Proud and humbled to play a part

Proud and humbled to play a part

IT is most humbling as a journalist – and a parent – to interview a mum talking so openly about her experience with child bereavement.

No parent should ever have to endure the agony of burying their son or daughter and only those who have been through these darkest of times could truly empathise with the pain that the rest of us can, thankfully, only imagine.

Molly enjoys a special ballet lesson for her fourth birthday just one month after diagnosis.

Rachel Ollerenshaw’s daughter Molly lost a brave five-year battle with cancer in June 2011. As a mum of two myself, it is impossible to comprehend how I would summon the strength to continue functioning again – and I find Rachel to be an inspiration.

The family, while not part of our social circles, have been a constant feature of our community network for some years. My eldest son attended the same school as Molly and indeed was in the same class as her brother Ben. Like most others in the school playground, I followed her cancer fight from the ‘safety’ of the sidelines and remember vividly the awful day her death was announced. 

Also, like most others, I struggled with finding the right words of comfort. After all, what does one say at times like this? Would it come across as disingenuous? Would it be too upsetting for her? In hindsight I wish I’d said – or done – more.

It is for all these reasons and more that I have great pride in working alongside Rachel and her husband Tim eight years on. Through their charity Molly Olly’s Wishes they continue to celebrate their beautiful daughter’s legacy in the most wonderful way – by raising money to help change the lives of others going through life-threatening illnesses.

And I have pledged to put my (not inconsiderate) weight behind their continuing campaign to raise awareness and, ultimately, funds, for this most worthy of causes.

Molly Ollerenshaw’s journey was an arduous one – a tough ask for one so delicate in years. Diagnosed with a rare Wilms tumour in late 2006 soon after becoming unwell on a family day out, over the course of the next four-and-a-half years she underwent 11 operations which included removing her left kidney, part of her bowel and part of her liver, many months of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, stem cell transplants and blood and platelet transfusions.

But while Molly’s physical strength was weak, her spirit was remarkably strong – and, with the support of her family, she stayed determined to embrace all the challenges that lay ahead. 

Molly joined the CLIC Sargent Youth Advisory Group to help improve the lives of children with cancer and, in 2010, narrated an Ardmann Studios short animated film designed as a guide for coping with radiotherapy. It is being widely used today in the UK and overseas to help improve the patient experience.

After fighting off three tumours, March 2011 was to bring the news the family had dreaded – the cancer had returned again.

It was to be just two and a half precious months until Molly slipped away at the family home on 15th June 2011 with mum and dad by her side.

Tim and Rachel had spent a large part of those five years in and out of hospital and soon realised that many of the patients they met did not benefit from the emotional or financial support that they had received for Molly and her siblings.

Driven by this – and a determination to keep Molly’s legacy alive – Molly Olly’s Wishes was officially born in September 2011.

Among its work, the charity grants special wishes to children and hands out Olly the Brave packs to hospitals which include a therapeutic toy lion with his own Hickman line and detachable mane (to help normalise the hair loss that comes with chemotherapy) as well as a purpose-written book called Olly The Brave And The Wigglys, which explains the journey through terminal illness in a child-friendly language.

Rachel tells me how the experience has opened her eyes to the abundance of goodwill around her. It’s been a journey of discovery in so many ways – but also a rewarding one. In what better direction is there to move on with your life after loss than helping others with theirs?

Rachel’s words to me resonate but none more so than when she reminds me that this is the sort of thing you always hear about but never believe will happen to you. This is something every parent can relate to. It doesn’t bear thinking about for most of us.

But families like the Ollerenshaws have no choice – and we should never underestimate the courage and determination they’ve continued to demonstrate through the work that’s led to the huge success of this charity.

Thank you Rachel and family for letting me in to share the next chapter of this most precious of journeys with you. I hope I can play at least a small part in helping you to help the charity keep helping others.

On that note. . . ‘How can we donate?,” I hear you all ask! It couldn’t be easier. Just click here.

Thank you.

 

 

SO, now what do I do?

SO, now what do I do?

IT’S been 30 years of rude awakenings by my alarm clock signalling the start of another working day at the office.

Since taking the decision to go freelance and work from home, would I be in for a rude awakening of a very different sort?

Well, yes.

First, let me be very clear about one thing – I love being a journalist, I’m proud of my achievements and have absolutely no regrets about my path in life. Three decades at the coalface of local news gathering, learning my stock-in trade from cub reporter all the way up to editor, has been the adventure of a lifetime. It is the environment in which I have done most of my growing and learned most about people.

I have made lifelong friends and lifelong memories and they will continue to be cherished forever.

So why am I now tossing away the comfort blanket of my career and taking what can only be acknowledged as a ‘leap into the unknown?’

At 48, I’m too young to retire but old enough to bring a wealth of experience to the table. I still have a lot to offer and there’s plenty more time to explore new avenues and ideas.

But, at 48, I’ve also finally ‘come of age’, discovering new maturity and the courage to be true to myself and to make necessary change in my life.

Sad to say however, it was a decision also partly driven by the changing face of the industry.

An industry in transition

For more than two centuries the morning newspaper was as much a central feature of every household as tea and jam. And it’s certainly been my bread and butter for an entire career.

For any print journalist hushed talk of ‘the future of newspapers’ is like addressing the elephant in the room. But there will always be a need for quality journalism – the question is, just in what form?

The pen may be mightier than the sword – but there’s also a reluctant realisation that cuts as deep as any blade.

As the modern era of news consumerism takes hold, so the industry has had to adapt.

Continued changing social trends and growing digital domination has impacted heavily on newspaper sales and advertising revenues, readers instead opting to swipe their way through the headlines on all manner of devices.

You have only to look at the industry headlines on a daily basis to get a worrying forecast as titles tumble and publishing groups record huge losses.

Research shows news is as popular as ever, but busier lives and a growing appetite for short soundbites and social media forums is taking its toll on the printed product. As an editor of more than four years I can state that categorically – and I take no pleasure in it.

Despite this, I believe it is vitally important we never lose sight of a local newspaper’s USP – investigative and championing journalism with its roots set firmly in the local community.

But, with leaner budgets and fewer resources than ever before, quality journalism is becoming harder to fund. That’s why community newspapers with trained and passionate journalists  should be cherished and, most importantly, supported. If you’ve not had occasion to call upon a local journalist to step in on your behalf, one day you just might. And I hope they’re still there, being tenacious and campaigning for their readers. Help them now so they can continue to help you!

The platforms available to local publishers need differentiation. The mobile experience is live, short and geographically aware. On a tablet, the experience is image-rich and takes advantage of the fact video is more widely consumed as users relax with their device in the evenings as routinely as they would put the kettle on. This responsive-content approach requires community newspapers to think broadly and create the best content for each medium and the technology to help deliver it.

So what does the future hold for the regional press after what has been 15 years of cuts and decline? In my experience, local newspapers are still usually the first port of call for local news online. They have not lost their dominance of local news largely because, in the most part, they still have the best news-gathering networks and the trusted brand on which to publish it. Their brands, in my opinion, may ultimately prove their saviour.

Despite the shifting sands of news consumption, it is my firm belief that quality print journalism still has the power to pack a punch at a local level – holding authority to account time after time for the benefit of local residents. Never underestimate the power of a phone call or email from the local newspaper! I’ve seen the effects time and time again.

That said, in my opinion, not enough newspapers are tackling the threat of digital dominance with enough urgency. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. Social media, in particular, is becoming a much bigger player in the game! Ignore it at our peril.

I guess I would conclude that we MUST embrace the future, but MUST NOT lose sight of the lessons and traditions of the past.

New chapter

So, what of my new-found freedom from deadlines and headlines?

Well, a few weeks in, it’s been busier than ever, so I really need to get a handle on this scaling back my hours idea!

Working for yourself has its pros and cons like anything else and here are my observations so far . .

Pros:

  • I can work the hours that suit me and choose my work.
  • I have no one to answer to except the clients.
  • As a working mum, no more mad dashes to school appointments or domestic engagements and spending more time around the family.
  • Reacquainting myself with my friends and social life!
  • Easing the general pressures on the household by having more freedom to stay on top of some of those domestic chores.
  • Relieving the stress of what was (I’m not going to lie) an increasingly demanding job.
  • No more juggling of holidays. (Holiday spreadsheets used to be our bible in the Chalmers household!)
  • Self-fulfilment of running my own business.

Cons:

  • A lot of unpaid time chasing the work.
  • No sick pay or holiday pay.
  • Can get lonely. (Fortunately I thrive on my own company and work best on my own, so not a big problem for me compared to many.)
  • Miss the buzz of breaking news. (But don’t miss the weekly pressure of deadline.)

Stepping away from the 9 til 5 (does anyone really work 9-5 any more?!) took more courage than anything that’s gone before – and it only really happened thanks to the support of my family and friends who helped me delve deep to find the confidence I sorely craved. So I suppose I should say ‘thank you’ to them now – because, despite my fears and insecurities, this has proved to be the ONE OF THE BEST DECISIONS of my life.

And thanks in no small part too to a certain fellow freelance (she knows who she is!) who has been – and continues to be – in my corner during the early days. Having a support network around you, I’ve discovered, is essential because, while I know my trade, the world of self-employment plants you back at the bottom of a whole new learning curve. (I’ve never been great with learning curves – but adapting nicely.)

I will always be a journalist – I will always be passionate about local newspapers (long may they continue) – and, most importantly, I’ll always support them.

It’s just that nowadays, I’m quite enjoying the prospect of my new challenge and there’s still plenty of time for new adventures.

Maybe we’ll meet along the way.