Shana

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.

Kay – Living with her mum’s dementia

When Kay made the decision to become a full time carer for her mum she had two concerns, “I was concerned about money and I was concerned whether I could do it without shouting at her”. But actually neither of these things have been the issue. Kay finds the hardest thing to deal with when looking after her mum, is not knowing what simple aspect of daily life her mum has forgotten how to do. “I don’t know if she’s forgotten how to wash up. I don’t know if she’s forgotten to put her knickers on”. It was just before Christmas when Kay realised that her mum had forgotten what the dishwasher was for. “She thought it was just a big cupboard. When my brother came around and put all his dirty dishes in (the dishwasher), she was taking them out, washing them and then cleaning the ‘cupboard’”.

Kay’s mum has Vascular Dementia, which is a condition where blood vessels in the brain thin, causing bleeding. Which aspect of the brain stops working depends on where these bleeds are. “There is no natural progression, so my mum has particular problems with her speech, but that’s just where it is at the moment.” Kay says it’s not like other forms of dementia where you can see the person deteriorating as the disease gets hold. “The prognosis is that she will either die of a heart attack or a massive stroke. It’s a bit of a ticking time bomb”.

“It’s so easy to take someone’s independence away from them.”

When Kay’s mum was diagnosed the doctor told her she wouldn’t be able to drive anymore, the first step down a slippery slope to losing her independence. Her mum could still walk to the shop to buy a few groceries, but if she needed to buy some heavier items or go further afield, she needed someone to take her. “It’s so easy to take someone’s independence away from them,” says Kay. She didn’t want her mum to miss out on going out and having the interaction she enjoys, “you’re crushing their independence even more and narrowing their horizons,” so she takes her mum out most days, whether it is shopping, to the garden centre or out to a cafe.

Kay finds it’s a thin line between realising there are some things her mum is unable to do and taking over every aspect of her mum’s life. She gives an example of her mum’s tablets. Her mum takes four tablets a day, which are in a box labelled for each day. Kay found out her mum was forgetting what day it was. She would think it was a Friday and thought she had forgotten to take Wednesday’s and Thursday’s tablets so would throw them away. In fact is was a Wednesday and she had just thrown two days of tablets away. Kay still wanted her mum to have the responsibility of taking her own tablets, but she needed to make sure her mum was actually taking them correctly. She found if she visited her mum every morning and gave her the box of tablets just for that day, her mum would then be quite capable of taking all her tablets throughout the day.

Kay struggles with balancing her own family life with her mum’s needs.

I think internally Kay struggles with balancing her own family life with her mum’s needs. Kay tries to keep Sunday as a day just for her, her husband and her 11 year old daughter. “I am quite precious about our Sundays now…we do try and do something with just the three of us.” Holidays have to be carefully planned so her mum can be looked after. Someone needs to be around in the morning to give her mum the right tablets for the day and then either at night or at lunch to give her a decent meal. Her mum is then able to make herself a cheese sandwich for the other meal. Kay, her husband and her daughter plan to go away over the Easter holidays for six days, but it seems the real challenge is when they want to go on a longer summer holiday. “We’re due to go on a holiday in the summer for 2 1/2 weeks and I don’t really know what’s going to happen,” says Kay as she trails off. It is something that is visibly playing on her mind.

I ask Kay if her mum has gone through any personality change, as some people with dementia do experience behavioural changes. This hasn’t happened and Kay paints a very lovely picture of her mum when she says, “she’s always been kind and placid and thoughtful and understanding.” Listening to Kay’s story I feel these are traits that her mum has passed on to her.

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 Joanne – Laughter yoga and First Dates

Without her prior knowledge, Karen Joanne’s best friend put her forward for the TV show “First Dates”. She thinks Karen Joanne has been single for far too long. She thinks this is the solution. Karen Joanne seems horrified at the prospect, but I wonder if secretly she thinks it might be quite fun. Don’t get me wrong, not fun as a match making exercise, as I can’t see she would enjoy the prospect of two million people watching her on a blind date. But fun because I think she would end up in an absurd situation, trying to get her stern date to loosen up by teaching him some of her laughter yoga.

“It was like being a battery hen.”

Karen Joanne used to work eight hours a day in a call centre, sitting down all day at a desk answering phone calls. It was hard to leave her desk, as it would show up in her manager’s office that she had logged out from the phone system. This was not looked on kindly by her manager. “It was like being a battery hen,” Karen Joanne states indignantly. One day at work, a colleague remarked to Karen Joanne that she was at her most animated when she spoke about her Thai boxing training and had she considered working in the fitness industry. “Honesty, it was like a light bulb moment. I literally went YES!” So over the next few months she enrolled in fitness industry intense courses to gain some qualifications, ditched her call centre job, moved out of London and started on her fitness career. “I didn’t care I’d taken such a big pay drop, I absolutely loved it, helping people to move”. That was twenty years ago, and thankfully she hasn’t sat down at a desk for that long ever again.

Karen Joanne’s teaching style in all her various exercise classes around Dacorum, is very much about having fun. “In classes you have to give a lot of instructions, so if you were to give instructions in the wrong tone of voice, people will just feel like they are being told off… As soon as I get in the class I’m like ‘ooh, you’ve got a lazy bottom today,’” she giggles. I wholeheartedly agree as I remember going to a yoga class and feeling like I was at school again. I never went back.

It is infectious and so this in turn makes me giggle.

Taking in mind Karen Joanne’s style, it is quite fitting that one of the classes she runs is laughter yoga. She says that in the class you don’t need to tell jokes or try to be funny, so if you were thinking about a career in stand up and thought this may be the class for you to try out your material, think again. She shows me the greeting game she does at her laughter class. She grabs my hand and shakes it and just starts giggling. Although I know this is fake laughing, it is infectious and so this in turn makes me giggle, until we are both genuinely giggling away. And as Karen Joanne says, the body doesn’t know the difference between the first initial fake laughter and genuine laughter, so you still gain all the health benefits. “If you laugh you lower your stress hormones, your cortisol drops, you get endorphins, you breath better and it feels good”.

But Karen Joanne is very well placed to know not to fake her own happiness. Ten years ago she left her last boyfriend because, in her words, “he wasn’t very nice, so that was good to leave”. And in those ten years she has spent a lot of time, “just being who I want to be, buying my house, deciding what I wanted from my business.” But she doesn’t come across as being cynical about relationships either. She tells me about the wonderful relationship her brother and his wife have. “They give me faith that I might actually meet someone who is perfect for me. They make my heart sing, they are so lovely together”.

I would still love to see her on First Dates, although I admit that it is from a purely selfish point of view. I can see her in the toilets at First Dates, giggling down the phone to her best friend at how mismatched her date is and hatching an escape plan. I think I would just laugh and laugh, and it certainly wouldn’t be fake laughter.

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.

Rebecca – Sport for All

Rebecca is a plodder. “I’m happy plodding,” she laughs. I immediately warm to her as I too am a plodder. We are talking running and I tell her I have long got over the embarrassment of my 10 year old son beating me at Park Run every week. Rebecca has run a few marathons; London, Chicago and New York, but to her it’s not about the time. “It’s a challenge, it’s a target and it’s that overwhelming achievement at the end”. Saying that, competitiveness, or maybe it’s pride, does still play a role in her marathon running, which she tries to do in just under five hours. When she ran the London Marathon she was pleased to be on track, and indeed finished in 4 hours 57 minutes. But it didn’t come without a moral dilemma in the race. Towards the end, she saw someone she knew. “I was going to stop and talk to this lady I recognised, who was struggling…I looked at my watch and I just thought I can’t. And even if I see her now, I feel guilty…She probably just needed a little ‘come on’ but I had twenty minutes to go – that’s awful isn’t it!” 

Her plodding running style is in sharp contrast to everything else she does. When I interview her she bounds in to the room and talks at a million miles an hour. Maybe her running is her way of slowing down. Recently she came home looking exhausted and her husband asked how a particular meeting had gone. “I just went blah blah blah blah blah…I just unloaded for 40 minutes”. But she has good reason to rant.

“I am really lucky to do the job I do. I really love it”.

Rebecca works at Sportspace. She has worked there for 34 years. “I am really lucky to do the job I do. I really love it”. She started as a teenager in an admin post and is now the Operations Director. She has always loved sport; team sports when she was younger and now running is her passion. The thing that really drives her, and her eyes light up when she talks about it, is how to get as many different people as possible, from all walks of life, more active. “It’s about more people, having more opportunities, in whatever way and whatever form works for them”. The way her and her team have done this is by appealing to the things people enjoy, not by forcing everyone to the gym. The XC Centre is a great example of this. By bringing together a skatepark, caves and a climbing wall, Rebecca and her team have encouraged a younger crowd who probably don’t think of themselves as sporty in the traditional school team sport way, to get active.

Just before Christmas it emerged that council had made a decision that Sportspace should to be taken over by a national profit-led company, ceasing the partnership they had with the local not-for-profit they had set up to run it since 2004. Rebecca and her colleagues were very emotional. They didn’t know what would this would mean in terms of their jobs and, importantly for Rebecca, what it would mean in terms of the philosophy to encourage sport for all, not just to those who could afford it. Under a company that is ploughing money back to shareholders rather than the community, what would happen in the future to people, like the elderly lady who told Rebecca, ‘this place saved my life’. One night at home she was completely overwhelmed by the whole situation, but didn’t want to talk to anyone. She just thought she would burst in to tears. But she tells how her 25 year old son was unusually tender. He said, “Mum I totally understand, you’ve been there before you had me, before you and dad. I totally understand where you are coming from”.

“It was an angry run”

There is one time when Rebecca hasn’t been a plodder. When she was furious about the situation with council, she went on a run to let off steam. “It was an angry run…and I vividly remember it”. Her sister, who often runs with her, saw her run on Garmin (an app that shares your running speed and other data). “I got a text later (from my sister) to say ‘what on earth made you run at that speed?’”. Rebecca giggles. “I don’t think I could ever do that speed again!” Maybe I need to get angrier to help with my running speed, and to be honest, reading all the details about council and how they have treated Sportspace, believe me I am. Depending on which way the council meeting goes on Wednesday, I may yet beat my 10 year old son at Park Run on Saturday.

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.