We earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article.
We turned the tables this festive season and treated three women who spend their lives looking after others to a day where they’re the centre of attention…
Patsyann Rose is 41 and lives in Surrey. She owns Barnfield Riding School in Kingston upon Thames and is a lead coach for the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA)
When I saw the work the RDA volunteers were doing at the Barnfield Riding School in Kingston upon Thames where I kept my horse, I just had to get involved. I worked in the City in banking for years but horses were always my passion.
I saw first-hand the psychological and physical benefits that just one half-hour rising session could have for a disabled person – the gentle, regular motion of the horse relaxes and soothes the rider, as well as building up their muscle strength and confidence.
I never dreamt at that stage that one day I might end up running the stables and be able to support the RDA in their valuable work to an even greater degree.
But ten years ago I quit my job in the bank and moved out to Surrey, where I spend my week volunteering at the stables. I was the happiest I’d been in a long time. When, earlier this year, Jacquie, who owned the riding school retired, I jumped at the chance to take over.
Getting up in all weathers to start my 16-hour day mucking out the horses and grooming them ahead of a day of teaching at the stables is exhausting, but seeing the look on the riders’ faces when they arrive makes the long days worthwhile.
It’s amazing watching the people I coach improve. I’ve been coaching Jade, an adult rider who is a wheelchair user, for four years. Seeing her arrive looking tired after the two-hour journey she makes to the stable each week, and then seeing her face beaming as she relaxes on the horse is lovely and I was so proud when, last year, she won a dressage competition against able-bodied riders.
I’m lucky to spend my days with the horses, I love how patient and intuitive they are. When Olivia, a 19-year-old with severe epilepsy who has about ten seizures a week, came to Barnfield, being able to offer her an opportunity to ride felt great because she’d been turned down by other riding schools due of the severity of the condition.
I was amazed when one day, she was trotting on Nevada – one of our most trusted horses with a gentle temperament – and began having a seizure, and Nevada stopped in her tracks and remained completely calm as I made my way over the Olivia. I love my horses for that, the way they communicate through feelings still astonishes me.
Claire Cook, 37, lives in Liverpool with her two children, Lucia, 11, and Samuel, five. She is chief executive of Employability Solutions, alternative education centres in Liverpool and Huddersfield, which she founded with her business partner, Nadia, in 2012 to help 14-19-year-olds improve their career prospects.
I’ve always felt passionate about tackling social exclusion and dreamt about working for myself. So, when I was made redundant from my job working with young people at a local community organisation during the recession in 2011, I saw it as the push I needed to set up my own social enterprise.
Around the same time, the financial cuts forced the organisation to drop a contract working with young people who had been excluded from mainstream education so, along with my colleague Nadia, who was made redundant at the same time, we began meeting them to offer advice on their next steps.
After reading that the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) offered hands-on help to start-up businesses, I thought, “This is perfect!” So I got in touch and I was thrilled when, after presenting a pitch, they agreed to support me to set up an alternative education centre. The funding enabled us to set up a base in Garston, and the networking opportunities that arose from being linked with the SSE were even more valuable.
Along with Nadia and a team of 22 others, I create a unique education programme for each individual. Helping young people excluded from mainstream education to focus on subjects they enjoy makes them feel in control of their learning and helps them stay on track. We support them to gain qualifications, experience and increase their employability so they can create a better future for themselves. Walking into the centre now and seeing up to 55 young people engaged in learning, I feel really proud.
Geraldine Sheedy, 51, lives in Godalming, Surrey with her 16-year-old daughter Imogen. She’s the head of care at Christopher’s hospice, the Guildford branch of Shooting Star Chase, a charity that cares for children with life-limiting conditions, and their families.
Starting work at Christopher’s hospice after 25 years working as a nurse in the NHS, I became the nurse I’d always wanted to be. Because we only have up to seven children in the hospice at a time, I can help make every moment count for them – it’s not just about medical care. Each day I feel like I’ve done everything I can.
I’m so inspired by how amazingly resilient poorly children are – they are going through the unimaginable but always have a smile on their face.
Being head of care, I’m on call 24/7. I’m good at switching off when I get home but when there’s an emergency, I slip straight back into work mode.
It’s tough at times. I was really touched by a case four years ago when a boy called Matthias, who had an incurable tumour in his pelvis, came in for end-of-life care. He was the same age as my daughter and I often imagined myself in his mum, Rosie’s shoes.
Seeing him meet the footballer Steven Gerrard, who visited him just before he died, is a memory I’ll treasure. It was the last thing to tick off his bucket list. As Matthias’s eyes lit up and he gave the biggest smile I’ve seen, Rosie’s face was filled with happiness, but also sadness. She could let Matthias go, knowing he’d done all he wanted to do.
Witnessing moments like that and hearing throwaway comments like, “This is the best children’s hotel I’ve ever stayed in, mummy!”, I know I’m making a difference to these families’ lives and I feel a real sense of purpose.
Read more in this month’s issue of Woman & Home…