Nearly 10 years ago, I became a mother, a widow and HIV positive, all within an 18 month period. My life was turned upside down, so I moved away from my London fashion career and returned to rural Lincolnshire to be near my family.
I’ve been in marketing for over 15 years, working with everything from fine jewellery to exhaust systems. I have two businesses: a marketing agency, Yello Story, which is a collaborative team of freelance creatives that I project-manage, and Think2Speak, a social enterprise working with young people and schools to tackle difficult conversations.
When my child started school, I struggled to find any resources or training to help her primary school support her in growing up without a father. I talked to a good friend of mine, Naomi Watkins, and we decided that we wanted to do something about the uncomfortable silences young people often feel when discussing sensitive subjects with the professionals in their lives. We plotted and planned for more than a year before founding Think2Speak.
Juggling my businesses and the HIV advocacy work that I do means that no two days are the same, but I thrive on that and the opportunities it brings. I am one of life’s natural networkers, so every day is usually a mix of tackling the to-do list while trying to spot and maximise opportunities for my marketing clients and for Think2Speak. Being a solo parent, I always try and have either breakfast or supper with my son.
The greatest rewards are in seeing someone benefit from the work I’m doing; whether that be a marketing client securing a new contract as a result of a campaign, or a child speaking with confidence for the first time in a class assembly. The worst part is wanting to help every deserving person and constantly trying to secure funding. There are reams of paperwork involved in funding bids.
Resilience really inspires me: seeing people who have had to deal with things that you would never wish upon anyone. Choosing to thrive, rather than just survive, is inspirational. I see that every day in the young people that Think2Speak works with.
People sometimes believe problems can be fixed by ticking a box, for example one training session and then the school can move on. We don’t work that way. Think2Speak is a school membership programme with a whole-school approach, so we work with schools to ensure they have policy, process and procedures in place. We also work with the staff to empower them and then offer ongoing support.
I was honoured to be recognised as one of 16 HIV Advocates to watch in 2016 on a global annual list prepared by Mark King, renowned HIV activist, for my work with Think2Speak. The recognition that Mark has given us is a dream come true, but we don’t just tackle HIV and sexual health. There are many other subject areas, such as loss and bereavement, domestic abuse and mental health.
My ambition is to maximise the awareness of the company and what we do. We know happier kids achieve more academically, so by helping to improve young people’s lives now, we can directly improve their outcomes in later life, spiritually, morally and culturally.
I’m excited to spend this year working towards our first conference in October for those working with young people. It will be a great opportunity for teachers and educational staff to learn, share and network.