Venus Award Finalist: what it means to me

At the beginning of March, the finalists for the Venus Awards 2018 (Devon & Cornwall) were announced and, having been shortlisted as a semi-finalist in two categories, I was very proud to see my name in the three finalists for the ‘Inspirational Woman’ award.

Shortly after this announcement, I received an email with an e-badge, with a lighthearted instruction to “PR the hell out of the fact that you are a finalist” … and that’s where I got a bit stuck! OK, yes I was able to share this news with friends on Facebook, and I think I may have tweeted it too, but always with a slight awkwardness, even embarrassment.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been reflecting on this – on being a finalist, how I feel about it, and what it brings up – wanting to say more, but each time pulling back from sharing the news more publicly, or even sharing the reasons why I’m not sharing the news …

So, I have decided to go for it. To share.

As I look through all the Award categories – Employer of the Year, Customer Service, Company, Small Business, Marketing & PR, etc, I realise straight away that my discomfort comes from being a finalist in the ‘Inspirational Woman’ category – it’s not being a finalist, it’s about being a finalist in that category.  It seems so grandiose, so lofty an accolade that straight away it brings up feelings of my not being worthy of such a title, and activates that critical inner voice that tells me that I don’t deserve any such recognition.

Maybe it’s just me, though even as I write that, I know it’s not.  As women, I believe we often struggle to step into all of who we really are, and fully embrace all of what we can achieve, let alone celebrate and shout out about those achievements. Worse still, to be seen to be doing so!  We are taught to stay small, not be ‘too much’; we embody societal attitudes that to be proud is to be arrogant, and that others will see us as a threat if we dare to put our heads above the parapet, and will shoot us down.

In a society which has been shaped and dominated by a patriarchal social system, even though it is acceptable for women to hold positions of power and influence, and to be largely free to live their lives as they choose, women can still struggle to fully step out of the shadows to celebrate their abilities, authority and potency, and to believe they have the right to do so.  For me, this is why those feelings of unworthiness come up.

“The primary goal I want to accomplish in life is to inspire someone, to challenge what is, and to consider what can be …” – Dr R Kay Green

Back to the Inspirational Woman category.  I recently came across a blog on HuffPost entitled ‘What is the true meaning of inspiration?‘, by Dr R Kay Green, an author, trainer and coach.  She speaks of the ordinariness of those who inspire by how they live their lives, and says, “What inspires are the people who do something to better humanity in their own small corner of the world. They don’t need headlines or accolades. They need only to know that they stepped up to make things better.”

So I guess that’s something I do know – that I stepped up.  And that is something I am proud of.

I also know that others have been inspired by the work I have done to raise awareness around young people’s mental health, and to challenge the stigma that surrounds mental illness.  I know that I have changed attitudes, and I know that The Project, which I set up in 2013 to support young people experiencing mental health issues, has helped many hundreds of young people and their families. I know that, in speaking out about my daughter’s mental illness, and the impact this has had on our family, I have given permission for many others to speak out and share their stories.  And I know that the training and workshops I run, both for young people and for those working with and supporting young people, have helped people to have greater understanding around mental illness.  I know and accept all this to be true.

Do I deserve recognition for this?  That’s a whole different question, and that’s where the discomfort comes in.  But maybe this isn’t a question for me to answer.  I’ve certainly never sought it, but having been nominated for this award, and then shortlisted as a finalist after having met Sally Allen, an entrepreneur and Founder of Wizard Jeans, the sponsors of this award category, there are obviously those out there who do believe that I am worthy of being a finalist.

In addition, my recent Fellowship Award by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, to carry out research overseas into early intervention initiatives promoting positive mental wellbeing in young people, is a further indication that others believe in me, and my potential.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson

That being the case, my challenge is to accept this, and in doing so, to step out of the shadows and celebrate my achievements.  I need to do this for me, but I also need to do this for all women – to know that it is acceptable for us to be all of who we are, that we are not too much if we fully show up and shine.  And if, by doing this, it gives me more opportunity to bring about change, challenge attitudes and make a difference, then I need to embrace this opportunity, and as instructed by the Venus Awards team, PR the hell out of it …



Debbie is the Founder of The Project, a successful early intervention support network for young people affected by mental health issues, based in East Devon/South Somerset. Since opening in 2013, The Project has been nominated for and won awards, and been recognised as an example of best practice at Government level for its innovative and effective approach to supporting young people.

Debbie has recently set up The Project Training & Consultancy, a social enterprise providing mental health awareness training, as well as consultancy around early intervention support for young people.  The Project’s model has been manualised, to allow replication in other areas in response to demand, so more young people can access the help and support they need, when they need it.

For more information:  |  e:  |  t: 07874 269233


Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Award

It’s hard to write a blog about something that you can’t quite believe is true! In writing this, I realise this statement could apply to many things happening in my life at the moment, but this one is particularly note-worthy, and incredibly exciting!

I’m proud and thrilled – over the moon in fact! – to have been awarded a Travelling Fellowship through the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. This Fellowship will fund me to carry out research, with my particular project focussing on early intervention initiatives promoting positive mental wellbeing in young people, a subject many will know has a deep and personal significance to me. Following a competitive selection process, my project will see me travelling to Finland and Australia, two countries leading the way with their preventative approach to the ever-growing challenge of young people’s mental health issues.

So who are WCMT and what are their Fellowships all about? Well, WCMT was established in 1965 when Sir Winston Churchill died, with his full knowledge and support. He believed that people meeting face-to-face to share ideas would increase global understanding, and the Trust continues his legacy by funding UK citizens from all backgrounds to travel overseas in pursuit of new and better ways of tackling a wide range of the current challenges facing the UK, to bring back ideas and learning for the benefit of others. Each year more than 100 Fellowships are awarded, and anyone can apply – no special qualifications are necessary, just a strong project idea and a passion to make a difference to others.

“What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?” – Winston Churchill

Why am I doing this? As many will be aware, 5 years ago I set up The Project, an early intervention peer support network for young people with mental health issues, based locally in East Devon/South Somerset. This was a project born out of my experience of caring for my daughter, Jess, who developed debilitating mental illness during her teens, severely impacting her life and the lives of those around her. Having struggled to find her the right help and support, and realising how many other young people and their families were facing similar challenges, I decided to create a much needed community-based resource for young people. Since then The Project has been nominated for and won awards, been recognised as an example of best practice at national level, and directly supported over 250 young people, and many more families.

Yet despite its success and recognition of the vital role it plays, backed up by an increasing body of evidence, this cost-effective resource relies on charitable grants, fundraising and donations to continue. Whilst receiving referrals from mental health services, GPs and schools, it receives no statutory funding.

In response to increased interest in The Project’s innovative approach, the model has been manualised to enable further groups to be set up in other areas, which I am now promoting through my new social enterprise, The Project Training & Consultancy. But again, it comes down to money, and a commitment to invest in early intervention services. Despite increasing acknowledgment at Government level of the value of such support for young people affected by mental illness, as yet this has not translated into any meaningful shift in service delivery, and it is left to small groups like The Project to fill the gap between what is needed and what statutory services can provide.

Through my research, which will involve 3 weeks in Finland and a month in Australia, I aim to bring back evidence that will strengthen the case for this shift, and to feed back international best practice and learning to inform CAMHS reforms that are taking place at both at national and local levels. I will also use the learning to improve The Project’s model, to ensure that young people continue to receive the best possible support.

We are currently failing our young people by not providing the help and support they need when they need it, sometimes with devastating consequences. We cannot afford to ignore the need for change – the costs, both emotionally and financially, are too high!

So today I travelled to London to a Churchill Fellows 2018 seminar to meet with other Fellows in the ‘Mental Health’ category, which is sponsored and supported by the Mental Health Foundation. This amazing opportunity is still sinking in, but I think it’s just become a bit more real ….

Bring it on. Let the adventure commence!


I’ll be writing regular blog posts about my Fellowship, before, during and after my travels. I hope in sharing my thoughts, feelings, challenges, goals and achievements, I can inspire others to go for their dreams. I also really hope I can make a difference, and improve the lives of young people affected by mental health issues. Thank you for reading.

5k in the bag!

Woohoo! Today I reached the 5k mark, and ran my first Parkrun! I completed the run in 35 minutes, and apart from being knackered, I have to say I’m feeling pretty good.

Today Parkrun came to Seaton, and nearly 200 people turned out to run on a dull, wet November morning. Bit of a shock when you’re used to running on your own, but it seemed like a good thing to aim for when I found out a few weeks ago that this new Parkrun was starting up. So, not having yet run a full 5k, I decided to take it on, and see how it went … and I made it!

So, that’s my first goal reached. 5k – tick!

What next? Well, maybe before I look forward, I’ll just recap a bit on the last few weeks since my last blog.

Three weeks ago, the training was going well, I was beginning to feel more comfortable, and then … ping … my back went! Nothing to do with running, but it put a stop to any running at all for over 2 weeks. I was starting to panic a bit. Missing weeks of training was starting to worry me – I know April is a long way off, but when you break it down into weeks of training, it isn’t so far, and every week counts. So, I was relieved when, after a trip to the physio, the pain started to ease and I was able to start training again.

Interestingly, when I ran again last Sunday, after my enforced rest, I actually felt good and rather than setting me back, I was able to push on and run further than before. Far from doing me harm, I think it actually did me good. On Tuesday, I made it to 4k, and then today, with the help of the Parkrun atmosphere and my friend Lorna’s company, 5k.

In the grand scheme of things, 5k isn’t very far – just over 3 miles! So, a long way still to go – a very long way!! Looking at the training plans on my Runmeter app, I’ve now decided to follow the 10k programme for a few weeks, before I jump over onto the half marathon plan. At the moment, the distance on the half marathon plan increases just a bit too quickly for me, though sooner or later I’m going to have to go for it.

I’ve entered the Exeter half marathon in mid February. It’s good to have something to aim for, and to be honest, if I can’t run a half by then, I’m probably in a bit of bother.

So, I’m back on track, and gradually starting to enjoy the running as it gets a bit easier. It gives me time to think and for my brain to unwind, which is much needed. But more about that another time.

Parkrun UK

3. A progress update: good things take time

Some of my training blogs are quite personal, sharing more of my thoughts, feelings and emotions around running. Others, like this one, are more factual, practical reports.

This is just a very quick update on my marathon training progress so far.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been following a 10-week 5k training plan on the Runmeter app to get me back into running after a 10 year gap. After a very slow and cautious start, it’s starting to feel a bit easier and, having repeated several weeks of the plan to get the feel of it again (and make sure my body isn’t going to conk out on me!) I feel ready to push on and start building the time and distance I’m running.

Although I’m 9 weeks into my training, I’ve only just completed week 6 on the app (as I said, I’ve repeated a few weeks) and this week has ended with ‘run 3 mins; walk 3 mins; run 18 mins’. And it felt ok, like I could have gone further … and that feels like a good sign!!

At the moment I’m running for time rather than distance, so not really sure what sort of distance I’m covering – not much, so best not to know I think at this stage.

Next week, I’m going to jump forward to week 8 of the app plan, and go for some very slightly longer runs, and then push on to complete the programme to get to 5k. I’m glad I didn’t rush to push myself on before now – it’s taken a while for my body to get used to running again, but I’m starting to feel stronger.  I’ve been very mindful of the fact that it is still only 6 months since my hysterectomy, and so building up very gently has been absolutely the right thing.

For anyone interested in a bit of running, a new Parkrun is starting locally in a couple of weeks (12 November), in Seaton. Perfect timing, and I’m sure it will help me to be able to run with others from time to time.

I heard this week that I didn’t get a London Marathon place through the ballot, so I’m really glad I’d already got my charity place secured with the Mental Health Foundation. More about that another time, but for anyone interested and wanting to sponsor me, I have set up a Virgin MoneyGiving fundraising page and I’d be very grateful for any support. x


2. Running with my Inner Critic

screen-shot-2016-03-25-at-3-18-30-pmIt’s been a few weeks since I managed to write my last blog. Lots of reasons for that – life’s been busy, fitting in running has been challenging … and the subject of this blog has also contributed to the lack of posts! I’ll explain …

I want to introduce you to my running partner; my constant companion who’s with me every step of every run. She’s even with me before I start my run, while I’m putting on my running gear … in fact, even before that, when I say to myself, “I think I’ll go for a run”.

I use the term ‘companion’ loosely. Companion suggests something positive, the presence of someone you enjoy spending time with, someone whose company makes life that little bit better. So, companion probably isn’t quite right …

I want to introduce you to my inner critic.

Have you ever noticed that voice in your head that criticises every thought, emotion, action, and experience? Have you heard it saying that you will fail…that you are not good enough…that you’re wrong and bad? That voice is your inner critic. It goes on and on, day in day out, undermining our confidence and pouring destructive lies and abuse at us.

The purpose of this blog is not to provide an in-depth explanation of the psychological concept of the inner critic – there are lots of people out there who can, and have, done that a lot better than I can! But just briefly to explain for those that may not be familiar with the term, the inner critic or “critical inner voice” is a concept used in popular psychology and psychotherapy to refer to a sub-personality that judges and demeans a person. The inner critic often produces feelings of shame, deficiency, low self-esteem, and depression. It may also cause self-doubt and undermine self-confidence.

So, as I was saying, let me introduce you to my inner critic. Since I made my decision to run the marathon, and to start training, she seems to have been very busy, and become very loud and vocal on all sorts of things!

Let me give you some examples of how it goes. Every time I think about running, or anything to do with running, even writing about running …

“Look at you, putting on your fancy running gear! What do you think people will be thinking of you all dressed up in your proper running stuff when most of the time you’re walking? They’re going to think your a fraud, and quite frankly it’s embarrassing.”

or …

“Really? This run/walk routine is pathetic. People are going to see you all dressed up in all that running gear, and there you are walking!! You should wait til it’s dark or something!”

oh, and here’s another favourite …

“Is that it?!! You can’t even run a mile and here you are telling people you’re running the London Marathon. You are never going to be able to do it … not in a million years.”

And when it comes to writing about it, my inner critic has plenty to say about that too!
That writing about it and sharing my experiences will just embarrass me to even more people; that nobody’s interested anyway; why would anyone want to read about you?; do you really think anybody cares about your running – lots of people run … and do it a lot better than you do!!

Maybe you get the picture … ?!

So, running – and writing about it – have been tricky these past few weeks. It’s hard not to listen to this critical voice, and worse still: not to believe it. It’s hard to find a different inner voice to counter her constant drip-feed of negativity and criticism, to find a new script. But that’s my challenge – to run, and write, and, while acknowledging my inner critic is a part of me, I don’t have to listen to all she has to say or to believe her. To find a new running companion …


If you want to find out more about the Inner Critic, you may find these interesting:

The Inner Critic: The Inner Critic – Hal & Sidra Stone

Embracing Your Inner Critic: Turning Self-Criticism into a Creative Asset
Hal Stone & Sidra Stone
(ISBN-13: 978-0062507570)

1. A Little Progress Each Day


So, Week 4 of my training is complete! And this is my first blog post about my marathon training, and I’m wondering where to start?! I guess the beginning would be a good place – although I’m not even really quite sure where that is either!

Since running the London Marathon in 2007, I have done NO running whatsoever. Silly really, having got to such a good level of fitness; but after I’d run it, I was so sick of running that I never wanted to run another step. So I didn’t – until 4 weeks ago!

But running London was an amazing experience, and although it was exhausting, I count it as one of my proudest achievements. Every year since then I’ve watched it on tv, and every year I’ve said to my kids, “I wish I was there”,  and every year they say to me, “you say that every year Mum!”

I’m sure, as this blog unfolds, I will get round to explaining why now, why this was the year to do it again. It’s a long story, and one for another time.

For this blog post, I think I’m going to outline what I’ve done so far, and where I’ve got to. That way, I’ll be up to date and can then add weekly progress reports!

Not having run for 10 years, I have to admit I was pretty terrified of taking the first step, of going on that first run. I was full of doubt – what if I couldn’t run, what if I couldn’t remember how (and having got a place, what would I do if I couldn’t!), what if my body wasn’t up to it. So many what ifs! I also knew that, having done the first run, that was it … I’d started the training … I’d committed myself and there’d be no going back. So for several weeks after my place had been confirmed, I did nothing except wonder what the hell I’d done. Much of those doubts still remain, but I have made a start …

So, where have I got to? Well, first I downloaded the Runmeter app to my mobile, which has preset training programmes, from 5k right up to marathon. The marathon programme assumes a level of fitness and ability to run a distance way beyond what I was – and still am – capable of; so I’ve opted to follow the 5k programme to get me started, and then I’ll transfer onto the marathon programme later on, when I’m a bit fitter and have built up some stamina.

The 5k programme starts with a run 1 minute/walk 1 minute x 8 in the first week, running on 3 days during the week, which then increases to 1.5mins/walk 1 min x 7 in week 2, and then gradually builds the time spent running week on week. Although I’m currently on the fourth week of my training, I’ve actually only completed Week 3 of the programme (run 1 min/walk 1 min/run 3 mins/walk 2 mins x 3), as I decided to repeat it – my work commitments meant I didn’t get to do 3 runs the previous week, so rather than rush I’m giving myself permission to take my time with it. More on that to follow too.

Seems ridiculous – I’m only currently running 3 minute intervals, and I have to get to 5+ hours!! If I let myself think about it, then it seems overwhelming and completely impossible. So, I’m not … I’m just taking it one run at a time, one week at a time. Because a little progress each day adds up!

Have a good week x


My new London Marathon running blog

2016-08-29-10-58-23-2So, in April next year, I will be running the London Marathon.

I last ran London in 2007, at the age of 40. It was on my bucket list, and I ticked it off the list. But it seems that once wasn’t enough!  Next year, 10 years on, I’ll be running it at 50 … and until a month ago, I hadn’t run a step since the last time!!

And so, it’s back to training!

While running today, I had an idea to write a blog about my training as I inch towards London. Why? Good question! In part, to keep myself motivated, but also maybe to inspire and motivate others …

I hope my blog will provide an honest, warts-and-all account of my training – the ups and the downs, my thoughts and observations on the challenges ahead, why I’m doing it, info on my training plans, things I come across that I find helpful, my progress (or otherwise!), and anything else I think of. You never know, it might even be amusing at times!

I’m going to aim for weekly updates, but I’ve no idea if that’ll happen. I think I’ll just have to see how it all works out. Hopefully I’ll enjoy writing it, and I hope someone else out there will enjoy reading it!

Happy reading – or running!