lorraine’s connections in the local music scene, she has quite a few renowned local performers lined up for the festival. She has also written a song on loneliness, which she will premier at the festival. “My passion is that no one should be lonely,” says Lorraine. She sees the solution is to connect people. “They need to understand they are not alone”.

The Potten End Festival is being held on Saturday 16th June from 3pm – 6pm. Details can be found here:  https://www.facebook.com/events/1547554525371163/

RAW publishes interviews regularly about a community member from Hemel Hempstead or the surrounding villages. To keep up to date with RAW’s interviews, click follow at the top of this page or like RAW’s Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/rawhearme/

Steve – “My dad was a bit of a crook”

Just before Steve’s nursery nativity play, his dad robbed a post office and shot a policeman. In hot pursuit, the police raided the nativity play. “My brother thought it was the perfect opportunity to take a picture of me, as they were yanking my dad out of the audience.” The photograph shows Steve, dressed up as Joseph, sitting on the stage in tears.

Steve doesn’t have any real memories of his dad from before he was sent to prison. He has no recollection of visiting him in prison, but he has been told the stories. “Apparently he used to get my mum to smuggle stuff in (to prison), in my nappies… drugs and things like that”. Steve was ten when his dad was released. As his mum had divorced his dad, he didn’t really reconnect with him until he was 16. “I wanted to see if I had that father-son relationship.” At the time, being 16 and in to drugs, Steve thought it was quite cool that his dad was dealing drugs. As Steve’s alcohol and drug habit increased under the influence of his father, his relationship started to break down with his mum. He admits, “I was a bit of a git to my mum”. It was only when his dad tried to pull him further in to his world that he realised the extent of his dad’s behaviour. The last straw was when his dad tried to get him to drive a van for a robbery, aged 18.

I met Steve when he was performing a very moving, and at times angry, poem about all the things he wish he had the courage to say to his dad. He wrote it at his dad’s hospital bedside, two days before his dad died. Steve remembers, “when I wrote the poem I was very emotional as it bought everything back up.” But when his dad died, and even at the funeral, Steve didn’t have any emotion. “In a way it was quite weird…I was void of everything.” Clearing out his dad’s flat, ironically on Father’s Day, he didn’t feel the need to hold on to any sort of keepsake from his dad. I wonder if the grieving process for Steve started when he was 18. By penning his true emotions through the poem he wrote at his dad’s bedside, may have helped him finally accept the mixed feelings he felt for his dad. Maybe for Steve, the grieving process finally came to an end once the ink had dried on the poem.

Steve likes to write character based and true-life poetry. “I tend to like the darker side of people.” He has written a group of poems all based on characters in a prison psychotherapy session. All the characters have done dreadful things, but the poems look at how much their situation played a part in causing them to do these things. “Can you feel sorry for someone who has done something quite horrible?” questions Steve. He likes to throw light on subjects that make people feel uncomfortable, such as taboo subjects like paedophilia. I agree with Steve when he says, “these things exist, they are in the world and we tend to turn away from them, whereas we should acknowledge them for what they are.”

Steve started writing poetry when he was 12 years old and although his poetry is very good, he doesn’t perform so much of it now, which is a shame. His real passion is his music and the band he plays guitar in, DodoBones. Although the music scene has dropped off in Hemel since the heady days when David Bowie and Freddie Mercury graced the stage at the Pavillion, DodoBones play a lot of gigs and festivals in the wider area. Their performances have included Carfest and the Cambridge Rock Festival, where they supported The Animals. Thankfully it looks like Steve’s distressing stage debut aged three hasn’t put him off performing.

RAW publishes interviews regularly about a community member from Hemel Hempstead or the surrounding villages. To keep up to date with RAW’s interviews, click follow at the top of this page or like RAW’s Facebook page, highlighted at the side of the page.

Adrian – Local councillor

I think one of the reasons Adrian’s wife took up volunteering as a Special Constable was because Adrian spends so much of his time fulfilling his role as a local councillor. They try and work it so that they are out (or in) at the same time, but all of Adrian’s council work has to take place around his full time job as a Marketing Manager. As a councillor he needs to attend the various council meetings and other interest groups meetings, as well as addressing the numerous concerns constituents have. They can be about anything – pot holes, street lights, parking or water flumes. I remember when my mum was a councillor and council were looking at removing the water flumes at the local swimming pool. She had various letters sent to her from a very upset gentleman who always signed himself off as King of the Flumes.

Adrian is also keen on educating the public on local issues. “I want to try and get to the point where more people vote in the election because they understand more about it”. He gives me an example. “Lots of people complained about the council tax going up because of some Dacorum issue, but actually 80% of council tax is spent by Hertfordshire County Council”. When I get home I look in to it and he is right. I find an example of a Band D property tax which is £1,679. Dacorum council only get £195 of that money. He also sees a problem of imbalance of power on council at the moment. 43 out of the 51 councillors are from one party (the conservatives). “This means they (the ruling party) can do whatever they want, whether it’s a good idea or not. It’s actually healthy to have some tension so that you have to make your case and argue your point”. Having seen what happened with the privatisation of Sportspace, the local sports centres, where over 8,000 Dacorum residents signed a petition against the privatisation, I tend to agree. As the ruling party hold such a big majority they could railroad the policy through, without, as I see it, considering the best interests of the local community they are meant to serve.

Looking at the bigger picture of Hemel, Adrian also thinks it needs a vision. “Hemel is a place, which after the war, had a fantastic, grand vision,” he says. He is talking about the Masterplan devised by Geoffrey Jellicoe in 1947. Jellicoe’s dream for a ‘city in a park’, can be seen throughout the neighbourhoods and green spaces that were created. But today Hemel, as the biggest town in South West Herts, doesn’t have a sense of itself. “Hemel needs to have a big idea that says ‘this is what Hemel is now’”. And he doesn’t mean being known as home of the Magic Roundabout. He sees connectivity is a problem in Hemel. “When they did things like Maylands and Jarman Park, they kept them as separate entities”. Ideas whirr around in his head about somehow connecting up the areas and the green spaces. And he also sees a more prominent role for the Adventure Playgrounds. He thinks they could play a more integral part in the community. I agree with him on that. ‘The Adventure’, as my children call the one in Chaulden, are a wonderful and quite unique asset that I haven’t seen in other communities and could be taken to another level in terms of serving the community.

After our interview my head is spinning with visions for Hemel. I message him saying I think Hemel needs trams. I can see one of those turntable things in the middle of the magic roundabout. The tram comes in, gets spun around and spat out in a different direction. “Mega expensive,” comes back his reply. I get the feeling he has already considered it.

RAW publishes interviews regularly about a community member from Hemel Hempstead or the surrounding villages. To keep up to date with RAW’s interviews, click follow at the top of this page or like RAW’s Facebook page, highlighted at the side of the page.

Shana – Struggles with bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorder

It was always inevitable that Shana’s world would come crashing down at some point. It happened over Christmas 2014. Living on a 2,700 hectare olive grove in rural Australia, she recalls, “I just thought, I’m going to go out in to the middle of the olive grove, take my overdose and nobody will find me”. It wasn’t a cry for help, she really wanted to end her life.

Aged 19, Shana had ventured to the other side of the world. Within two months of meeting an Australian man, she married him on a small island, in the idyllic Whitsundays. “We were really drunk, drinking lots of cocktails and getting married sounded really good”. But that’s when it all started to go downhill. Their relationship became violent and turbulent. “It sounds awful but I would beat him up but he would beat me up as well. It would turn in to these awful fights.”

Shana has bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The aggression comes from her BPD and looking back on her life before her diagnosis, she can see the symptoms were always there. She wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar until she was in Australia. And it wasn’t until she came back to the UK that she was diagnosed with BPD. She had headed off to Australia by herself, not telling anyone apart from her mum and brother. “I didn’t even quit my job. I just never went in… Looking back now I realise I was having some sort of episode.”

I was so lonely out there I decided to get in to taxidermy.”

When Shana first married, the couple lived in a small Australian settlement. She describes it like something out of a wild west movie. Just one main street, consisting of a gas station and a supermarket. She was expected to stay at home all day to cook and clean, whilst her husband worked. The only things she had to talk to were the kangaroos and the stray cats. “I was so lonely out there I decided to get in to taxidermy. I would go driving around and pick up the dead kangaroos and the dead animals, dead sheep, take them home, boil them up in my garden and make things out of them.”

Just before Christmas 2014, Shana and her husband moved back to the olive grove where they first met. They were there to work the harvest. Shana received news from the UK that her step-dad’s health had deteriorated. He was told he may only live for a couple more years. At the same time she heard a friend of hers from school had died. She felt so far away in Australia with no-one to talk to. Her husband wasn’t sympathetic at all. He didn’t even like her crying in the house and would send her outside when she became emotional. It was also at this time that he decided he wanted to break up with her. Shana’s life collapsed. They shared a house, the car she drove was his and all their money was in his bank account. She had nothing and no-one to turn to. “That was it for me. I didn’t have a way out.” Luckily for Shana, her husband found her after she took her overdose. Still to this day she doesn’t know how he found her on such a large property. She could have been literally anywhere on the estate. “It was just by chance. It was really weird”.

“I remember them screaming at me, ‘stay awake, stay awake, stay awake’”.

Shana was rushed to hospital. “I remember them screaming at me, ‘stay awake, stay awake, stay awake’”. She found out later that she had technically died and they had brought her back to life. After stabilising her in the intensive care unit for a week, the hospital asked if she would agree to be admitted to the psychiatric ward. Still a bit dazed, she consented, not realising the consequences of the awful situation she found herself in. “I had no way to get out”. As she had voluntary agreed, she wasn’t able to leave unless someone signed her out. She called her husband. “He didn’t want to know me”. She wasn’t allowed to call her mum, as the hospital wouldn’t allow calls to England. She was trapped, with no-one to help her and no-one in Australia to call. She didn’t even have any clothes, knickers or shoes to wear. “I was living in one of those gowns… It was the most degrading thing.” Her saviour appeared in the form of her cousin. He had flown in to Australia to work with Shana on the olive grove and they finally managed to get in touch. He discharged her from the psychiatric ward, eight weeks after she was first admitted.

“I never want anyone to go through what I’ve been through”.

In the nearly three years since Shana has returned from Australia, she has tried her hand at many things. “I’ve set up five different business… I’ve got hundreds of business cards with all these things I’ve done,” she laughs. The one thing that she has stuck to though, is Bridged Mental Health Group. It’s a mental health support group she has set up with a friend in Berkhamsted. “With Bridged, I am not going to give it up”. And I believe her sincerity. She knows what it is like to be in a situation where you have no-one to turn to. “I never want anyone to go through what I’ve been through”. The support group is not just about those who have mental health conditions, it is also for friends and family. “I think with mental illness people often forget about the people that are left behind”. For over a year it was something Shana had wanted to do, but didn’t feel she could do it by herself. One evening a friend, Fran, messaged her. Fran was at her wits end, feeling suicidal. Shana invited her around to dinner that night. There and then they decided to post a message on to the Everything Berko Facebook page, with the idea of setting up a mental health support group. They expected a handful of likes and maybe a plan to meet up with a few people for coffee. They got around 350 likes, nearly one hundred comments and many private messages. People were crying out for help. “When you have mental illness you do feel alone… and I do think that’s because there’s a stigma,” says Shana. The unique thing about the group is that it doesn’t cater to just one condition, it caters to all mental health diagnoses.

Talking to Shana now she seems very different to the person she describes, although she still dabbles in taxidermy. She is a bubbly, confident 23 year old, wise before her years. She has been discharged from Slippers Hill, the mental health facility in Hemel where she had her psychotherapy. She says her medication is “ok, but with personality disorders and mood disorders you can have a time where it’s ok, but it’s inevitable you’re going to crash”. That is when she will need the support of those around her and the help of the support group Fran and her have set up.

RAW publishes interviews regularly about a community member from Hemel Hempstead or the surrounding villages. To keep up to date with RAW’s interviews, click follow at the top of this page or like RAW’s Facebook page, highlighted at the side of the page.

 

Karen – Crufts and dog massage

After Karen’s redundancy from a stressful, globe trotting job, she was, in her words, “completely wiped out. I was rock bottom, I was pretty much clinically depressed”. Then Eva came along. “She got me out of a deep black hole and I think I got her out of one too”.

Eva is Karen’s bull lurcher. For those, like me, who aren’t in the know, a bull lurcher is a cross between a greyhound and a Staffordshire bull terrier. Karen came across Eva when she started volunteering at the National Animal Welfare Trust. Eva had been there in the kennels for about a year. “She was the one that sat at the back of the kennel and didn’t want to look at anyone. Didn’t interact. Just looked miserable. She didn’t really sell herself”. Karen knew she needed to get Eva out of kennels and she knew she was the one who could rehabilitate her at home. Eva had been found walking the lanes in Wales, and although her history is unknown, her behaviour reveals a lot about her upbringing. Karen says she may have been abused, “as she was very frightened of men and children and balls; footballs in particular she was terrified of”. So it seems Karen is Eva’s saviour as much as Eva is Karen’s saviour.

Admitting she wished she had switched careers ten years ago, Karen has now retrained as a Canine Massage Therapist. It is a job she describes as, “the best job in the world”. During her training Eva was her guinea pig, so to speak. I can see that Eva got use to it because for the entire time of Karen’s interview, Eva looks like she is in doggy heaven. She lies on HER sofa whilst Karen massages her. Halfway through the interview, Eva rolls on to her back and offers her belly to Karen.

Karen’s role as a Canine Massage Therapist is varied. The week after we met she sends me an email with a photo of her at Crufts. She had a client, one of her dogs, in a Flyball Team. For those of you that aren’t au fait with the race, I checked it out on YouTube. It’s basically a relay race for dogs, where each dog jumps over a few jumps, retrieves a ball, then runs back over the jumps so the next dog can go. Karen’s job is to warm up her client before the race to ensure the dog is racing to the best of its ability. “It makes their muscles a bit looser and a little bit more flushed with blood. It makes a difference.” Maybe I should try this technique before Park Run, seeing as I haven’t beaten my PB for over a year. What amazes me though, is that Karen says it’s not just the Flyball clients that benefit from a massage before their race, it’s also the show dogs. Again for the novices out there like me, show dogs are judged against the perfect characteristics for that particular breed. Part of the judging of show dogs is to watch them walk and trot. If the dogs are more comfortable due to a massage, then they are more likely to perform better. Karen tells me, “you might get a dog that wins without it, but if you’ve got a dog that has had a massage, it gives them a bit of an edge.” It also helps the dog get in the zone for performing. “It triggers them in to show off mode”, explains Karen. I realise then that cats and dogs are fundamentally different. The only zone my cat could ever get in to is the sleep zone.

Attending dog shows and massaging elite dogs isn’t the only thing Karen does. The reason she became a Canine Massage Therapist in the first place was that she wanted to make a difference. The difference she makes is treating dogs of all shapes, sizes and ages, to help them maintain their mobility. She says seeing dogs that had previously been walking along with their tails between their legs because they were in such pain, to now seeing them running around the streets, happily wagging their tails after she has treated them, is the difference she loves to see.

Karen clearly lives and breathes dogs. She would have more than one dog if she could, but she jokes that her husband would divorce her if she did. “He wouldn’t be without Eva, but he’s an only child so I think that reflects in his one dog policy”. I also think Eva would have something to say about another dog as well. I’m not sure she’s up for sharing her massage sessions, or her sofa.

RAW publishes interviews regularly about a community member from Hemel Hempstead or the surrounding villages. To keep up to date with RAW’s interviews, click follow at the top of this page or like RAW’s Facebook page, highlighted at the side of the page.

Helen – Firefighter extraordinaire

Next time you see a man driving down the road in the middle of the night, just in his boxer shorts, don’t jump to conclusions. The stipulation for an on-call firefighter is that you have to live within four minutes drive of the fire station. Which means if it’s 3am when your beeper goes off, there is no time to get ready. You just have to go. The on-call firefighters at Kings Langley will turn up to the fire station in their boxer shorts or their pyjamas. It doesn’t matter, as once at the station they just put their fire kit over whatever they are wearing. But the newest recruit, Helen, struggles with the thought of arriving in her night clothes, so when she goes to bed she has jog bottoms and a jumper laid out on the floor. “It’s like a comedy sketch when you see someone getting out of bed and walking in to their clothes”.

“That wobbled my son. It didn’t wobble me.”

The day before the Grenfell Tower disaster, Helen accepted her position to start her training as an on-call firefighter. “That wobbled my son. It didn’t wobble me. I wasn’t expecting that reaction from him”. In reality though, as a member of the fire and rescue team, Helen and her crew have a tendency to attend more rescues than fires. “Like cats in trees’” I chip in. I think at this point Helen may have rolled her eyes. She tells me an anecdote. “Someone once said to me, ‘have you ever seen a dead cat up a tree?’ ‘No’. ‘Well exactly, that’s why we don’t rescue them. They get down’”. She laughs. The crew do carry out animal rescue though. “One of the guys I trained with was getting a horse out of a river the other week,” says Helen.

On-call firefighters aren’t volunteers, but they do have day jobs and they undertake their fire and rescue role in their spare time. Although to dedicate 90 hours per week to be on-call is not a small commitment. Helen has three children, and although two are working, they are still living at home. She also works as a Finance Manager. So I’m not quite sure how Helen fits everything in to her life. Firefighters carry out a number of roles. It’s not just about putting out fires. They visit residential homes and businesses to carry out fire safety checks. They visit schools and host educational visits for children at the fire station. They attend road accidents as they have the equipment to cut people out of vehicles. They help with domestic floods. They assist ambulance crew with gaining access to premises. (Ambulance crew aren’t allowed to break down doors). And they attend call outs from hotels, when the automatic fire alarm goes off. It’s normally someone smoking out of the window. Or apparently too much spray deodorant. Be warned next time you are in a hotel, as to how good you want to smell.

“It was absolutely physically and mentally exhausting.”

Both Helen’s age and gender make her quite unusual for an on-call firefighter. “I’m 46. It’s not normal for females,” laughs Helen. She was the only female on her training course and by the end of the 10 week course, she was the eldest. But it doesn’t matter what age or gender you are, as a firefighter you are all treated the same. In training she had to keep up with the twenty something males. She recounts the training as “brutal. I can’t describe it any other way. It was absolutely physically and mentally exhausting.” Out of 13 that started on the course, only seven finished. Helen was going through three or four t-shirts a day, because of the amount she was sweating, and she was drinking 500mll of fluid every half hour, “and still not going for a wee”. She lost nearly half a stone. But as a firefighter you must be able to cary all the equipment. “Hoses aren’t lightweight, nothing we use is lightweight. You have to be able to use it, you can’t be a hinderance.”

However saying that, as a woman, Helen has additional skills. As she is smaller than a lot of the men, she can fit through smaller spaces. During training she would race through the confined spaces course and be out the other side, whilst her bigger colleagues were struggling. When she was on duty one night she managed to squeeze through a window to get in to a house where a gentleman had fallen. He couldn’t get up. It saved breaking the door down. One of Helen’s colleagues, who has popped in to the office as I am interviewing her, chips in with his own interpretation of women. “Women are not so stupid”. Helen laughs and tells me about the time the crew were about to break down a door to gain access to premises and she said, “Did anyone actually check if the back door is open?” No. It was open. “It’s the little things,” she smiles.

After my interview with Helen I am flicking through my kids newspaper, First News, and I see an article about a cat that got stuck up a tree. A woman went to rescue the cat and got herself stuck up the tree. The fire brigade came to the rescue. Admittedly they were probably more concerned about the woman than the cat, but maybe cats getting stuck up trees isn’t an urban myth after all.

RAW publishes interviews regularly about a community member from Hemel Hempstead or the surrounding villages. To keep up to date with RAW’s interviews, click follow at the top of this page or like RAW’s Facebook page, highlighted at the side of the page.

Mike – The Royal wedding and a Matrix coat

Reverend Michael Macey once had to tell the Queen to sit down. It was the day of the Royal Wedding. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate, were getting married. As a Minor Cannon at Westminster Abbey, he was instrumental in writing and organising the service. One of his many jobs on the day was to lead the wedding party (the Middleton’s, the Prince’s, Camilla) through to sign the marriage register. The Queen was still standing up though. If she didn’t sit down then none of the 1,900 congregation would sit down, then there would be a pregnant pause. With two billion people watching the wedding in 180 countries, it would have looked quite awkward. “I said ‘Your Majesty, would you please be seated,’ at which point I think she thought who is this little oik, but she did sit down and I was able to lead (the wedding party) through to sign the register”.

He was involved in the organisation of some big televised events.

Mike, as he tends to be known (“Michael is my mum shouting at me,” he says) is the Anglican vicar for the Parish of Boxmoor. This includes the churches of St. John’s, St. Stephen’s and St. Francis’. His role now is very different from his previous position at Westminster Abbey. At the Abbey he was involved in the organisation of some big televised events; the royal wedding as described above; the Battle of Britain commemorative service; the Commonwealth Day service; the Christmas Day services. But Westminster Abbey’s reputation as a major tourist attraction meant the majority of the congregation consisted of one-off visitors. With such a transient congregation, Mike says, “you have no idea how you are helping or touching that person.”

In contrast, here in Boxmoor, his congregation is very stable. They see him as part of their family. He knows their history and supports them through the good and the bad. He knows their pains and he knows their joys. He visits schools, deals with financial matters, chairs the governing body for the parish and conducts services in the different churches. He is also always available to his congregation, even if that means being woken up at 3am. He assures me that people don’t tend to wake him up in the middle of the night with a faith question, most of those questions come through on the email. “In my dad’s vicarage the phone was going all the time, now my inbox is going all the time”. But someone may be in hospital or on their death bed, so he could be called in the early hours. “It’s a very privileged role. You get to walk with people at all times in their lives, so there are many wonderful moments, even when it’s really difficult”.

At the age of six he was bullied at school because his dad was a vicar.

Mike didn’t always want to be a vicar. At the age of six he was bullied at school because his dad was a vicar. “They threw stones at me,” he says. On that playground he vowed never to become a vicar. As he got older though, he started to explore the idea and went off to Exeter University to study theology. But university wasn’t all plain sailing. “I went off the rails a bit, relationships were going sour, grades were falling and I just wasn’t the person I wanted to be, and during that time I wasn’t going to church and I wasn’t praying”. But something in him made him go back to church. He remembers vividly that it was Ash Wednesday when he went along to Exeter Cathedral. “I just felt the Cathedral kind of wrap it’s arms around me and say, ‘this is where you belong’”.

Since deciding on his path on that Ash Wednesday, it would be too simplistic to say that Mike hasn’t has the odd wobble about the life he has chosen. Doesn’t everyone have the odd wobble about their own path though? I remember as a new parent, when I had been up and down all night, feeding a screaming baby, I wondered what on earth possessed me to become a parent. And Mike doesn’t see theology as answering all of life’s questions either. “There are still questions I don’t have answers to. The problem of evil… Why is there evil in the world? Why do bad things happen to good people?”.

Whilst I can’t see many celebrities flocking to be married at St. John’s, I note five time olympic medalist Max Whitlock, who trained literally across the road, didn’t come back to Boxmoor to tie the knot, to Mike it doesn’t matter. He is the sort of person who treats everyone the same, wherever their standing is on the social ladder, whatever money they have or don’t have, or whatever their faith is. For two years he use to pray every morning with a Hindu man who would come to St. John’s for the morning prayer. Strangers and his congregation alike will stop Mike in the street to talk with him. One passer-by was particularly impressed with his cassock. ‘Cool coat,’ he said. “It looks a but matrixy I suppose,” jokes Mike. “I wasn’t wearing the shades at the time”.

RAW publishes interviews regularly about a community member from Hemel Hempstead or the surrounding villages. To keep up to date with RAW’s interviews, click follow at the top of this page or like RAW’s Facebook page, highlighted at the side of the page.