As part of BICESTER FESTIVAL in 2021, we are celebrating the strength people find, in times of CHANGE. People around Bicester told us stories of times when they found the strength to make a change – or to navigate and grow through a change. This is a Strong Lady Productions project, in partnership with Bicester Festival and Cherwell District Council.
Click on an image below to HEAR and READ each of these remarkable stories.
[Trigger Warning: mentions abuse and sexual assault]
I really love my job, because working in Bicester makes me feel like I can give back. I had a very unique upbringing. One that was quite traumatising. My father used to rape, abuse and try to kill my mum - and I have been a young carer since I was 5 because my mum and sisters have special needs. When I was 6 we became homeless for a couple of months and lived in a B&B. There’s all these little things, and things further on: bullying in school, people trying to kill my mum, I myself have gone through my own mental health issues…
I guess the big thing out of that is that I never felt like my life would change… I would never go anywhere. I was always kind of taught: You’re going to live on benefits. You’re not going to have a job. You’re not going to go to uni. You’re not clever enough. I didn’t find out I was dyslexic until I went to uni.
I spent nearly a year volunteering at youth cafes all around Buckinghamshire and doing youth work, which I’d been doing since I was 16. I was so tired of not being able to work. I was doing all this and I was like: I just want a job. I just want to work. I just want to do something with my life. Luckily, one of the workers who was supporting me put me in a CV writing course. The last day of the course 2 people came in to talk about apprenticeships they had to offer to these young people (which I was part of). One of them was for Pegasus Theatre. The lady, Nikki, who came to talk about the apprenticeship, was absolutely wonderful and lovely, and we got along so well. And when I found out I got the apprenticeship, I was so happy!
It was life changing in so many ways - and I finally felt I was going somewhere with my life. I was like: Well now I know I can do something. I can take this. I can take all the negativity that I’ve faced, all the challenges I’ve faced, and I can try to make someone’s life better. If it’s one person, that’s amazing, because they’ll take something they’ve learned and pass it on to someone else.
It was completely life changing in every way possible. 6 years later, I’ve got a really great career. I can work with young people that come from similar backgrounds to mine, and help them find their goal - and give them a safe space to be themselves and build their confidence, to work out what they want in life - and for them to remember that they’re important.
I would say change is scary and difficult at times, but it can also be the most joyous thing in your absolute life. It could be all the joy that you did not know. It could absolutely change your life in every aspect. You may not realise it at the time - I did not think that doing that interview would change my life, and it did. Change is just beautiful.
My brother and I grew up always knowing that we were adopted. I was adopted when I was 6 weeks old and I was told there was an African connection. My mother and father knew nothing else about my family other than that. So I always knew I was adopted, I always accepted that I was adopted, it wasn’t a problem. I felt quite special for being adopted. But as I grew older and got married and had my first daughter… As she was born they put her into my arms and they said: Gosh she looks like you!
That immediately triggered in my that thought: Well who do I look like? I don’t know who I look like. I always knew I was different to my parents. I was always singing, I was always dancing, I was a bit of a mad person, loved my art. My mother and father were very sensible, there’s none of that bonkers-ness that I have. So I always knew I was different, and suddenly having this child in my arms, and this great emotion that comes over you when you hold your baby in your arms for the first time. It’s like: Gosh she looks like me, so who do I look like? That triggered off all these thoughts in my head: Who was my mum? Why did she give me up? That must have been such a hard thing to do. What made her have to do that?
It stayed with me for a number of years. I had my second daughter and again that feeling was there. I thought about it for a long time. When my daughters were about 11, I decided to do something about it. I contacted social services and said I’d like to find my family. I had to go through counselling to get the information that I needed, and that was fine, I went through it all. They said: We’ve found your mum. They handed me the piece of paper and for the first time, I saw my mother’s name. They said: That’s a very unusual name, so it shouldn’t be too difficult for you to find her.
All these emotions were going through my head, because it’s one thing to say: I want to find mu mum. It’s another thing to physically go and do it. I had to build that strength up in myself. Your heart is saying: Something in me is missing. I love my parents, I love what they’ve done for me, but I’m missing a bit. There’s a bit of me that’s missing. But have I got the strength to actually take this and carry it through, to try to find my mum? At the time, I couldn’t. I just couldn’t do it.
6 years went by. I got a new partner, who’s now my husband, and I felt stronger, I felt that now I could do this. But I didn’t know what to do.
My friend said: Have you ever tried googling her?
And I said: Oh don’t be so daft.
So we went back home and my husband said: Do you want to try that?
And I said: Not at the moment. No. No. Can’t do it. Can’t do it…
After a couple of days I thought, I’m going to do this. So I googled. Immediately came up this site. It was in Kenya. It was like a Friends Reunited site for a school. There was a picture of her - and just underneath it said: In Memoriam. I sat there and the tears just fell down my face.
I remember ringing my husband and saying: I found her, but she’s dead. And he was like: I’ll be back in an hour. I sat in my house, cuddling my dog, sobbing and sobbing and sobbing. Why hadn’t I done that? It turned out she’d died only 4 years previously and if I’d done it when I’d been given the stuff, she would have been alive. But I wasn’t ready, it wasn’t the time. I wasn’t ready for it. My husband came home, and he cuddled me, and he said: If you look underneath, there’s an email address and it says it’s her brother. He said: Why don’t you email him?
All evening I sat there and I said: I can’t do this. I can’t do this. This is such a big thing. This will change my life. I said: I can do it. I’m going email him. He’d replied - and my heart was just thumping in my chest. The first thing it said was: Dear Nicola, You are loved.
That was it. I was gone, just completely gone.
You are loved. You are the result of too much champagne ( that makes me feel really good. Not: Too much beer. Too much champagne, thank you very much). She found out she was pregnant and she knew she couldn’t go back to her family while they were going through the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya. The best thing for me was to give me up and give me the chance of a good life in a better home. This lovely man emailed me and emailed me. Back and forth, back and forth. Since then, we’ve been to South Africa twice to stay with him. Suddenly to have this family to say: you’ve got this - and you’re like this - and this one looks like you - and apparently I sound like my natural mother…
It’s completely changed my life, because it’s made me whole. I’m so grateful to my family that adopted me, they brought me up beautifully - but I’ve got this other bit now. This other little part of me that was missing has now been made whole. And that’s my story.
Change is to take everything that happens and turn them into positive opportunities - to never give up and keep on going. I had an arts background, because I studied animation before. I was always a little bit into photography, but it was never a profession, it was always a hobby. I was just taking pictures for my family or when I was traveling. That was until Covid kicked in. Until everybody was under lockdown and I was given a lot of time off.
I spent a lot of time walking around, in the area, with my daughter. Then I started to take a lot more pictures around Bicester. Then there was one day I was going to my friends house, it was the late evening during the sunset - an amazing view on Pingle Fields. So I took some very casual snaps. Then I did like many other people, who have done the same thing on social media, I just uploaded beautiful pictures. On the first day when I posted, I actually named it ‘Lockdown Day 1’.
The first day the picture wasn’t that popular, it was given maybe 100 likes (that was actually quite a lot already). On the second day, it was a very early morning, my car was all frozen. I needed to take my daughter to nursery, so during the time I was defrosting my car, I was taking my daughter to Pingle Fields. I saw the view was amazing, the cloud formation was absolutely breathtaking, so I took a few photos. That picture on Pingle fields, when I put it on social media I called it ‘Lockdown Day 2’ - then it goes really viral. It’s got 700 likes. That’s when I was getting really really excited. I get very satisfied, because everyone was saying it was a really nice picture and everything.
Many people mention that they have totally changed the way they see the town, because I turn all those ordinary things into very extraordinary views. Yeah. See Bicester in a completely different way. That’s when I started to realise that my pictures are making a lot of positive impact on our local community and lots of individuals. That’s something that changed me, to carry on. Making me carry on to do it every single day - until today actually. It’s been going on almost 250 days now, nonstop. Just to capture the beauty of what we have, of what’s been surrounding us but we’ve never taken notice of.
After a month I was really desperate, trying to think about something new, to keep people intrigued and also entertained as well. I was thinking: What shall I do? What shall I do? Then I remembered that I’ve always seen lots of negative posts from other people, saying there are lots of High Street shops being shut down. That’s when I had an idea of like: Maybe I should move on to taking photos of the local businesses. Together. Instead of just taking photos of the Bicester view, I’ll do Bicester business in addition, as well. Just to promote what businesses we have, on our doorstep. People love that I put some of the local businesses under the spotlight. Then, again, because I’m receiving so many nice comments from people, finding the information useful, I’ve been doing that nonstop.
I never know what’s going to happen next. I keep on going out and meeting people: speaking to people on social media, going out to those businesses and speaking to people, lots of people messaging me. I was never like that before. I do feel like I suffered a little bit from social anxiety before. Something to do with my English - because I’m not very comfortable speaking to people in English, especially in public. But, because of all my pictures, it makes me open up a little bit more. It’s like, the more people you meet, the more ideas you will get from talking to them. That’s how I ended up where I am today.
I run a dance school here, Elite Dance, within OYAP. We are really fortunate to be in this creative space together, but we haven’t always been so fortunate. The school has been running for - gosh it’s as old as me, so it’s 32. It’s had different owners, I’m the 4th, I believe. It was originally formed in the centre of Bicester. It outgrew that home and it’s really hard to find space in Bicester. So then, after searching and searching and searching, we found the perfect spot. It had 2 studios, it was the perfect thing. But it was bit of a big jump for us, as a small business, because it was a lot more than we were paying. But we were ready to try to make the jump and make it work.
We worked really really hard to get the numbers of people coming up. We were doing really really well, but as any creative person who is doing what they love as a job… we tend to forget the business side of things. Because we are so passionate, if somebody says to us: I can’t afford to pay you until next week, is that ok? As a generally kind person, as someone who just wants to teach children and make a difference, I was like: of course that’s fine! Pay when you can. No, that’s fine…. And actually, I shot myself in the foot by doing that because it put me in a really tricky financial spot, to the point where we were actually asked to leave the building.
I’d been running the dance school 7 years and turned up one day to this forfeiture notice on the door and I was like: Oh my goodness. We’re in a right financial pickle. All I’ve ever wanted to do is just share what I love, to teach children. I was like: Oh my god, this is the end. My dream is over. I can’t let these children down. We were in the middle of a showcase. All of our costumes were inside the building. The landlord wasn’t the most easy person to deal with, wouldn’t let us back in to get the costumes or anything. We had nowhere to run classes that night and I was just like: I just need to teach these children, what can I do?!
So we ended up in different halls around Bicester over the next couple of weeks and it was just so lovely that people were willing to help us out, so we could get these kids in their classes. Even on the night, of the day we were chucked out, we managed to find somewhere for that night. We didn’t miss a single class. It was all a bit crazy.
I thought I was doing everyone a favour, by being kind and letting people off bits and pieces, but actually… It then took away what I was giving to everyone, that was vital for the children, for their mental health and for their physical wellbeing. So it was a really hard lesson to learn, as a person and as a business owner. Ok, if I’m going to do this - if I’m going to have this dream of running a dance studio and sharing my passion with all these children - I’ve got to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
So I spent the next 3 years doing a lot of business training. I sought out a business coach. When you train to be a dance teacher, nobody shows you how to do that bit. The biggest time I’ve felt I had to be strong is when I turned up and found that forfeiture notice, I just burst into tears. I probably spent the next 2 weeks crying, but I knew I couldn’t show up to classes in tears. Even though, in the days I was like: Oh my god! I’m going to lose my business, I don’t know what to do… But by the evening, when the classes came, I just had to get on with it.
It was a really tough time, but it taught me a lot. That’s the biggest thing you can take away from a time where you’ve got to be strong, that there’s a lesson to be learned. Everything happens for a reason, I’m a big believer in that. We’ve been very blessed to end up here at OYAP, which is amazing and incredible and it’s nice to be around other creative people. I wouldn’t be here today, had all of those things not happened. So change is, I guess: how we evolve, how we grow, how we learn… so yeah. Roll with it.
I started the Bicester Litter Pickers, voluntary group, to set a great example to everyone else in the public to get involved and make a big impact - we’ve only got one planet and it’s our job to look after it. It all started by watching a YouTube channel called Beach Guardian. The girl on there, called Emily, is doing an amazing job. She does micro plastic litter picking sessions, she goes into the ocean… yeah, she’s amazing. So I just went out for a walk and explored, and observed everywhere, and I was like: actually, there is quite a bit of litter around here… so then I thought, well, why don’t I set up the Bicester Litter Picking group. It’s been good so far, because there’s been loads of people that have come along and got stuck in (which I’m very grateful for).
The challenges were that we had hardly any equipment… the other challenge is the fact that… We just want people to see what we are doing and help us by going out with a little bag or something, you know, doing their solo picks on their own as well. I’m trying to change people’s habits and if they see there’s a bottle on the floor, instead of walking past it, be like: Actually… I’m just going to pick that up and, well, do the good thing I guess.
Change is where you can grow and achieve the things you want to achieve in life. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got any life conditions, you can achieve anything you want to achieve, you’ve just got to believe in yourself and just go for it.
I have Aspergers and anxiety. I went all the way through school and I was judged for being different (which wasn’t good) and being bullied. I didn’t let those things stand in my way. I believe you’ve got to take one step at a time to achieve the goals that you want to achieve in life. Writing the steps down. This step is: let’s do the planning. What is it I want to achieve? How am I going to achieve it? Who’s going to help me achieve these goals? The next step would be: going out and doing it. Going and asking people. Exploring. The final step is probably: just sticking with it, because it will happen. It will work. You’ve just got to stay with it.
By running the litter picking group I’ve learned to be more patient, because not everything is going to happen all at once. You’ve just got to grin and bear everything, and stay with it, and take deep breaths - and it will eventually come.
I’ll start off by saying I’m a member of the Bicester Concert Band, which is a well established, thriving band. It’s been going for over 20 years now. We’ve always been involved in local life, local fetes, Bicester festival… and lockdown hit us quite hard. When the news broke about lockdown we found we had to stop rehearsing. Wind instruments are well known for the aerosol effect, so it was just too dangerous for us to meet up.
It was really hard for some people, because it’s their socialising… their weekly meet up with other people to play instruments and get a chance to socialise as well. So it hit everyone quite hard. Our chairperson Rosalind and conductor Wendy took rehearsals online and set up all the zoom rehearsals and things like that. So that took off quite well.
The only problem is, for some people who play instruments that are quite loud, you’re unable to play in your own household. So that was quite an obstacle to overcome. It was quite hard to accept that I couldn’t play and do things that I was otherwise doing every week.
However, to overcome that, Wendy and Rosalind set up some virtual pieces. Which was great! Because it meant I could practice, in my own time, with a noisy instrument in the household - without upsetting the neighbours too much by making lots of noise in the evenings. Then I could record the pieces in my own time. It was quite hard, because I’m not used to video recording and filming myself playing an instrument. I felt quite self conscious.
I found a lot of strength through the fact I could still take part in band activities - albeit different to what we’re used to. It was quite nerve wracking trying to record things. I think I recorded some spices about 6 or 7 times before I was happy with the recording. Trying to get it ‘just so’ so that it could be shown online. That was quite an obstacle for me. However, I overcame that and as a band we produced 2 virtual recordings. It was a big motivational piece of work for me because I could still be in the band, and I still felt included.
I think change is good. It’s challenging but I think it forces you to look at things in a new light, look at new solutions to problems. It’ll take a bit of searching for ideas, how you are going to do it and go about it - but if you put your mind to something and really want it, you can find ways around things. Yeah, I found strength to know that if you try hard enough (and you want it) anything can be achieved really.
I think half of my life has been a challenge. Me and a lot of my friends also. And we just find that we - a bit like the Lion King - we laugh in the face of adversity now. So many things seem to be a challenge these days… But also, there’s lots of good things that go on. Really really good things.
I’ve really loved it since I’ve been working for this charity. All my volunteers and my assistant manager, who was a volunteer, they are such lovely people. You know, it’s so nice to be around people like that.
When you find something that you really really like, even though you still get other challenges - you just need to look at all the positives, rather than look at all the negatives all the time. That’s what I try to do, constantly.
Well it’s not a small example, I’ve got two children and I brought them up on my own. But you’ve got to be thankful for what you’ve got. You know, still enjoy them and still delight in what they are, even though sometimes things are really hard.
Again, I think it’s just looking at the positives rather than looking at the negatives. That doesn’t mean to say that I’m always upbeat and I’m always happy - because sometimes things do get you down. But I think you’ve got to jump back up again. Get back on the bandwagon again.
I just feel really really strong. A lot of that is down to some really close friends of mine, who’ve really helped me through things. I think that at the end of it, you come out feeling much stronger - because when stupid stuff happens you tend to sort of just laugh at it. You go “Actually, if you think that’s a problem, then… I’ve seen a lot worse than that.” So it does make you a lot stronger at the end of the day.
So this is my story of recycling the crap of my early life, into something positive in my older life.
I spent all of my childhood being told I was not good enough, never going to be good enough, not going to be able to do anything. I was then married to a man who also believed that I was useless and not good for anything. I think that was my, kind of, take on me: this is who I am, this is just the way it is. I was quite accepting and I was an appeaser. I would never ever do anything that I thought would cause conflict - I hated conflict and I would avoid it. I always say that I was the person who, if someone stood on my foot, I would apologise for having my foot there. I think I’d always been like that.
I just reached a point in my life where my children had all left home - I’d eventually left, after 16 years, an abusive marriage - and I thought to myself “I want to do something… I want to DO something.”
So I thought to myself, what I want to do is I want to help other women who’ve been through what I’ve been through. My daughter had also been through a terrible relationship and I said to her “What I want to do is start a charity.” And what she said was “Do you know anything about starting a charity?” And I said “Not a thing. Not a clue. I don’t know what to do, but I reckon I could look it up.”
So I did. I looked it up, how to start a charity. And we started the charity. At the beginning we were just seeing people locally. But over the last 12 years the one thing we’ve really struggled with is money. We’ve never had any money. We’ve gotten to points where there was no money - not even to pay anything, we literally had 10 pence in the bank. Someone had said “You’re going to have to close down.”
The idea that I would just close down, to me seemed insurmountable. I was like “I can’t. I can’t give up on it.” But they said “You’ve got nothing. You’ve got no money, you’ve got NOTHING. What are you going to do?” I said “I don’t know, but I know that I can’t give up.” And the next day, some money arrived and I thought “Cool. That’s good.”
Then we had someone come and do a health assessment on the charity and they said “Basically, financially you’re not viable. You have no stability and you’re never going to last.” And I said “But what I have got is passion.” And he said “You’ve got passion by the bucket loads, but it isn’t going to pay the bills.” And I said “I know it isn’t going to pay the bills, but I reckon that if I can just keep going another couple of years I can get stability.” And they were like “No. You’re going to have to close it down. You’re going to have to shut.” I just said to my daughter “It’s not happening. It’s not happening. I’m not shutting. I don’t care what anyone says. I’ll just see people for nothing if I have to, but I’m not shutting.”
She, like me, has a lot of passion for what we do. Year on year, we always get to the point where we’ve got no money. We always wonder how we’re going to pay the wages? How are we going to live? What are we going to live on? But… always something happens.
My strength is: believing in something so strongly that, even when it seems insurmountable, I will not let go.
When I think back to my earlier life, I gave in too easily to things. When people said I couldn’t, I accepted that I couldn’t - but I think as I’ve gotten older, when people say I can’t, I’m kind of like “Watch me.” I’m proud of myself for that, because that’s something I would never have recognised in myself before - But actually, I can see that now.
I am strong - and I’m stronger than I’ve ever been before.
We’re going to go back to about a year and a half ago. It was just before the pandemic hit and nobody really knew what Covid was, or what it was like. I showed up to my previous job - and I started getting a bit of a cough and a bit of a tickle whilst I was there at work. I started struggling breathing. Everybody around me had no idea what was happening. We ended up leaving work that day and going “Ok… am I alright?” We ended up going into hospital because it was so severe. My eyes were starting to cloud up and my breathing was really ragged. I was there for a while - which was really tough because I was hoping to stay at work and get through this. Especially as all the headlines started pouring in - and I was realising “Oh my god, this is such a big thing, what am I going to do?” After that I was off work for such a long time. So during that time I came up with a plan to move away from my parents house - to move into a new job, a new role, a whole new place…
I set up my own mask business. So during a time when nobody had masks, nobody had any extra PPE or anything like that - it was all running really low - I kind of made just a few masks. Just 5… 6… and then it started turning into orders of 20… 40… 60… And I was like “Oh my gosh, this is really taking off!”
It was really difficult to kind of get by all those hurdles and go - yeah, I do actually want to go somewhere. But also, You are tying yourself to a place when you start a little small business like that. It was going “Ok, when do I stop and move somewhere?”
After the first lockdown lifted, I’d made enough to make a deposit to come all the way to Bicester. So I came here and I stared to become the person that I am today. Getting over Covid, I still have side effects to this day. My lungs are still not great, but I am still going through with that - and still wanting to try hard, and get better, and make it work for everyone.
Yeah, for sure, I am strong. I am one strong lady!
I’ve been on and off with anxiety attacks… and then my sister needed help trying to find a curtain rail. I ended up going to get a curtain rail and driving to the house, dropping this curtain rail off, but walking into a - sort of this wall of tension - where the house was full of tension. The kids were running one direction and the adults were sitting there kind of… not talking, but talking.
I ended up talking to my baby sister, and I said to her “Stay strong. You have to keep strong and you will get through this.”
Afterwards, a few weeks later, she said “Actually… those words actually helped me get through it. It gave me the strength to fight through.”
I always have been wanting to help others to get through - and I achieved that by helping my sister stay strong. I’ve been through a similar thing as she’s going through - and just to hear someone saying “You can go through this” and “You are strong enough to get through this - so you are a strong person.” Just go with it - and just keep strong - and just keep your head above water, because you are an important person. Just as important as everybody else in this world.
So yes. I’m a lot stronger than I was four years ago.
So… Just breathing is a sign of strength. The background is: my children aren’t with me, through no fault of my own. But I have to just breathe.
Every day, as a woman, the media tells you that you’re weak or feeble - or you’re too emotional. But that’s not a bad thing, because you’re still breathing.
I get up every day and I breathe - and it’s the hardest thing in the world, when you’re grieving for someone who hasn’t even died. You have to put on a mask and a brave face, when inside, you’re just hitting a brick wall. But you just keep breathing.
For people in my situation (where you’re children aren’t with you, but they’re still living) you get that monthly reminder of womanhood, of motherhood, with your period - and you just have to breathe. And it hurts. But you keep breathing. And sometimes it feels like there is no choice, because I’ve seen that damage that losing a parent at a young age can cause. My Dad lost his mum when he was 17 - and the trauma that that had on him has then impacted on me as a child - and I could never do that to my own children.
So you just keep breathing.
And you keep breathing.
I’m told I’m strong. So I must be. I’m strong. I just keep breathing.
I do feel strong. I do feel emotionally strong, mentally strong - maybe not physically…
It must have been 24 years ago. We had 2 children of our own and after our second child was born I was told I could no longer have more children because it had been a very traumatic birth. So we decided to look into fostering. We had a brother and sister come to us and they were just adorable - very very hard work, but great. They had 2 older siblings that were separated. We didn’t like the idea of these poor 4 children being in 3 different homes, so we asked if they could all come to us… even though we only had a 3 bedroom house. Me and my husband slept on the sofa downstairs and we bought bunk beds.
So we managed to get all these children - 6 children under the age of 6. After about 18 months we decided that we would like to adopt the children. It was just something that we wanted to do, we just felt that we had space (not necessarily in our home, but in our hearts) that we could take it on. Our birth children have been absolutely incredible - they were towers of strength, and still are.
They’re now adults. My birth children are 30 and 28. The others are 30, 28, 26 and 23. Since then we’ve gone on to foster more children and it’s been very very rewarding - it’s been challenging as well. I’ve had to be strong with some of the challenges we’ve faced, but we’ve loved every minute of it.
We’re just in the process of adopting a little girl. She’s been with us since she was 4. She’s now 15 and she really wants to be adopted, so we’re just going through the court application now to do that.
It’s been tough at times, but it’s been worth it in the end.
One of our adopted children, she’s got a 3 year old and she’s just about to have another baby as well, so they’ve made us grandparents too. It’s been great. So that is our story really… and where the strength came from? I’ve got no idea. You just manage to find it, don’t you.
Before I came to the UK, I was working as a nurse. I was really enjoying my work. My husband was doing business at the time, but the economy bubble burst, so he lost financial things… He decided to come here, thinking it would be a couple of years and them he would come back. So I was there at home with 2 kids, really enjoying work, but obviously I missed my husband and the children were missing their dad.
A year later my husband was thinking “Should we come here?” He was convincing me to come. At the time, I wasn’t ready. My English wasn’t very good. I was trying to say no, no, no… but he kept convincing me to come, and finally I came. It was really hard in the first year. I think I was really weak at the time: mentally, spiritually, everything. Feeling like I made a big mistake to come here.
I had to leave my daughter at home, because we came to join my husband’s sister (she was here already) and she was “If you bring your daughter, she’s too young. You can’t work - and you can’t be here without working.” We understood that living costs are quite expensive here. It was a very difficult decision for me, but we had my brother in law who didn’t have kids and they were very happy to look after my daughter until she became school aged. At the time she was 2.
The first year I was really weak. Feeling guilty all the time. I lost weight. At the end of the year I said “I’ve got to go back, to se my daughter.” I went back, but a year had passed and my daughter became a bit distant. That made me feel really bad. She didn’t take a long time, she came back. She was being looked after really well by my brother in law and his wife, they love her so much.
Suddenly I felt really strong, because when I went home, people at home were saying to me “Oh you are so lucky! You work in the Uk.” In my mind I was thinking “Am I lucky?” But it made me feel strong, the words that people said.
I came back and became strong. Ready to fight. Read to make life change: to start learning English, to register with the NMC. When I came back I just felt like “I’m ready to do everything” - and I did. It took 3 or 4 years to get registered and become a nurse. After 3 years she came to join us. When she came, my uncle brought her, they wanted to see us as well. She just looked at me and said “I’m only coming for a holiday.” So she was telling me “I’m not staying with you, I’m going to stay with my uncle.” She didn’t take long… My uncle stayed 2 weeks and then he went back home - and she didn’t even ask to go back home with him. Yeah, she loves being here. I think she feels she is lucky now. She’s 22, it’s a great age.
That’s my story. It’s a hard story, but now I feel like… I’m lucky. I’m strong. I’ve been strong since the first year when I went back home. I’ve been strong… yeah.
What story shall I say about my life? Ok… I was diagnosed with breast cancer. In my country (I’m from the Philippines) it was the year 2014, I had a lump removed from my right breast. The result was non-cancerous, so I was happy for that. After that lump was removed, the doctor told me that there was another lump there, but he did not take it - so I was assuming that it was not cancerous.
I met my second husband here [in the UK]. He advised me to go for a check and they took out this second lump - and unfortunately that was cancerous. I didn’t know what to do - and I went back to the Philippines. So I got my operation there. I got my chemo, my radiation. So my husband came back here and after my treatment, I came back as well.
Then my cancer came back again. 2017. So we went to the hospital. The surgeon lady told us “We can not do anything now. You are in palliative. Stage 4.” So, oh my God. We both cried, my husband and me. But luckily I met an oncologist “So what did the doctor tell you?” … “Oh I’m on palliative, there’s nothing to do.” But the oncologist said “Don’t you know, we can cure that.” … “Oh, thank you very much” I said. So I went for another chemo here. After that I got my antibodies, every 3 weeks. It’s painful, but what do you do? I want to be strong and alive!
Then in July my oncologist phoned me… my antibodies are not working. “Oh my God” I said “What shall we do?” … “Oh don’t worry Julie, I’ll find another option for your treatment. There are so many treatments for cancer.” She said… “Oh thank you very much for that!” So I’m coming to meet her on Thursday. So I guess I just want to keep on going.
I have been working hard. Some of my friends and family advise me to cut back my hours. I said “No. I want to keep on going.” They advise me not to work at all. I said “No. I want to come here and keep on going.” Be strong, you know? Be strong and do the job. Looking after people.
So sometimes, I feel like my body… My mind wants to do something, but my body wants to give up. But I always pray. I always pray that I will give me more life. That’s what I am always praying: give me more life to live. You know? “Oh god, come on Julie, keep on going.” I just think positive. That’s it. That’s why I am still here. So if my friend will ask me how I am? “Still alive” I say.
But at the moment I am losing weight as well. It’s a hard life, yeah? So whenever I walk with my husband… “Can I hold your hand?”… and I keep on walking. I want to enjoy my life.
If it’s a night off, he takes me to the cinema. We go to the pub. We go shopping. Those are my small hobbies. And also here [at work]. So one time when we were short of staff, I wanted to phone in sick. But I can not, because I don’t want to let them down. “Just keep on going. Think positive” I said…
“We’re worried about you” they say. “No. We can do it” I say.
I’m so lucky like that. You keep on going and think positive. Yes. I always think positive. “I can do it”… I just encourage myself.
“Come on Julie. You can do it.”
Ok. This is regarding my father. He had a stroke 17 years ago. He was recovering very well, with my mum looking after him and my brother was there. But suddenly, recently, he passed away. In recent years his memory was becoming worse and his stroke was getting really bad. He couldn’t use his hands. I think he had a couple of mini strokes. Then he was admitted into hospital and my brother called me to go home and see him, but I couldn’t go that time. I have kids at home and my husband couldn’t take days off that time.
My father came home and he was incontinent and needed lots of help with is personal things, daily routines, everything, feeding as well. Then after 2 weeks he deteriorated suddenly. He was only 72, but he deteriorated suddenly. We knew that it was coming. When he was admitted agin into hospital the doctor had to tell me “You need to come home. We need to make a decision.”
I flew back home. He was in an intensive care unit. He didn’t recognise anybody or anything. Then the doctor said “You have to decide now, whether to continue the treatment for the stroke.“ But if you continue, the quality of life is very poor.
As a nurse, it’s very difficult when your own father and mother come to this, isn’t it? With a patient it’s different, completely different. I was shocked. I didn’t know what to do. I thought, you know, I’m very strong - and that thing to choose whether to take that decision…. But I couldn’t take that decision.
My mum is looking at me… my brother is looking at me… they all are looking at me… everybody is looking at me. I couldn’t take the decision. I though, my step brother is older than me, so he can take the decision, but he said no. So then I told the doctors “I need some time to think. To discuss it with the family.” So I have to tell them, this is happening. So we have to make a decision. We have to make our father comfortable, not with all these tubes and everything. I would like him to be palliative (so to come home and sit with him)>. I told the doctor “Yeah, we can stop all the medication and everything now.”
It was a big decision to make, because my younger brother is looking at me “How can you take that decision like this?” Then I had to talk to him and I told him “So he can’t eat anything, we have to put the tube… and he won’t be very happy with any of this, he might take the tube out, because he gets agitated… and you don’t want to see your father like that do you?”
I had to make that big decision for my brother and sister, my elder brother and… but when I discussed everything with everybody, they understood what I meant. As soon as I told my mum, she said “Yeah, you made a good decision, because I know the time has come for that.”
Oh that was a big thing in my life. He didn’t make it though, to home or anything. 2 days after we discussed everything, he passed away in hospital. But it was really hard for me to make that decision, because everybody is looking to you… They are thinking, because I’m a nurse, that I know much more. They are expecting some miracle from me, that I can not do. That was really, really….
When I come here [back to the UK] I cry. I cry and cry “why did I take that decision?” But I get over it… He was happy to sit out, without any tubes, you know? We could hold his hand and he could see the family members…
Yes. I would definitely say that I am strong. Definitely. To make that decision about your family member… Definitely… I would say that I am strong. Very much!
[Trigger Warning: Eating Disorder]
About 2 years ago, I was in 6th form. It was in my first year of 6th form that I started to struggle with self image and how I was seen at school and all that. It started off pretty slowly, skipping meals and stuff like that, drinking excessive water to make myself feel fuller… It gradually developed into bulimia and general anxiety towards eating anything. So, you know, a cup of tea would be too much for me. Counting calories on gum packs, and stuff like that. But I never really wanted to do anything about it. It was just part of life then.
My mum had previously struggled [with an eating disorder] and she caught me, basically caught me out on it. It upset her so much that I decided: I’m going to try to get better. So I find strength in doing it for my mum.
She recovered… and I wanted to do right by her, because she didn’t bring me into this world for me to bugger it up.
So basically, for 2 years on and off, it was very difficult. I saw counsellors at school. Every now and then I do slip sometimes. I don’t slip into the bad habits, but I do slip back into self criticising. It can be in various ways, it can be physical appearance to “I’m not smart enough” and “you’re awful” stuff like that.
I think that coming into nursing has really helped as well, because you have to be well within yourself in order to look after people. So that’s really helped me push myself to the next level and the next steps of recovery. I’m getting better.
I have a younger sister and I would hate for her to talk to herself the way that I talk to myself. So I decided that I’m going to set an example here and do the best by myself. Hopefully she’ll learn those habits. Whenever she’s talking to herself and she’s like “I wish I was that way…” I’d be like “but why would you wish you were that way? Why would you wish that you were like anyone else? Because then you wouldn’t be you, would you?”
Basically, I find it easier to do things for myself, knowing that it will benefit other people… so I can be my best self for the next person I come into contact with. If I was still in such a bad place, these’s no way I would be able to provide care and love for anyone else, because I wouldn’t be able to do it for myself. I don’t think I’d be here today if I didn’t find strength in doing it for other people.
I am strong. I’m definitely doing my best to do it… strong. Yeah.
I’m originally from the Caribbean. I came here about 18 years back, because my husband was here with the British Forces and he took me and my kids here. 6 years ago he decided to leave the army and he packed up and he - well actually I got home from work and he had left. So that was his second time moving out. And he left…
I was still working but I had to reduce my hours, because that was a big shock to my system. I had 3 small children at the time, so I had to be thinking of them. I wasn’t thinking of myself, just the kids. So I was going to work and nobody knew what was happening with me. I was just losing weight and they thought I was on a diet… until I actually said “this is what’s happening.”
So he left for 2 years. Once he left the army that means we would have to leave as well, because we weren’t entitled then to live in the army accommodation. Then it so happened that the council helped and I got a house, where I am living now. And he came back, just when I got the house, because he was now being made redundant. I took him back because I wanted to give my marriage the chance, and I did it for the kids.
As I said, he was made redundant and in the 8th month, he got the money and didn’t tell me. I wasn’t involved with the money at all. He wouldn’t let me be a part of planning what we were doing. Nothing. So I confronted him about something that I saw, something that I heard… and he went BOOF. That was like a trigger he was waiting on. So I came to work as normal, and went home, went into the closet to get something and his section was empty. So he went. I was asking the kids “where’s your dad?” And they said “He left.” He came back a week after and said he had bought a house and the kids can visit.
For me I think the way I look at things is: I can’t allow myself to be broken, because I have to be strong for my kids. I have friends, really good friends that I can call and cry and cuss and they let me do that. But in the end you have to take your own self and say “what do I need to do?”
During that time I started my training, so I had a lot going on. He left in February and I started my training in April. I did my driving the same year, and I did my maths exam the same year. I was doing a lot! I look back on it and I think actually, everything works out in my favour, because I was distracted by my course. I didn’t have the time to sit and feel sorry for myself. I was sorting the kids out. I was getting stuff done.
I like to keep things to myself and I like to work it out in my head. I need to put it in a box where I can deal with it, because I have to analyse it. Even at work here they say “Marleen you never ever complain”. They never see me upset. I don’t know, I’m not that type. I do get upset you know, I do, but I’ve come through the darkness.
When it just started, the first time, you would never cry. Never. You would never catch me cry. And then I remember one night, I woke up in my sleep crying. I called my friend, she lives in Nottingham, and the only thing she said to me was “Marleen, I’m here.” She didn’t say another word and I cried for like 4 hours. That was the first time I cried. It’s like that was a cleansing for my soul, for everything. And since then, I haven’t looked back.
It’s not like you want t go out and tell everybody your business, but you know, you have friends and colleagues that you can say “actually, this is happening.” It gives you a different perspective. But then coming to the conclusion that - actually, I’ve done that! I could have broken down, I could have decided to go any other way. I’m like… bloody hell, I’ve done that! And I’ve done it on my own.
I am strong. I am. And I’m very resilient. Very. To work in the health sector, you have to be resilient.
So back in March of this year I was told that I was being made redundant. I did work for a school and they basically said that my job role was no longer needed - which makes you feel a bit useless, a bit of a failure. It’s a position that’s redundant, it’s not a person that’s redundant, but that’s not how you feel. You just feel as if somebody doesn’t want you any more. That they don’t need you. Structure changes within the school meant that the job wasn’t there, but it just makes you feel as if you’re not wanted.
I’ve never been out of work before. I’ve worked since I was 17. Never been out of a job and then all of a sudden you think “What am I going to do? I’m too young to not go back to work, how am I going to continue?” You doo feel as if… useless is a word that is in the back of my mind.
I worked until the end of term and was lucky enough to find myself another job, in the hospital. So I went from feeling not wanted - to actually feeling as if somebody needed me. I was lucky. It makes you feel wanted when somebody says “Yes, you’re exactly what we want for the role.” Knowing, when you apply for jobs, that somebody actually sees your worth - That you are a stronger person. That you can go out there and you can find yourself more work.
You’ve moved forward. I’ve proved to myself that I am wanted. That I can do a good job for somebody else, in a different environment. It makes me feel good, the fact that I have been able to find another job. It’s made me feel that I can go out there and do something for myself.
I feel that I am strong. I’ve moved on to a different experience, a different time in my life - and I do feel stronger for it.
I made the decision, after my husband had the shop (we’ve had it 2 years now… We have the upstairs which has just been renovated into a studio) and it was always my intention to come into the studio and to run it.
Although not having any studio experience, I have some event space experience. I’ve worked in conference centres and things like that, but didn’t really know much about photography.
So I took the decision to give my notice, it was a 3 month notice. Things were doing really well in the shop. I worked through my notice, trained up the girl who was taking over from me and everything was fine. It came December and I left that job to come and work for myself and my husband in our shop, in Imagex. I would run the upstairs in the studio and the bottom would potter along as it has done for the last 2 years, doing the photographic business.
In December, when I decided to do that, 2 weeks in, we went into lockdown. So here I am, really busy, really stressful job before hand - and I’m sitting here, twiddling my thumbs, looking at a space with nobody in it. Thinking, not only “Where is the next wages packet coming from?” but “What am I doing with myself?”
So we thought about it a little while and thought “Ok. Let’s open it to the community… let’s see if there are people around who are stuck in lockdown, without a space, and see if they need a space. Because I need a person that is in the space.”
There was a time there, especially in those first couple of weeks, where I was new to the business and I didn’t really know what I was doing. I ha come from a job where I knew it like the back of my hand. Here I am in my own business - I’ve got no one to ask what I do. I’m literally thinking on my feet. It was difficult, you know, because you’ve got nobody to ask:
What do I do? Who do I go to? Who do I go and see? How can I do this?
So you have to really think about yourself. I had to go online and do some investigation and look at how other people have been working through the lockdown. Just to see how I can find my way…. Doing that I’ve found a little bit more independence.
I don’t have to look to that person to try to find the answer, I can look within myself and hopefully I can find the answer myself. That’s made me more aware of how I can work independently - and obviously can guide my team as well. And here we are today! The studio is doing very well and now I know that I am very strong.
I am from South Africa. A little over 12 years ago I had a son and I got really sick. I got what is called Post-Partum-Myopathy, which essentially means in layman’s terms that I am allergic to having children.
After I had him and the hormones were released to tell my organs to move back into place, that the hormones actually attacked my heart. I went into kidney failure first. They took me into ICU. I was in ICU for 2 weeks. Literally 2 days after having my baby, they took him away from me. I had to fight for my life and all of that stuff.
I just got worse and worse and worse and nobody knew what was wrong with me. I was struggling to walk. I was struggling to breathe. I was struggling with just the simplest of tasks. Eventually, 2 or 3 month later they actually discovered that it was my heart, because it’s such a rare condition. Then it was a fight to try to fix eye heart, which was at 25% function. We fought and fought and fought and I got my first pacemaker, that had a built in defibrillator. But I was going into defibrillation so often that it just kept on shocking me (like 17 or 18 times in a row) and that almost killed me. So I was stuck in ICU for that little bit. I’m now on my third pacemaker and luckily it’s settled down with the right amount of medication and all of that stuff.
My ex-husband was incredibly abusive and awful, so I’ve got a bit of PTSD from that. I found out that this ex had been abusive towards my son. That gave me the strength to be like “You know what, no. I’m done.” I thought that I was taking the brunt of it, to protect my kid, but it turns out that that’s not the case. This man was sucking every bit of joy out of my life.
BUT… I divorced him and got married to my best friend of 5 years and we moved over here with my son. Saved up for a year, packed everything up and left. It’s been hard, but we’ve got each other and I guess with the support of my family really. My mum and dad and I are really very close - and I have such amazing friends.
When you have people who you’ve got such a strong connection with, it does strengthen you. We are starting our new life and we’re really happy. It turned out OK I guess. Yeah. I’m pretty strong. I am a fighter.