‘SELL IT DON’T SKIP IT’ ECO-TECHPRENEUR AND DAD ON SITE WITH FOUNDER OF THE SUSTAINABILITY YARD APP NIGEL EASTHAM.

‘SELL IT DON’T SKIP IT’ ECO-TECHPRENEUR AND DAD ON SITE WITH FOUNDER OF THE SUSTAINABILITY YARD APP NIGEL EASTHAM.

NIGEL EASTHAM OF SUSTAINABILITYYARD & ADRIAN ADAIR FOR MORSON. IMAGES © BROOD MAGAZINE

In this feature for BROOD, I chat with Nigel Eastham, founder of SustainabilityYard, the app that is tackling construction waste head-on. The free, self-service app enables users to buy, sell or give away excess materials from every level of the construction industry, from DIY lovers to tradesmen, to large developers.

Three years ago, sustainability was placed firmly at the top of Nigel’s agenda when the realities of dealing with building waste generated by his property development company collided with concern about the future environment of his children.

At a time when eco-consciousness is at the forefront for individuals and industry, it was a great opportunity to explore how Nigel is harnessing tech to enable positive, sustainable change in construction and the realities of being a tech-preneur juggling life.

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Let’s start with the app. So, tell me about SustainabilityYard…

Nigel: SustainabilityYard is a platform where users of any level within the construction industry can buy, sell or give away their excess building materials. We intend to promote and enable the circular economy of those building materials, finding them a new home rather than sending them to landfill, which unfortunately is what happens a lot of the time.

It’s such a good idea. We’ve all, quite rightly, become more eco-conscious over the past few years but you’ve taken it to that next level – you’ve created a solution which will have a real impact now, and for the next generation.

Nigel: You know, we’re not reinventing the wheel it’s very much a classified ads platform, similar to Facebook Marketplace and eBay. But the difference is, is that SustainabilityYard is built on a peer-to-peer led community. Everybody that’s on the platform is part of the construction community – that can be housing associations who are building 30, 40, 50 unit estates, national house builders and main contractors right down to local tradesmen and DIY lovers.

The businesses that are building big units have tons of, often useable, material that unfortunately goes to landfill. That’s the reality. We want these companies to flood the app with those usable materials so that local tradesmen and DIY enthusiasts can get their hands on decent material either for free or at discount prices.

Users can set up a profile and advertise what they are selling. Once someone is interested in the materials they can open up a direct live chat with the seller to discuss the price and how to obtain the materials.

It lends itself to both sides and all scales. How has it been received in the industry so far?

Nigel: Really, really well. We’ve had some great traction from all the demographics I’ve just mentioned. There’s no reason for people to say no to using the app; businesses can get rid of their unused materials for free and hit their sustainability targets, which they’re heavily focused on nowadays.

For large construction companies there’s no reason not to use it. Depending on what their business model is, at the end of a job, if they have a surplus or damaged material, they either save money on waste disposal or storage units. So it’s a win-win.

We know it’s working because we’re growing fast. We are at over six and a half thousand users now. We think we can hit 10,000 by the end of the year, and if we do that then I think we’ll reach 50,000 by Easter 2023.

Adrian: I hear you used to be a recruiter! Tell me about the journey from an office job to construction to tech-preneur. What inspired you to develop SustainabilityYard?

Nigel: I didn’t become disillusioned with my office job, but I always had an eye on the property market and an opportunity came up. My parents were horrified when I said I was leaving my job to start a construction company!

I initially operated a small business that bought and flipped houses. As time went by and our projects got bigger I found I was chucking away a huge amount of material. I thought, there must be a better way, it’s all perfectly reusable material, if not for me, for somebody else. And if I’m having these problems on a very, very small scale level, the bigger businesses must be having a similar issue.

The thought of hundreds of thousands of tons of materials being thrown into landfill didn’t sit right with me, particularly as I have a young family – I’m concerned about their future and the state of the planet we’ll be leaving them.

Adrian: So not being from a tech background was it difficult to add that tech element to your skillset and construction experience?

Nigel: Construction is my love, I’m always excited by a challenge and I like new things, but I’ll be honest, getting to grips with technology and building a platform was quite a daunting prospect.

We’ve got a small team here, with just two from the construction industry who still run big construction firms. My other partner builds SAAS businesses, so I had his insight but, you know, it was still difficult. I found working with developers quite hard, mainly because I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to articulate how that would be transferred into a product. That’s been the biggest challenge…working with developers who are exceptional at the job but not used to working with somebody like me who doesn’t really know what to ask for.

And look, we’ve still not got the perfect platform. The app is still in the beta phase, I suppose you might say, but it always will be because we’re always wanting to improve and build new things. The outlook is ever-evolving at the moment.

Adrian: Let’s dive into the more personal side of your life. What’s the reality like of being an entrepreneur and business owner, do you manage to switch off?

Nigel: Not really, but for me, it’s manageable because I love what I do. You know, that’s the saving grace.

It never stops. I’m working seven days and trying to squeeze in family time as well. I’m working on properties, on the Sustainability Yard app, I’m speaking to people constantly, and sending emails Saturday, and Sunday at 10:00 pm. Because it’s your own business, you have to do it and you have to make it right. Nobody is cracking the whip and giving you deadlines asking for KPIs, you’re solely accountable for what you’re doing. It was a culture change to start with, but I’ve got to grips with it now.

Yes, it’s a job because you’ve got to make it work to make money for your family, but the reality is, I love it and I’ve got such interest and such passion that it’s no real hardship.

Adrian: I always say that to people, I loved placing people in jobs, I still get a massive buzz from hearing about our recruiters doing it. If you don’t get that buzz, go and find something where you do. I think what’s interesting is there’s lots of chat about work/life balance these days and I know as a parent, it’s not the easiest thing to achieve particularly if you’re an entrepreneur. I listened to one of the podcasts that had Jay Shetty on, who’s set up an app interestingly and he was saying at the start, he was working 16-17/18 hour days. There’s no simple answer but if you love something it makes it easier.

Nigel: As long as you’re loving it, you’ll put the extra hard yards in.

Nigel Eastham & Adrian Adiar
NIGEL EASTHAM OF SUSTAINABILITYYARD & ADRIAN ADAIR FOR MORSON. IMAGES © BROOD MAGAZINE

Adrian: We’ve just spoken about work/life balance and I know you’ve got a young family. How have you seen your new business impact you and your family?

Nigel: You know, bar the long hours and being ‘always on’, the entrepreneurial lifestyle does have its benefits and that’s predominantly down to flexibility. My wife works in Manchester and so I get to do the school runs which I love. I get these bonus moments of quality time with my kids, whether it’s just in the car, having a laugh going home or making tea, I have the freedom to flex my time to prioritise family. I get to see how they develop outside of the set parameters of a typical working day. My wife is disappointed that she misses out on it at times, but we both feel that way and it’s just a case of balancing it between us.

Adrian: You’re a tag team of firefighters

Nigel: Yeah, a tag team of firefighters like in the WWE Royal Rumble!

Adrian: As your venture is all about sustainability, I’m wondering if you get your kids involved in the environmental conversation?

Nigel: You know, my kids were one of the driving factors behind Sustainability Yard. Three years ago, if you’d asked me ‘do you love sustainability?’ I’d have said no. It’s there, I know about it, but I wasn’t desperately bothered about it.

But you add children into the mix and you start to think about the future, their futures and how we’re impacting the planet that we’ll be leaving for them. And to be honest that scared me. My construction business highlighted glaringly how much waste was generated by construction and how my practices were impacting negatively on the environment – and I knew, if I was experiencing this as a small business, the issue was much, much wider.

Because of my work obviously, I’m keen to get them involved in living sustainably and we try and make this as engaging as possible. We do things like composting and recycling as a family – I want them to grow up with good environmental principles engrained.

Adrian: It’s good getting them involved and excited. Do you think there should be more done in schools in terms of bringing sustainable learning into the curriculum?

Nigel: That’s a great question. My daughter just started school actually, and funnily enough, they have started chatting about it. The conversation has come up in the classroom about how to make the earth ‘last longer’ (in her words!). It’s on the school’s radar, but of course, more can be done. It’s just a case of raising awareness at that age and that’s invaluable because they’re the ones that are going to ultimately have to carry on the changes that we’re making. Somebody said to me that ‘climate change is the next space race’ and that resonated with me. It’s on everybody’s lips and rightly so because if we don’t act we’re not going to have the same world in a few years. There has to be an awareness of it and we have to each do something, big or small.

Adrian: I couldn’t agree more! And with your app, you’ve created a platform which facilitates positive action and will have a real impact. I’ve renovated a few houses over the years (my wife will say that she did all the work and I used to turn up at some stage!)… but it would have been great to have known about the app back then. Some of the stuff that you throw in a skip is frightening.

Nigel: Oh absolutely! On the flip side, if you don’t skip it, you can put it in a storage unit and that’s costing you £500-£600 a month. So, wherever you look, there’s a cost and it’s also a cost from a sustainability perspective, whether you store it and it never sees the light of day again. I used to have three lock-ups. I was paying a fortune for them. Every time a new job came along, I wouldn’t even know what was in there, so I’d just buy more and it’s just a vicious circle.

Adrian: So, for people who are interested in using SustainabilityYard, where can people download the app? How can they get in touch with you?

So simply, search for SustainabilityYard on the App Store or Google Play, download it and start using it. You can check us out on our website https://sustainabilityyard.com/ or find us on Instagram @Sustainability_Yard.

I’m constantly inspired by people who are driven to solve. The way Nigel has identified a problem and harnessed skills outside of his comfort zone to make his solution a reality is truly impressive. I’m sure everyone reading this is aware of the challenges of juggling work and life, particularly those nurturing a new business and new family. But I truly believe that anything is possible if you’ve got passion, and Nigel’s story is a testament to that.

At Morson, we work with numerous organisations in the construction sector and every one of our clients is laser-focused on sustainability and taking action to make real-world change. Through SustainabilityYard, Nigel is going a step further, using tech to place responsibility in the hands of the individual and facilitate people to take action at every level. To influence real change and make the planet a safe, habitable place for our children and their children, we must work collectively – everyone from your big corporations to individual contractors needs to be willing and able to think sustainability first and change behaviours.

As a recruitment business that influences companies and people, Morson has an opportunity and a responsibility to drive positive change across commercial sectors on both a corporate and an individual level. Our EV company car fleet, Net Zero ambitions and ‘Plant a Tree for Every Placement’ campaign go some way to offsetting the carbon we generate as an organisation. However, I believe it’s our ambition to create a culture of environmental awareness with eco champions to inspire the team to reduce emissions and prevent waste where we’ll see real change.

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VICTORIA HAYDN ON PHOTOGRAPHING MANCHESTER CITY, MOTHERHOOD AND HER NEW CHAPTER

VICTORIA HAYDN ON PHOTOGRAPHING MANCHESTER CITY, MOTHERHOOD AND HER NEW CHAPTER

© BROOD MAGAZINE. VICTORIA HAYDN AND HER SON, CHARLES

“After photographing Man City for the last ten years, I’m ready to capture the beautiful journey of motherhood

Talented mum of one, Victoria Haydn, has made waves over the last decade as Senior Photographer for Manchester City and one of only a handful of women photographers in the Premier League. After spending the last ten years capturing some of the most incredible moments in both the club and footballing history, now that Victoria has welcomed her adorable son Charles to brood, she has decided to hand over her reigns at Man City, embark on a new venture and step into the world of entrepreneurship.

Victoria’s photos have been published all over the world. From snapping photos of the team on the Great Wall of China to capturing Manchester City Women lift their first ever trophy, Victoria has lived every football-fans’ dream. Victoria even travelled and captured Manchester City in their first ever Champions League final in Portugal in 2021, while five-months pregnant. But since experiencing first-hand, the amazing the transition into motherhood, Victoria has decided to dedicate her craft to empowering women and mothers, by telling their stories through photography.

Victoria is an incredibly warm person, so it’s easy to see how she can get people to shine in front of the camera. We had the pleasure of chatting to Victoria about everything from her decision to step away from a role that she has had so much success and joy from; to how she has found returning to work and Charles starting childcare, to her aspirations for her new business.

Victoria Haydn
© BROOD MAGAZINE. VICTORIA HAYDN AND HER SON, CHARLES

How have you found returning to work and starting Charles at Nursery? 

“I was an emotional wreck when he first started nursery, because up until that point I knew exactly what he did during every second of the day. We didn’t have any babysitters or family looking after him for the first nine months, so I knew everything from every nappy change to every time he sneezed. To suddenly just drop him off at nursery for four days a week was a massive shift! I found it really hard. Although it was difficult for me, it was the best thing for him and he absolutely loves it. He waves me off every day as he joins his friends and teachers. I watch him growing and learning and I know he’s loving this chapter for himself. He’s doing so well, and I’m so proud of him”

Have you felt pressured to make the most of your time whilst he’s nursery because it’s been so hard to leave him?

“Yes, I have felt like there is a huge weight on my shoulders, and a feeling of anxiety. A part of me wanted to drop him off so that I could go out and make an income and get my business off the ground. I felt that for us to have a really good future I needed to start my business right away. So as soon as I would drop him off at nursery, I would be in the head space of ‘work, work, work’. But I would also feel guilty about not being with him. You go through so many mixed emotions. You want to spend time with your child, but you also have a responsibility as mum, a wife, and a homeowner to work too. He’s been in nursery for around three months, and I still have that worry of trying to do everything possible for the business whilst he’s there. There is so much to do when you’re running a business, you’ve got marketing, accounts, creative shoots, editing and there are so many different things going on, so it’s been quite hard to adapt to.”

How have you found stepping away from your role as senior photographer at Manchester City after that has played such a big part in your life and career?

“I absolutely love watching the matches at home in the warmth with Charles, but I’ll miss the nights at the Etihad Stadium soaking up the atmosphere and photographing all the special moments. I’ve had the chance to photograph history unfold for the last ten years, which is genuinely one of my greatest career achievements and I’m so proud of that. On the other hand, I now have the opportunity to photograph on the days and times that work for me and my family. I get to choose whether I work on the weekends and can allow myself time to set up for beautiful shoots with my wonderful clients.

During the summer my husband (who also works for Man City) was in the USA for 10 days during their preseason tour, and I would have been there ordinarily. If I’m completely honest we hadn’t really considered that side of things. So that was a bit of shock when it dawned on us – ‘What would we do with Charles for 10 days?’ So that played a big part in my decision. After photographing ManCity for the last ten years, I’m ready to capture the beautiful journey of motherhood. I’m going to miss the world of football and the fast-paced lifestyle brings, but equally I’m so passionate and excited about my new business which has made my decision easier.”

What are you most looking forward to about your new business? 

“I’m excited about my whole new adventure, but I suppose after photographing men for ten years, I’m looking forward to photographing women. I’m passionate about getting mums in front of the camera and telling their story. I feel like that’s my greater purpose. I have a platform to highlight how amazing mums are. I want to give them photographs to be proud of. They can be photographed at 30 weeks pregnant during this beautiful transition where they are about to become a mother, and then they can come back into the studio with their beautiful babies. I get to capture these precious moments for them, and I love that. Since becoming a mum myself, I know we have a habit of always being behind the camera, taking the photos – I’m on a mission to change this. I have spent 10 years capturing the everyday moments of Premier League heroes I’m now my mission is to capture the heroic moments of everyday super mums. Mums are strong, independent, fierce women and I can’t wait to photograph them every day.

Do have any tips to any other new parents, in particular those who are returning to work?

“Everyone says enjoy your sleep while you can, but it doesn’t really sink in until it happens and then you’re like ‘Oh my god I’ve not slept for nine months!” [We all laugh] “But you just seem to manage somehow. I look at parents in a completely new light now, I just think that they are superheroes! How they just crack on with things is amazing, because now I know what they are going through and how tough it can be.

I have lived and breathed sports photography for over 10 years, so I only know going at 100mph. When Charles came it completely changed everything, it forced me to slow down a bit. Balancing work and being a mum has been a challenge but I’m constantly learning and evolving. Working helps me to remember ‘Oh, I am still me!’ and I think that’s so important.”

If you want to be photographed and step into your power, then you can arrange your own photoshoot with Victoria at www.victoriahaydn.com and see her portfolio on Instagram @victoriahaydnportraits.

Victoria Haydn
VICTORIA HAYDN © WITH MANCHESTER CITY MANAGER PEP GUARDIOLA FOR BROOD MAGAZINE
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Tom Pitfield and his daughter Iris

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KELVIN AND LIZ FLETCHER ON CAREERS, PARENTHOOD, AND LIFE ON THE FARM.

KELVIN AND LIZ FLETCHER ON CAREERS, PARENTHOOD, AND LIFE ON THE FARM.

KELVIN AND LIZ FLETCHER | IMAGES BY TOM PITFIELD FOR BROOD MAGAZINE ©. | INTERVIEW BY LOLO STUBBS

“I’ve not got a fear of failure, I’ve got a fear of regret.

Parents to four children under six years old, Kelvin and Liz Fletcher, are a humble yet extremely impressive couple, and their incredible appetite to create a full and vibrant life for themselves and their children is truly inspiring! Both Kelvin 38, and Liz are well known for their careers as actors, with Kelvin in particular becoming a household name through his 20 years on one of Britain’s best loved soaps – Emmerdale. But the careers that they are most recognised for are not what defines this enterprising couple as they recently added the role of ‘Farmers’ to their impressive CV’s. In their early years as a couple, Liz enjoyed a successful career as a fashion buyer but then decided to leave behind that career and return to drama school. They had only lived together for a few short months, before Liz was given the exciting opportunity to attend a Drama school in London, and despite the distance this would put between them (as Kelvin was at the peak of his career in Emmerdale at the time) he insisted that Liz go on to pursue her dreams; showing how supportive and encouraging they have always been of each other’s dreams. 

Pre-covid Kelvin and Liz were all set to embark on a new life in America, but when covid put the brakes on that dream they decided to set out to undertake a new adventure in the countryside when they bought a 120-acre farm. At the time they were a family of 4, before quickly becoming a family of six when their gorgeous twin boys, Maximus and Mateusz joined their brood. As if juggling four young children and running a working farm wasn’t enough, both Kelvin and Liz have continued with their acting careers, and they have just released their very own book – ‘Fletchers on the Farm’ a follow-on from their successful TV series. 

Kelvin and Liz Fletcher - Front Cover of Brood Magazine
© BROOD MAGAZINE. KELVIN AND LIZ FLETCHER
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Kelvin and Liz Fletcher on Careers, Parenthood and life on the farm.

We had the pleasure of seeing Liz and Kelvin, their gorgeous baby boys and their adorable cavapoochon Ginger at their wonderful family home and amongst lots of giggles, we delved into what drives them, their plans for the future, and how they manage their daily juggle of having of 4 kids and a farm! Even though managing all that they do is clearly not for the faint hearted, the endearing way they talk about their family life would be enough to tempt anyone who has a sense of adventure to don a pair of wellies and get stuck into life on a farm! 

“If you know you’re capable of it, then go for it!”

Kelvin and Liz Fletcher - Life on the Farm
KELVIN AND LIZ FLETCHER © BROOD MAGAZINE

So firstly, was life like pre-kids? 

Kelvin – “Happy, wasn’t it?” [he turns to Liz and they both start laughing]

Liz – “Yes, relaxed!” 

Kelvin – “I was in really good shape, I ate really well, did what I wanted, when I wanted! Loads of Holidays..!” 

Liz – “Aww. What-a-life!” [continued laughing]

Kelvin – “We was looking at pictures the other night from before we had the kids and you look different pre kids, young and full faced! 

Liz – “We looked well slept – well rested!”

We can definitely relate to that! So at what point in your relationship did you decide to take the plunge and start a family together?

Liz – “We had been together for nearly ten years, and my dad said Kelvin was ‘freewheeling’” [Liz erupts into laughter!] “I had secretly called him up and said ‘Dad, what do you think about Kelvin?’ and as he’s quite traditional he replied with – ‘I think he’s freewheeling!’. So, I told Kelvin, my dad think’s you’re freewheeling – we’re not married, we’re not engaged, we’ve been together all this time. And I’d started thinking about it because we were coming up to our thirties, I wanted kids – although Kelvin didn’t think I was very maternal!” 

Kelvin – “That was the reason I was freewheeling! I used to think, Liz is great but she’s just not into kids and I want loads of kids – I wanted a big family. So, I just thought I don’t know if she’s going to be my wife because she doesn’t like kids!” [We all laugh]

Liz – “Yet, at the same time I’m thinking I want kids”

Kelvin – “We should have probably talked about it!”  

Well, yes especially after 10 years! [We all laugh again] So, how did you finally broach the subject then? 

Liz – “Well, I just said one day, ‘If you’re thinking of having kids, and you want this to go further, I just need to let you know I’m not going to have kids unless I’m married…so there you go! I’ll give you until the end of the year!” [she laughs] “So, I left him with that information, and this was the beginning of the year and then it took him until November – he left me hanging until NOVEMBER – and then he proposed!”

Kelvin – “Yes, 28th November!”  

Liz – “I had no idea it was going to happen, and he took me away for this amazing weekend in Anglesey. He’d done a full on reccy before he proposed, there was certainly a lot of effort involved. He’d designed the ring and everything!”

Kelvin – “The ring you don’t wear?” 

Liz can’t contain her laughter – “I know! I don’t even wear it! Well, I’m a farmer now I can’t wear it!”

“Yes, she literally keeps in a mug over there! It’s worth more than the kitchen and it’s sat in a mug over there!” [We are all in fits of giggles at this point] 

Liz – “And then from a year to the day later, we got married!”

Kelvin – “And then almost 9 months later, Marnie was born! And then suddenly that’s when things changed, and your life becomes so different.”

In what way did you feel the changes? 

Liz – “Well, a month before I gave birth, you left Emmerdale didn’t you?”

Kelvin – “Yes, I had been working my two-year notice, as I knew I wanted to leave. And I left really happy as I had a job for 20 years that I loved, but I was ready for a new challenge. I was 32 years old, and I wanted to figure out my next move. I did question if I even wanted to act anymore, as from being 6-7 years old it was all I had ever done and I suppose I wanted to know, ‘Could I do anything else?’ So that was a big transition anyway, as well as becoming a father for the first time. But that helped me too. As obviously becoming a parent is amazing, but also because I suppose it’s like when sportsmen retire sometimes, they can lose all sense of who they are. Who am I? What am I? And I think after 20 years of working that could have happened to me, but that void was quickly filled by having our daughter. So, I didn’t have time to start worrying as to whether I had done the right thing or not, so in that way the timing was really good.”

Liz – “I had started doing voiceovers at this point, so it worked well for me too, as I could do the odd job but most of the time I could be at home with the baby. I was also teaching dance at a little school down the road a couple of hours a week too”

Kelvin – “I took six months off from Acting but I was doing other bits in the background, figuring out what to do next so I never really stopped completely.”

Kelvin – “I guess first and foremost we’re actors, that’s what we are. But you’re somewhat at the mercy of other people’s decisions, so to fill that void and take some control back, we did it with a baby, with Marnie, and then we had a few more children and now we’ve become farmers. And that’s our attempt to create some continuity and consistency through family and our work life, and to make this our little world. And I think it’s healthy for us to have that. I’ve seen so many actors when things are not going their way and it’s all they know, it’s all they are, that it then consumes them in such a way that they can become resentful of themselves and the industry, and it’s understandable that people can find themselves in that position, but I will never allow any skill set, any job, any career to define me. To be the whole me. Because there is much more to life. And it’s easier said than done when you’ve got to put food on the table but I’m never going to allow anything like that to take my happiness.”

What’s the biggest positives of having the farm, for your family life? 

Kelvin – “I think one of the positives is the variety it gives us. For me I personally seek variety and I think that is key. I think that’s healthy, it’s not for everyone but it’s certainly right for us. And I’d like to think that’s something we’ll pass onto the kids. And Liz shares those views as well. It gives us new scope; fresh ideas and it expands your imagination. I also think it makes you more accepting of different people and different situations, and I think it makes you more rounded as a person, which is important.” 

Was the farm always a dream of yours? 

Kelvin – “No, I just woke up one morning and thought let’s get a farm!” 

Liz – “Yes, this was typical Kelvin! We were supposed to be in America! We were sorting a visa out to move to America, and we were 18 months into that process but then the pandemic happened, and all visa’s got stopped. But that had been our mission, and Kelvin had said ‘Well, we’ll just wait for covid to go and we’ll start it back up.’ Little did I know that Kelvin being Kelvin, was like ‘Right well that’s done – what’s next?’” [she laughs] “Then the next minute he’s on a train, he’s on right move sees this place and he say’s ‘Right Liz, how do you fancy going looking at a farm tomorrow?’ I was like ‘Whaaattt!’ [she continues laughing] “And because I can’t say no to anything, I just said ‘Ok, go on then!’ (It was kind of through gritted teeth because I was thinking farming?!”)

Kelvin -“But it wasn’t to farm originally, it was just to live here. I just wanted a different set up for us. Whether that was on a beach in California, or we even looked at New York, and central London, but I just wanted to change things up. Going back to that again – yes, as actors we want to act, and I love the hustle, but we’ve got a life together as parents and as individuals and there’s just so much more to life than just your career. So, I was just like lets just have a change of scenery, because I didn’t want to us to find ourselves in our fifties or sixties and think we’ve never had an adventure, so I just thought let’s bloody do it! And we looked at everything from Castles in Scotland, honestly as random as that, and I’m that kind of person where if I want to do something it will happen – it’s as simple as that! It can be scary and it’s not always that easy, but I think making decisions like that can give you a rebirth. It’s a new chapter and you’re creating memories and having new experiences. It could be the wrong decision; you could drop a bollock and think ‘Ah we shouldn’t have done that.’ But you can always go back.”

Liz – “Although it might seem we do things completely off the cuff, everything we thought about we researched, and we made sure it was possible. We didn’t just move to a farm with no thought behind it.” 

Kelvin – “Yes, I’m sucker for detail!”

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Is that something that you want the kids to take on board?

Kelvin – “Yes, for me that sense of adventure. If Marnie is 18 years old and she says ‘Dad, I want to go and live in America for three years’ it would kill me, but I absolutely would encourage that. But I would also encourage anything they want to do. She might want to stay here and work on the farm, but whatever they want to do but I just want them to have that sense that anything is possible. If you fancy it, you only live once go for it!”  

Since moving to the farm you have gone from having two children to four with the arrival of the twins, how have you found that transition?

Kelvin – “Hard work! It’s hard for me but it’s even harder for Liz!” 

Liz – “Well, every time I have a baby Kelvin gets a job working away! So, I’m not having anymore babies now then he might not get a job away again!” [They start laughing]

Kelvin – “I’ve only had three jobs! Three pregnancies, three jobs!” [He declares, laughing]

Liz – “Just being told we were having twins was an absolute shock. I was filled with worry. I just kept thinking ‘Oh my god two babies, how am I going to do it with the other two?’ because two weeks after they came along Kelvin had to go working away in London. So, I had two new-borns, it was the school holidays, Kelvin was working away – it just all came at once! But do you know what, we got through it, and I always just think – I’m here, we’re in it, I can’t sit here and moan about it, I’ve got to get through it. Obviously, there are days where it was horrendous, I felt like I didn’t know what was happening – I even fell asleep stood up once! But we got through it and now it’s not that bad, plus now Kelvins home again it can only get easier!”

Kelvin – “It is mad, but it’s a good crack, isn’t it? We’ll look back at this and think God we were crazy. 9 out of ten people will think I wouldn’t be doing that – they’re mad.”

Liz – “Yeah, I’ve got friends who say to me. I’m having a breakdown just listening to this story Liz! Because we live in the moment and if someone said, ‘Can you be in London tomorrow?’, we’d be like ‘Ok, yes no problem!’. We’d make it happen, whereas some of my mates are like ‘Nooo, I’d need a full two weeks of organising everything!’

You recently recorded ‘Fletchers on the Farm’ how did that come about?

Kelvin – “I was developing shows with the BBC, and this was just an off-topic conversation, and I told them what we had been up to, (moving to the farm) and I said, ‘I’ve got an idea for a TV show’ and then suddenly that process started. So that in turn gave us more of an appetite to live off the land, to grow our own food and get an understanding of animals and where your food comes from and the more, we delved into that, the more we just found it fascinating. Then we started to look at how we could commercialise it and look at the farming industry in detail. And it is an industry that everyone tells you not to get into, as there isn’t any money in it, but after looking at it we wanted to take on that challenge, because we thought it was something we could do.”

Liz – “Oh if you tell Kelvin he can’t do something, then instantly he’s going to find a way to do it!” 

Kelvin – “We want to build something here and we’re 18 months into that, and although we’re on a long journey, the aim is to make this an enterprise; something for our children, and for their future. We’re mainly a livestock farm so we’ve got sheep, pigs, chickens, we’ve got horses in the stables. We’re looking at going into cattle but as anyone in farming will tell you, livestock farming can only pay you so much really and that’s dictated on the ground you’ve got. We’ve got a 120-acre site so there’s instant limitations there, but you can diversify.”

Liz – “It’s given us a lot of purpose really, because now we’ll do the school run and then we come back, and we get stuck into all the jobs that need doing on the farm. And even at weekends, Marnie and Milo are coming to that age where they really understand it and they want to get involved too, especially Marnie. And Milo isn’t as dangerous now, as when we first moved here, he was only two, so we had to run round trying to stop him licking everything!” [she laughs] “It’s been amazing really; they’ve seen lambing season recently and I get a lot of joy seeing them get involved in it. Also no day is the same which is great.”

Kelvin – “It is full on, and it can be stressful but it’s good fun too. And whether it ends up just being a chapter of our lives or something long term, who knows, but while we’re in it we’re putting everything we can into it, and we’re excited to see where it goes. But I feel it’s the happiest and most settled we’ve ever been.”

What tips would you give to other parents who are looking to change course and take the leap into something new?

Kelvin – “If you think you can do it and if you know you are capable of it, then go for it! For me that’s what I do and if I come up short, then I come up short and I can live with that, but you’ve got to give things a go. I’m used to no one else believing in me. We can come up with a plan, and there might only be me and Liz that believe in it and that’s it – maybe our parents or our agent too, whoever it might be, but you’ve got to have that mentality where you have to think ‘Well if I think it can work, then that’s all the validation I need and if that’s different to other people and what they’re doing then so be it!’ However, you do have to put the work in, some people might have the dream, but they’re not prepared to put the work in, so you’ve got to have a good understanding of yourself and having a frank chat with yourself. You need to ask yourself, ‘What are my skills? What am I really prepared to do? That’s what I do, and I know my limitations so I don’t take on tasks where I don’t think I can do it”

Do you have a structured process to achieve your goals? 

Kelvin – “Yes, I always have a clear list of goals which I want to achieve. For example there are three/four things that I want to achieve by the end of this year and I’d say 50% are completely on our terms, and the other 50% need things to happen elsewhere to, so there’s a little bit of jeopardy there. For those goals I will do everything I can to get it as far as I can and that last part has got to come from somewhere else in order for it to succeed. Whereas the things that are 100% on us we will get them done. We have some longer-term goals too, so we have 3–6-month plans and then we have a 2–3-year plan too and we just work towards it.”

Liz – “Me and Kelvin work well together because if you’ve got a plan and it doesn’t go right that can really throw Kelvin, whereas I can help us to adapt. It’s great to have the goals and you need them, but there are always hiccups along the way and you have to find a way to adjust.”

Kelvin – “Yes, and sometimes those things can be out of your control, like market change in a business etc and you’ve failed. You take a knock, but I’ve not got a fear of failure, I’ve got a fear of regret.”  

If you want to read more about Kelvin and Liz’s incredible journey, then you can buy their new book ‘Fletchers on the Farm’ at all high street bookstores or click here to purchase  

Kelvin and Liz Fletcher
KELVIN AND LIZ FLETCHER © BROOD MAGAZINE
Simon Wood
Written by
Tom Pitfield and his daughter Iris

PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

Rob Stubbs

WEBSITE & DESIGN BY ROB STUBBS

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DIARY OF A DADPRENEUR BY OLI DUNN

DIARY OF A DADPRENEUR BY OLI DUNN

Oli Dunn
Morson Group - Find your next job

The Diary Of A Dadpreneur…
By Oli The Choc…

Time Flies, but I’m not complaining! We’re just so bloody lucky to be here in the first place!

The year flies by quick, but time flies when you’re having fun, even quicker when you have offspring, businesses, busy social lives, fitness aspirations, hobbies and an insatiable appetite for travel, new experiences and meeting new people.
Therefore I have no qualms about time moving by so fast, time is a blessing and I’m grateful to have it at my disposal in the first place, the opportunity to spend it how I want, abundantly, lovingly and in a nutshell cramming as much as possible into every single day.

So we’re into the months ending with “ber” already, well I’m not even mad at that, I’m flipping and it I’m inspired by it instead.

The start of the academic year, almost feels like a new year do you agree? Except with added pressure and urgency, if we haven’t succeeded in ticking some big ones off the list then now is the time to get it done before the year is up.

Even though New Years resolutions can be cliché, tacky and last about as long as the conversations you have about them, I am a little bit of a sucker for them. I feel a power in the new year and I get sucked into the hype and excitement of the opportunity to redesign my life.

However, every day is a new beginning and every “now” is the beginning of a brand new creative process, the opportunity to have a new thought, that leads to a new thing, that grows, expands, develops and manifests into amazing new experiences and circumstances.

They say a thought thinks, so I choose those little sparks of energy very carefully because I believe they aren’t as insignificant as most people tend to think, they grow and gain momentum, which is why you can manifest what you do want or what you don’t want, whether you like it or not, whether you believe it or not.

I’m hyper aware of this throughout the year but I also thrive under pressure. I only really get things done either because the desire is so strong or the pressure to get it done can’t be challenged.

I call it the power of the 11th hour, I embrace that along with any other quirks in my personality which I’ll uncover in good time. I give myself a break.

So my New Years resolution was to be more curious and I feel that I have been more curious in 2022, asked more questions and discovered new answers.

I’m going to double down on curiosity for this last quarter of the year.

It’s time to ask more questions, of myself and others in order to learn more about both and the world around us, creating even more new and exciting opportunities. Who knows what stories I’ll be telling by New Years Eve and not just those about chasing a toddler around an airport lounge or military style nappy changes, but stories about things I’ve been able to achieve and exciting situations I’ve found myself in.

I feel it’s my job to prove to others what’s possible in life, anything.

My point is it’s not too late for resolutions, it’s never to late to become a better you, improve your life and create new opportunities, even do something completely different if you want to, or have multiple things on the go, even if one of those is raising a small human, there’s no rules, the only barriers are the ones we tend to put up in front of ourselves.

Also don’t be too hard on yourself, embrace who you are and how far you’ve come.
Remind yourself of what you’ve achieved this year so far and the ways in which you have grown, then also remember we still have 4 months left of this year so it’s never too late, it’s always the beginning.

Reflect for clarity and confidence to launch you into this last quarter.

It’s time to step into your power! 💥

Peace, Love, Choc ‘n’ Roll….
Oli ✌🏼

Oli Dunn Chocolatier
Written by

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I never expected to be a dad: The path to adoption with Adrian Adair

I never expected to be a dad: The path to adoption with Adrian Adair

“…Honestly, I never thought I’d be a dad”

For many, the path to parenthood is not made from perfectly shaped, life stepping stones. Keen to explore the diverse routes to, and experiences of, becoming a parent I reached out to one of our Morson executive managers who has recently navigated the adoption process to become a father with his partner.

For safeguarding purposes, we have kept the identity of the family anonymous, so there’s no BROOD photography provided by the talented Tom Pitfield, but I’m confident you’ll be as moved by this honest, inspiring and, at times, emotional story as I was.

During our conversation, we explore the challenges of raising a child with a traumatic past, the complications of using traditional parenting techniques with an adoptive child and why adoption should be considered more widely as a path to parenthood.

Morson Group
Adoption Process
Morson Group - Find your next job

Let’s start with your new reality, parenthood. How long have you been a dad?

We have had our boy for just under a year now, he moved in with us in November of last year. Honestly, I never thought I’d be a dad, but my partner and I have been together for 17 years and we felt it was time to start a family, so we decided to explore adoption.

We’ve had many a conversation over the past 9 months about how your little boy has changed your life and I’m interested to understand more about your experience of adopting and the adoption process itself…

It’s been an interesting time, not least because of the personal circumstances and realities you become aware of. All children who are in the adoption process will have experienced trauma in one way or another. The very reason they’re in the care system is because they have encountered some kind of harm and that could be anything from physical, sexual or emotional abuse and severe neglect. So, a big part of the process is having to prepare yourself to cope with, understand and manage that child’s experiences and life story.

Because we’ve adopted a slightly older child, who wasn’t put into the system until they were five and a half, he’s had years of not having his needs met. As you can imagine, caring for a child who has gone for five and a half years experiencing that when you cry, no one’s cuddled you, or when you’ve been hungry, no one’s fed you, their parent has gone out and left you alone at home on your own… there’s a lot of things to unpick. Often adopting an older child can come with more challenges than if you adopt a newborn baby. For example, in adoption, you can do something called early permanence. In early permanence, the birth mum is still in pregnancy and social services are aware that it’s a challenging environment with the birth family, so as soon as that child is born the baby is taken into care. These babies are safeguarded and cared for by the system from birth.

However, whatever the path to adoption, one thing you can rely on is that each child who enters care has experienced some type of trauma whether that’s in the womb or in the outside world. So you just need to prepare yourself for this.

So, as a couple, how do you prepare yourself for this reality and becoming adoptive parents to a child with a traumatic past, did you take any leave from work?

We did loads of research, training and workshops so we were fully aware of the challenges and prioritised creating an environment where our child would feel safe and supported. To help with this I took three months of adoption leave. The adoption policy for Morson would have allowed me to take 12 months or more if I wanted to, but I was conscious we needed to introduce work/life balance into our environment as part of the process – because that’s the reality of our lives. Three months full pay was amazing because when you bring your child home, that period of attachment with your child is massively important. Being able to take three months off and not having to worry about my salary was huge for me. My partner took off six months and he could have extended it to 12 months as well. That period where we both stayed at home together to nurture, understand and get to know our child and adapt to our new lives was essential.

Of course, the beauty of having a slightly older child is they do go to school which gave us some downtime, so that’s an advantage! Self-care and a strong support network is of paramount importance when you adopt a child, so allowing yourself time to have a relaxing bath, read a magazine or go for a coffee with a friend is a must.

As the parent of a toddler, I’m looking forward to school! Also, please give me hope, do they sleep when they’re older, please tell me they do?!

Do you know what? It’s funny because when he first came to us he would go to bed, then he would get up a short time later and become dysregulated. During this time he’d be throwing cushions and screaming at us, and it would take him probably an hour to settle.

And now?

You can put him to bed at 7:30 pm, say ‘Goodnight, I love you’ and he’ll not get out of bed until the morning (which happened to be 5:55 am today). We spoke to an educational psychologist who explained to us that if you do not feel safe the primary thing that is affected is your sleep. So, the fact that he sleeps through the night is speaking volumes about how he feels at home with us, so that’s a huge win.

That’s amazing and so positive to hear.

When you first came back to work I remember us chatting and you had loads of interesting tips like this for adopters and anyone caring for a child. Would you mind sharing some more?

Do you know what, a lot of the training when you go through the adoption process doesn’t just deal with children who’ve experienced trauma. Much of it can cover how to handle any child who is demonstrating challenging behaviours.

For me, the one key takeaway here was the power of playfulness. No matter how agitated they are, playfulness will nearly always get a child out of the mindset of being angry or upset. If you can get a child to smile or laugh, they cannot feel anger or upset at the same time. So one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that being playful and silly will help your child to become regulated again. Because of this, we find ourselves doing the most ridiculous things! If he suddenly becomes distracted, frustrated or unsettled we’ll do a stupid voice or a silly dance, or we’ll put on a silly song. As soon as he starts laughing you know he’s coming around, so playfulness is massive.

One of the other tips is distraction techniques. If you can distract your child it can help to diffuse potentially challenging behaviours. Tactics like making anonymous phone calls, for example, picking up the phone and making out that you’re speaking to someone immediately gets him to ask questions like, ‘Who’s that on the phone dad’… his curiosity takes over his agitation.

So, yes, playfulness and distraction are the two big things we’ve learned. My partner and I certainly have a playful nature, so I won’t lie, we actually really enjoy it.

Natasha Jonas Training
ADRIAN ADAIR FOR MORSON. IMAGES © BROOD MAGAZINE

So you say those tips are universal but do you think there are differences in parenting an adoptive child vs. a child who has had a more traditional upbringing?

I would say yes. You cannot parent a child who’s experienced trauma the same way you would a child who has not had a traumatic start to life.

Discipline is one key difference. If you’ve got a baby or child who cries a lot, traditional parenting methods may suggest leaving them to self-soothe or tactics such as sending them to their room to calm down. You can’t do that with a child who has experienced trauma because if your child used to cry, and no one ever came, their behaviour regresses. So you have to go and comfort them. Because of their experiences, many of these children have not met their developmental milestones because they haven’t had their needs met. Therefore their chronological age is different to their emotional age. For example, you may have a child who is eight, but emotionally still could be only 18 months old because they never had their emotional needs met.

It’s little things like when they get out of the bath, wrapping them in a towel and rocking them, which they didn’t experience as a baby. Another thing is around meal times, for example, my boy will occasionally ask for help eating because he didn’t have that support in his earlier years so is looking for that need to be met now. As an adoptive parent, you’ve got to consider their emotional age, not their chronological age. Remembering this is key.

I’ll be honest, I’ve found this part really difficult. I’m fighting 38 years of being parented and in a particular way. The fuses in my childhood home were very short and you cannot behave that way with an adoptive child, you must have patience. So it’s been a real eye-opener for me on how to try and control my initial reactions, be more tolerant and think about things more carefully.

So is it fair to say that the adoption experience has taught you a lot about yourself? Has becoming a parent changed you in any way?

Yes, I would say this experience has definitely taught me more about myself. I’ve always been quite an empathetic person and this has helped me transition into the adoptive parent role. This whole process has highlighted how important empathy and understanding people’s situations are. I think I’ve always been that way, to be honest, but even more so now.

Although I was only saying at work yesterday it’s funny how I have so much patience and tolerance with my team, yet you flip it onto parenthood and my tolerances and patience get a bit shorter. But I think this is because, when you become a parent your child becomes the most important thing in your life. Things that I would get upset and frustrated about beforehand in work, I’m just like, it’s not that important anymore. I don’t sweat the small stuff because my child and his well-being are my priority.

I agree. I think patience is the key word. People say to me all the time that I’ve calmed down since I’ve become a dad. I think when you’re at home, in a social environment or the workplace being more patient with people whether that’s colleagues, children, family or friends ensures you get the best out of those around you.

Speaking of friends, when we used to meet up we’d talk about which restaurant we’d been to or what holiday we’d just booked. Now it’s all mealtime strategies, sleep cycles and ‘guess what food has been smeared on my clothes this morning?’ Is it fair to say life has changed?

Yeah! Now it’s all about soft play and where the best children’s theme parks are. Holidays are not the same. Now you book a hotel based on the kids club reviews and availability of free slushies.

It’s not a holiday anymore. It’s a trip!

Yeah, it’s very, very different, but different in a good way.

I never expected to be a dad. Ever. Because I thought parenthood would be something that I would never do, you don’t work towards it. I think in heterosexual couples (or certainly it used to be) you would get together, get married and have a baby; you’d have these relationship milestones set out. But often in a gay relationship, couples get together, get a house and live the rest of your life frivolously. But as soon as my partner and I started the process we knew we were meant to be dads and I would never change it.

I always said when I first met Leanne that I’m not getting married again, I don’t want children and I don’t like pets…

And look at you now.

Yep, 15 years on, we’re married, we’ve got a dog and Alana proceeded pretty swiftly afterwards. You make a good point though. Society used to force everyone into these ‘norms’ but nowadays people are ripping up the rule book. I think we were probably the last generation who felt that pressure.

Though I couldn’t see my life any other way now. To see the world through a child’s eyes is probably the best thing I’ve ever experienced because they just love everything, don’t they? The first time they step on sand or go on a plane, it’s all new and exciting…

Oh absolutely! The number of times we’ve sat there and our little boy has just looked up and gone ‘This is the best day ever!‘.

It’s particularly powerful for him because he was taken into care at five and went through several different foster placements, so he’s never been able to feel safe, settled or have things of his own. He’s never been spoiled, and now he’s having all these experiences, he’s like WOW! Though we’ve had to reign it in a little bit!

What’s it like seeing the difference in him and knowing you’re giving him the best life experiences possible? Are you an adoption advocate?

A massive yes on both parts. I think more people need to see adoption as an option. People don’t look at or talk about fostering and adoption enough. I mean, consider the positive impact you can have; not only are you bringing joy to your life, but you’re also giving a child who would not have the best life a chance to have an amazing life. So people should think more about it because they’re crying out for adopters.

Look, it’s challenging, I won’t sugar coat that, in some early conversations with you I probably burst into tears a couple of times, but the rewards on both sides are huge.

That’s such a powerful message and you’ve completely opened my eyes, like many others I’m guilty of being relatively naive to the adoption conversation. Do you have any tips for people that are thinking about going on that journey?

I think my one tip would be that you cannot be overprepared. Read the books. Do as much training as you possibly can, because there is nothing that can prepare you for some of the challenges that are involved, but it is very, very, very rewarding. Some training courses we went on and some of the stories we heard were so sad and unbelievable so yeah, just be prepared. That’s the most important thing.

We’ve worked together now for 11(!) years and it’s been lovely to see you go on this journey, I know I’ve never seen you happier. You’ve got such a nurturing personality, and a brilliant relationship with your partner, I know you’re creating a great home for your boy.

Yeah, times have certainly changed since we were dancing on tables doing Karaoke and singing Barbie Girl! But I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Through my relationship with this particular colleague and others, I’ve seen first-hand how adoption has enriched the lives of both adults and children. For me, it’s so important that organisations support and enable people to explore all routes to parenthood, and as business leaders, we must help to facilitate and champion this.

At Morson, our adoption policy has been crafted to ensure that adoptive parents are supported equally to those on traditional maternity or paternity leave. Primary parents receive the same entitlement as those on maternity and secondary parents mirror paternity policy. But, it’s not just adoption, we’re looking at various family structures to ensure our colleagues are supported by policies which are fair, inclusive, and reflective of their personal circumstances. For example, we’re currently working directly with one of our colleagues who is going through IVF to help write and shape our IVF policy to ensure it offers the right level of support.

As a business with a large, global reach we’re passionate about influencing positive change across our network based on learned experience. As such our HR teams are working with a number of clients to help them craft inclusive policies for their current and future workforce, through our HR Outsourcing service.

If you are a business wishing to explore how best to champion inclusion and support your employees or an individual looking for an opportunity in an organisation that cares for the personal and professional you, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me directly adrian.adair@morson.com

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

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Oli’s Dadpreneur Diary

Oli’s Dadpreneur Diary

Oli & Kim Dunn and thier Daughter Romy for BROOD MAGAZINE © TOM Pitfield Photography 

“Becoming a Dad has inspired me.”

Hi I’m Oli, you might know me as Oli The Choc, I’ve been a chocolatier for 20 years, growing up in the family business Simon Dunn Chocolatier I watched my parents start a business from scratch and that inspired me to do the same.
My Mum and Dad own a chocolate shop so they are the “product” whereas I’m the “service”, entertaining people with chocolate and teaching them how to make things, this gives me incredible satisfaction when I see them get into their creative flow and learn something new, kids or adults. I’ve created my own crazy little world on social media and on Chocolate Street in High Lane, Stockport. I’m passionate about working with chocolate and about being me, having fun and sharing what I do with the world.

In the last couple of years I’ve been on a journey into podcasting, presenting and appearing on TV shows such as Blue Peter and Stephs Packed Lunch.
I’m delighted to be part of the Brood family, as a new Dad, self confessed big kid and running my own business I’m here to share some of those experiences, lessons, thoughts and hopefully adding some value and interestingness (is that even a word?) to you👇🏼 and here to remind you that you can still pursue your dreams and achieve your goals whilst being a parent.

On the 13th June 2021 Romy Star was born into the world thanks to a very special beautiful lady, her Mama, my wife Kim. People told us life will never be the same, and you won’t be able to do the things you used to. Well I’m here to tell you that you can, yes it’s different and there’s a lot of juggling, challenges and sometimes frustration but the most significant fact for me is that my “why” is much stronger than ever before.

In becoming a Dad I feel I now have a greater purpose in being the best version of myself, succeeding in business/ career and most importantly being happy.
Therefore this has cemented who I am as a person, embracing my own madness and desire to play and be a big kid. After all who ever said we have to stop having fun when we become adults and more so parents, so I’m doubling down on that!

My advise to any parent would be, make time for yourself when you can, read, write, walk, run or in my case Onewheel (if you follow me on IG you’ll know what that is) to give you that reset, refocus, clear mind, fresh perspective and your own identity outside of being a parent which will strengthen your parenting skills

Oli Dunn Chocolatier
Oli Dunn Choc
Oli The Choc presenting

Becoming a Dad has inspired me.
It’s important for me to show Romy you can do something you love and pursue random fun experiences in life, just because you want to. You can live the life you want and you can show others that they can too.

As a child I wanted to be a TV or radio presenter but I always felt from feedback that this was “unrealistic” so I joined the family business and became a chocolatier. Which I loved then and love even more now.
This actually led me down a path of presenting which I didn’t realise at the time, hosting children’s parties and corporate events. The main skill aside from working with chocolate was presenting and entertaining.
This has opened doors and created opportunities for me outside of chocolate in that I have a Podcast called Goin’ In Deep, and I host live shopping shows on TikTok working with brands such as I Saw It First, Disney, Warner Bros, Zavvi, Lego etc.

I want to be able to say to Romy that she can be and do whatever she feels inspired to and to know that nothing is “unrealistic”, so my drive is to be able to show her that this is true through how I’ve lived my life. Living proof.

You can create the life you want and if you truly want to do something, you can and you will.
You have to be patient and work hard but trust the process. Give yourself a pat on the back now and again and remind yourself how far you have come. Nothing will get in your way, not even becoming a parent. Everything you do leads to something else, opportunities are everywhere, so keep going.

I’m excited to share that message to Romy and to see where she takes this perspective in her life, the sky is the limit.

I am excited to share more of my perspectives and experiences with you through my Brood articles and I hope you will come with me on my journey and I hope as well you will be able to relate and take something away.

Until next time, but for now I’ll leave you with this thought;
Stop what you’re doing and be Grateful AF for what you have and have achieved so far.
Keep being the best ‘you’ you can be and remember to enjoy the journey, every single thing you do leads to something else. Trust the process.

Yours Chocolatey,

Oli
@Oli_The_Choc

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Amateur star to world champion but the best title is ‘Mum’ | Natasha Jonas on returning to the ring with Adrian Adair

Amateur star to world champion but the best title is ‘Mum’ | Natasha Jonas on returning to the ring with Adrian Adair

ADRIAN ADAIR OF MORSON GROUP INTERVIEWING NATASHA JONAS. © BROOD MAGAZINE

“…You feel the social pressure to be there for your child.”

Natasha Jonas is one of British boxing’s trailblazers. Supported by Tyson Fury, Claressa Shields, Ellie Scotney, and Chantelle Cameron, Tash has become a star in the boxing world. With an outstanding amateur career, she was the first-ever female British boxer to qualify for the Olympic Games and has since become known as “Miss GB”. Spurred on by a disappointing Olympic loss to Katie Taylor, in 2017 she turned professional under the tutelage of Joe Gallagher. Tash has held the WBO female junior-middleweight title since February 2020, graduating from Miss GB to Queen GB.

A key corporate sponsor since 2017, Morson has championed Tash in the sporting arena from the time she turned pro. However, for this article, I was keen to explore her life outside of the ring; as a mother negotiating a professional dream and bringing up a young daughter. I met Tash at Joe Gallaghers Gym (professional coach of the Smith brothers: Stephen, Paul, Liam and Callum along with Matthew Macklin, John Murray, Anthony Crolla, Scotty Cardle, Scott Quigg, Hosea Burton, and Callum Johnson) in Bolton for an honest, enlightening and inspiring interview about her experiences of returning to a professional career after having a baby.

Morson Group
Natasha Jonas
NATASHA JONAS IMAGES © BROOD MAGAZINE
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Tell us a little about how you got into boxing and your career to date

“My entry into boxing was a good accident. 18 years ago I was on a scholarship in America playing football and I got injured. Devastatingly it was the end of my football career. When I came home, I put on a lot of weight and felt like I had no direction. I realised that within a year of not doing anything, that sport was my motivation and drive to be positive and do good things. So I looked for another sporting avenue to put my efforts into.”

 

From Toxteth, Jonas first fell into boxing when she became aware of female-only nights at Rotunda Gym, north Liverpool and was brought into the sport by female boxing trainer Sylvia Singleton.

“I was only at the gym as a fitness thing, although I’ve been involved in some contact sport – kick-boxing and karate – since I was young. But when Sylvia asked me, I went along, and it just steamrollered from there. Before I knew it, I was eight bouts, eight knockouts, and I quickly got chosen for the England team.”

 

What do you see as your greatest achievement?

“I think there are two special nights that stand out and one of them being the Olympic qualification. I’ve always loved sport and I remember watching the 1988 Olympic Games on television when I was four and saying to my mum, “I’m going to be there someday”. Of course, I was only four so my mum was like ‘yeah whatever’ and I said, ‘no, I’m going to be there.’

So, fast forward 24 years, I’ve just qualified for the Olympics but I didn’t know this story. I’d done the interviews about what a moment this was for me, feeling emotional but I hadn’t cried. I’d landed back in the UK, headed through the airport and saw my mum at arrivals, she was crying, bawling her eyes out, and I was like, mum what’s up?!’ She said, ‘I remember you as a little girl telling me, “I’m going to be there” and it’s taken you all this time… 105 different sports but you’ve got here in the end and you worked hard, tried your best, didn’t give up and you’ve got your reward.” So that moment for me and my mum was truly special.

The second moment was the fight with Namus on the Amir Khan vs Kell Brook undercard. Boxing in Liverpool was brilliant and boxing at home is where I want to be, but that was a big, big card. It was probably my last chance at a world title shot. So, the pressure was on, the opponent was good and I had to go out and perform before the highly anticipated Amir Khan vs Kell Brook fight. When it worked out for me I was made up for myself, my family, and my little girl. But I was also so happy for Joe [Gallagher] as well because he goes through absolutely everything that I go through.”

 

You’ve said in interviews before that you thought falling pregnant meant the end of your boxing career. Can you tell us about this time in your life?

I was an amateur then. In the 2014 Commonwealth Games, I snapped a ligament in my toe and that injury meant that I’d missed the qualifiers for Rio and I didn’t have any intentions of staying amateur until 2020 for Tokyo. So when I said goodbye to the amateurs, I was effectively saying goodbye to boxing because there wasn’t a pro scene for us here in the UK. I decided within that time to have a baby because, in my opinion, you do have to stop one for the other.

It’s not like the lads where you just have a week off to be with your baby and then you go off back to work or training. As a woman, a mother who’s just given birth, your body changes, you feel the societal pressure to be there for your child and more than that, you do want to be there for your baby every step of the way. I went away and had my little girl but switching that focus from boxing to her prompted a mix of emotions.

I was so glad that I had her. Boxing is such a big void to fill when you’re finished and I think many people struggle with that. The sport takes up so much of your life and when it’s not there it’s so incredibly hard to find something positive to put your energy into. But I was okay because I had my baby to put my all into but it’s a completely different kind of challenge. You’re trying to be that perfect mum for this new human that you’re now responsible for. You’re trying to take on all the advice and do everything that you’re told correctly and be perfect. This consumed all my energy. But gradually she got into her own little routine, became more self-sufficient and was evolving into her own person. So, there was again this void. Then the opportunity came about to go pro with Joe Gallagher.

The first two people I called were my mum and my cousin. This was because they see all the dark sides of boxing that people don’t see; like the time when I cried for two days after the Olympics when I got beaten by Katie Taylor. They go through all the camps with me and they assured me to not ever worry about my baby as she will always be looked after. They said that as long as I can do it, they were always behind me, supporting me. That was all I needed to hear, I contacted Joe and the rest was history.”

 

How difficult was it juggling being a mother and a boxer to begin with?

To be honest, my job might be different, but my experience of being a working mother isn’t. There are stereotypes of what a boxer is, but I’m lucky that all my mates have got kids around the same age. When I would say “I’m struggling a bit” with this or that, I had a support network and my family to be able to go back to. I’d like to think that this was no different really from any other working mum. It was just that the routine of my job was a bit different. I’d get her ready for school, I’d take her to school, I’d come to Bolton or I’d go to Liverpool to train if I needed, I’d do my two sessions and then I’d go home and pick her up from after school.

It was good during the lockdown, especially during the Terri Harper camp because she was able to come with me and get involved. She’s always known that mum’s a boxer and mum goes to the gym but she never actually knew what happened in the gym. And when she came along she was like, ‘Oh this is what happens!” She was counting all the lad’s reps and she was Joe’s number two! She loved giving me water in-between rounds of sparring. It was brilliant that she had that experience and when she is at home now, she knows what mum does at the gym. She’s so lucky in the sense that, it’s not only myself that she has to look up to, but she’s got a Nikita in women’s football.

Natasha Jonas Training
NATASHA JONAS TRAINING. IMAGES © BROOD MAGAZINE

[Nikita is Tash’s younger sister who plays football for Manchester United and the England “Lionesses” National team]

She has no interest in doing anything that I enjoy, but when it’s Nikita, she’s her hero and she’s like ‘I want to be like Auntie Kita!'”

What would you do if your daughter wanted to go into boxing?

“For everything that boxing has done for me. I could never grumble or complain. It’s not just about the skill of being able to box, I am determined, I’m hungry, I’m motivated by myself in the ring or as part of a team in the gym. I’m committed. I’d like to say I’m on time, but Joe might say different!

If you ask that employer what you want your employee to be like, they’d say all these things. They’re life skills that can propel you to be in sport or business. I’ve got a job at Sky now doing commentary and I’m on a Parliamentary group for boxing, the APPG Boxing Group. That would never have been possible, I was just a snotty nose kid from Toxteth. I didn’t think I’d be discussing acts with Parliament and the pathways for young female and male boxers. It’s opened those doors, so why wouldn’t I let my daughter do it? There are lots of skills there that boxing encourages.”

 

Do you think she’d be more likely to follow in Nikita’s footsteps?

“I’ll just be happy if she does a sport that I like to watch! She’s into dancing, gymnastics and karate so far. But, every Jonas I think since the eighties has done karate! I just encourage her to be active. I think it’s important. I think it’s positive for the mind, body and soul. “

 

The family will have been celebrating your sister, Nikita’s Euros win with England, what’s that been like?

Yeah, she’s my little girl’s hero, every time she’s on TV she’s like ‘That’s my auntie!’ It’s great and visibility has always been key to any sport. We always knew how good female boxing was. We just needed a platform to have it on. And we got that. And I think football’s got that at the minute. The whole sport and women’s sport is right on the crest of a wave and while we’ve got them eyes on us positively, we need to keep hold of that and go with it. Whether that’s a bit of tokenism, whether that’s whatever we’ve got it. So use it positively and inspire a generation, which was what the Olympics was about. And I know in boxing we’ve seen like a 50, 60% increase of the girls ready to box and football will be the same. It’s got to be from the grassroots up and young girls are going to be thinking ‘I want to be like ‘Nikita Paris’.

Any final advice for other working mums…

Yes, when you become a mum, do not give up on your dreams. A mum is what you are, not who you are. You’re still entitled to follow your dreams as well as be a mum. You don’t have to stop one for another.

I’m a bit more spiritual than I used to be, and someone said once: name three things that you love. So, I said, the baby, my mum, my dad. They said name three more. So, I said, brother, sister, nan. I kept going with others as they kept asking, the dog, work… I got to about number 20 and she said, “you haven’t said ‘you’ once.”

 

It’s made me realise it’s OK to put you first. If you’re not loving yourself and happy, how are you supposed to be that for another person. It’s important to consider, “who are you?” and not lose your identity and become, ‘just a mother’. I’m determined, I’m loving, I’m family oriented. I’m more than that.

 

 

Natasha Jonas has made a significant impact on women’s boxing in this country and has achieved huge things for her sport, her city, and her country. However, it is the way she was able to return to work and turn pro after having her child, that I found incredibly interesting and particularly relevant to some of the conversations I have every day.

Throughout our discussion, Tash affirmed that there doesn’t have to be a binary between being a parent and having a career. But, curating a family life where parents, particularly mothers, feel able to pursue an ambition outside of parenthood can, for some, feel unachievable. I hear from many colleagues and my wider network that returning to the workplace, whether that’s post-maternity leave or after a longer career break, can feel daunting bringing conflicting feelings of guilt, fear and insecurity.

Tash cited her close support network many times throughout our interview as playing a vital role in her ability to return to the ring after having her daughter, Mela. It’s often said it takes a village to raise a family and I can personally advocate for the power of having a trusted support network. Traditional connections in the form of family, friends and neighbours or more unconventional groups such as colleagues, teachers, gym buddies and community members can all provide a key anchor for working parents. Research indicates that when parents have a sense of connection with people who care about them, it provides a sense of security and confidence. As well as enabling practical benefits such as time and space having these kinds of connections allows them to share the joy and relieve the guilt, and uncertainties that come with the parenting role.

Indeed, as well as her drive and talent, it is the people around her who enable Tash to be high-performing sportsperson and high-performing mum. For many parents, nothing will assuage natural feelings of uncertainty, but with a trusted network and an open, empathetic employer you can create the bandwidth needed to pursue your personal and professional dreams.

Natasha Jonas will return to her home city of Liverpool for a world title unification fight against Patricia Berghult on September 3, live on Sky Sports.

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MORSON GROUP INTERVIEW IMAGES © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE
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PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

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Cath Tyldesley & Tom Pitfield share the news of Cath’s incredible career opportunity overseas that will leave Tom  ‘holding the baby’.

Cath Tyldesley & Tom Pitfield share the news of Cath’s incredible career opportunity overseas that will leave Tom ‘holding the baby’.

© BROOD MAGAZINE. OUR CO-FOUNDER TOM PITFIELD, HIS WIFE, ACTRESS CATHERINE TYLDESLEY & THEIR SON ALFIE & DAUGHTER IRIS 

“Mum guilt never gets any easier!

Only last week our co-founder Tom Pitfield, and his wife, a successful and widely respected actress, singer, writer and producer – Cath Tyldesley, had a gold-plated spanner thrown in the works when it came to their family life; when Cath was offered a dream role in an exciting TV drama, which meant that she would be filming on location abroad for three months! Within the space of a week, from the amazing opportunity arising, Cath was on a plane and on her way to pursue an incredible career opportunity, with Tom effectively left ‘holding the baby’.

Anyone who knows Cath knows that she is a doting mum and that she absolutely adores her family, so it goes without saying that leaving her family behind to embark on her latest career adventure was not going to be something that she would find easy, but having worked so hard her entire career and proving people wrong through undeniable determination and unwavering talent, the only option was to embrace the opportunity, and make both herself and her family proud. Cath is flying the flag for all the formidable Mamma’s that stand tall and say it’s more than ok to be a mum and still want a career and achieve their dreams; and equally Tom is flying the flag for all the fantastic hands-on dads out there, as anyone who knows Tom, knows that he is more than capable of manning the fort alone for a few months, (albeit that he may need to have lots of rum on hand!) Tom is an amazing father, and he completely supports his wife’s career goals – just as she does his! Between them they make a marvellous team and are showing their children that teamwork really does makes the dream work. We had the pleasure of chatting to Cath and Tom about this very ‘BROOD-esq’ situation, just before Cath had to leave for the airport, and they bravely shared both their excitement and fears that the situation has brought upon them, and they explain how they see it as just another adventure that they will complete and that will further enhance their family’s life in the long term. 

Tom Pitfield and his daughter Iris
© BROOD MAGAZINE. OUR CO-FOUNDER TOM PITFIELD & HIS DAUGHTER IRIS 

“- yes, I am a mother, but I am also still Cath, and an actress

Cath, you’ve just landed a dream role – congratulations! It’s so well deserved and such amazing news!!! You’ll be working on location for a number of months though, meaning you will be away from your family, which will inevitably be really hard for you all, but in order to succeed in our careers it can often mean making sacrifices – especially when you have little ones, and you are self-employed; how important is it to you to lead by example in showing your children that they should always follow their dreams, and how much did that impact your decision in accepting the role?

Cath – “It’s hard, I almost feel like two different people, because there is career-Cath who is incredibly ambitious, extremely self-motivated and very driven, and so I’m always determined to fulfil my goals. Failure isn’t an option. And I love my job. My job is my happy place. But then on the flip side being a mum is my happy place too and it’s ok to want to have both of those things! There’s never a true balance, so there is no point trying to get that. I think I have to remember that sometimes I’m with them [the children] and sometimes I’m not, that’s just how it is. But I get to see my children more than most ‘9-5’ people, so although I might work away for a couple of months here and there, in between jobs I have a lot of downtime and that is always spent with my kids and my husband, so in a lot of ways we’re very lucky. But, yes, I’m not denying it’s incredibly difficult and I’m actually just about to leave to go to the airport and I can’t stop crying! I’ve got tears of joy because it’s an amazing role, it’s an amazing job, with amazing talent, but the other part of me is crying because even though I’m going to be reunited with my family in 10 days’ time, my little girl is only 16 weeks old, so it’s a long time to be away from her, to be away from them both. But I hope I instil a good work ethic in my children and show them that it’s important to remember who you are, because yes, I am a mother, but I am also still Cath, and an actress.

Also, my parents held down several jobs to give myself and my sister a good life, and for me to be able to go to drama school, so I grew up with working parents. And my kids come everywhere with me, wherever possible, we’re flying them out in just over a weeks’ time, where I go the kids go, we’re a family so I always strive to make it work!”

We live in a society where unfortunately it still seems to be ‘not the done thing’ for a mum to return to work while their babies are young, what would you say to anyone who may cast judgment on you for working away whilst Iris is so young?

Cath – “You can’t cast judgement on any parent! Being a parent is the most wonderful job in the world, but it is also the most challenging mentally – and physically! You need to be in athletic condition to be a parent, especially when you’ve got several children. Looking after your health is everything when you’re a parent for so many reasons. It takes real strength of character to be a good parent and you just need to make things work for you and your family, and every single family is different. I couldn’t do a 9-5 job, knowing that week after week that I would be caught in the rat race and only be getting home just in time to put the kids down for bed. That does not appeal to me. Whereas the way that I live, as mentioned earlier, yes there are intense work periods, but in between that I have weeks and weeks where I’m with the children, where I’m able to do the school runs and we can do lots of nice things together, and I just think that whatever your situation you make it work.”

Tom is obviously an amazing Dad and completely hands-on, so both the children are in very good hands, but the dreaded ‘Mum Guilt’ always seems to creep in – even when there is nothing to feel guilty about! What coping mechanisms do you use to help you deal with ‘Mum Guilt’ when you’re working?

Cath – “Mum guilt never gets any easier! I was awake at half three this morning and I had a little cry, I’ll admit that because I do feel guilty sometimes. But then I used to feel guilty when I had a more regular job, because I was working all day every day and there was no real end in sight. So, I think that no matter what position you are in as parent in terms of work, you’re always going to feel guilty, and the fact of the matter is that I want my children to have the best possible life that I can give them and for me that means being surrounded by love and wonderful, inspirational people, and that’s what my children have tenfold.

Hopefully they’ll be inspired by me and Tom, and I really hope that they both have driven personalities and can follow their dreams. I tell Alfie all the time that if you can see it, you can achieve it. I’m living proof of that. So many people told me I wouldn’t do half the things I’ve done, and I’ve done them! I think goal setting is very important in life and it’s very important to establish that positivity for your children because the world that we live in, more than ever, can be a very dark place, so helping them to have a positive mental attitude is so important.”

 

Tom, how much Rum did you drink when you realised Cath was going to be working on location for so long and that you would be left effectively holding the baby?! (Lol)

Tom – “I’m not going to lie; Rum will play a part in my parenting over the next three months!” He laughs. “To be honest, with this job and how it just all happened so quickly we didn’t really have time to think. As soon as Cath walked out of the door to go the airport, I had that realisation that I’ve got to cook the tea now, whilst holding the baby and looking after a 7-year-old, and that’s not going to change for the next three months. But you know what, we’ve done it before – albeit it was just me and Alfie then, so we’ve got an extra one this time, but we’ll do it! We knew this was going to be our life whether we had one or two kids, or no kids, so we knew the deal when we first got together and we always said we would do everything as a team, so this is just the next adventure, and we’ll complete it and move on. And we’ve got to just stay positive like that, as Cath’s following her dreams and we support her, just like she supports me, so it’s mutual respect.”

 

What are your biggest fears of juggling being the main carer for children and maintaining your own growing career whilst Cath is away?

Tom – “Initially I think my biggest fear is centred around Alfie, because he’s our first and he had 7 years of it being just us three, and when Cath was working away, it was just us two. I’ve explained to him that Mummy’s working away again, but that this time we’ve got Iris so it will be harder, and I might not always be able to give him the attention he deserves.

With regards to the career side of things, it will be a challenge, but it’s always a challenge when you’ve got kids anyway, especially with Catherine’s career being the way it is, so that has always been a juggling act. Having the extra element of having Alfie and Iris on my own will make it a little bit harder, and I’m sure there will be a fine line in making sure I don’t compromise the kids or my career, but I know I can do it and my main goal is just to get the job done and not to drop the ball workwise at all so that from a client point of no one will see the struggles, as that’s really important.”

You are a very hands-on Dad and although a lot more people are these days, for some there still seems to be a ridiculous perception that the majority of parenting responsibility should lie with the mother. Are you proud of the example that you are setting your children, in showing them that parenting isn’t just for Mum and that it’s about teamwork where Dad can play just as much of an important role as Mum?

Tom – “Yeah, absolutely. I think if I look around at a lot of my friends, even though they’ve got full time jobs, they are very hands on like myself, so I think it’s definitely changing. But when you are out in the wider public there certainly is still a perception for what dads ‘should be doing’ and what mums ‘should be doing’ – even in this day and age! So yes, I’m extremely proud. Even if I’m just walking through the supermarket to go and change Iris or something, and it’s just me and her, I’m very proud of wearing the changing bag and just being as hands on as I am. And I absolutely do think that will flow through to the kids and I’d like them to be the same, especially Alfie. I think the way both of us parent, going back to Cath working away, is because we want that work ethic to pass down to the kids. We always show them that Mummy and Daddy train hard, they work hard, and they play hard, and I think there is a lot to be said for that. So, if they can go into adult life with that similar mentality, we know they won’t do so bad. So, it definitely plays a part in the way we construct our lives, because we do want them to learn from it. The roles are very similar these days, it’s not just a dad’s job to go out and earn, Mums are just as big and as important in that respect and vice versa from a parenting point of view. And this is obviously one of the things that BROOD Magazine is about, we want to highlight that it’s ok for it to be 50/50 and get rid of that stigma!” 

 

Tom Pitfield, Catherine Tyldesley and Family
Tom Pitfield, Catherine Tyldesley and Family © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY 
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Simon Wood
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4 kids under 2, a career pivot and a dream | Adrian Adair meets DevOps engineer Tawfe’eq BaboU

4 kids under 2, a career pivot and a dream | Adrian Adair meets DevOps engineer Tawfe’eq BaboU

ADRIAN ADAIR OF MORSON GROUP INTERVIEWING Tawfe’eq Babou & HIS FAMILY

“It’s really important for kids to see where their parents work and what they do.”

In this article, our resident ‘Work’ writer and Morson Group COO, Adrian Adair, interviews DevOps Engineer Tawfe’eq Babou. They discuss leaping from marketing to a career in tech, finding balance with an ever-growing family, and his dreams of using digital skills to transform agriculture in Africa and turn the dial on food poverty.

—– I’ve seen first-hand how a career path isn’t linear, for many, it’s more like crazy paving. You’re not who you were 10 years ago; your personal life, socio-economic landscape, political climate, thoughts and opinions may not be the same, so why should your career be set in stone?

At Morson, we’re seeing that the trend of the ‘mid-life’ career pivot is on the rise, particularly within the tech world. The tech skills crisis coupled with industry-leading flexible working arrangements and digital-first learning opportunities, make tech an ideal space for those looking to get back into work after a career break or seeking to reskill in a completely different sphere.

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Adrian Adair Morson
ADRIAN ADAIR OF MORSON GROUP. IMAGES © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE
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I’m consistently impressed by individuals who have dared to make a career change and pursue what’s right for them, professionally and personally. Therefore, I was keen to explore this topic with someone who has lived it. My interview with Tawfe’eq was a testament to the power of the career pivot. It’s a conversation brimming with intrigue, honesty and inspiration, read on to discover the full story >

Our interview and photoshoot provided some wonderful Brood-esque moments as Tawfe’eq, his wife and twins collided with me and photographer, Tom Pitfield with his months-old baby Iris in Morson reception. A new baby, 2 excitable toddlers and 4 people desperately trying to adult, just another day in the life of a professional parent!

 

Let’s jump right into it. Tell me a little about your career to date?

I started in hospitality, then moved into retail and finally became a freelance digital marketer. I loved working with a range of clients in Manchester from fitness, fashion and music to corporate SMEs.

 

What was the catalyst for you to consider another career path?

When lockdown happened my digital marketing career went out of the door. As a freelancer, I had no job security and many clients dropped off because nobody knew what was going to happen.

At the same time, my wife told me she was pregnant. I was washing up at the time and I vividly remember just going into complete shock and cleaning the same plate for about 15 minutes. Because I bring in our primary income my immediate thought was ‘how am I going to provide for this child?’ We subsequently found out she was expecting twins which doubled the anxiety!

It was a very stressful and scary, but pivotal moment. I knew I had to change my career to provide. After the initial shock, I sat down and drew out a spider diagram with my name at the centre. I considered what am I good at? What am I interested in? What avenues have I not explored that have potential?

My mum was a real inspiration. Around 5 years ago she was fortunate enough, through her employer, to go to Oxford University and do a masters degree. Not only did she write her dissertation about the digital divide, which piqued my interest in tech, but she also showed me that a career is an ever-evolving thing and that learning and growing are natural, positive and essential. This took away some of the fear.

 

How did you decide that tech was the route you wanted to explore?

I had been doing an email marketing campaign for a friend and he had some issues with his WordPress website. I had never used WordPress at the time, but my friend said, ‘look, you’re more technical than me, just give it a go’, so I learned online, solved the problem and enjoyed it.

I started to explore this world a little bit more. I always thought you had to be a mathematics major or do a computer science degree to be a software engineer as that’s the traditional route a lot of my friends who were in the industry took. I’ve always struggled with maths, I went to high school in Ethiopia from 2006-2012 and their maths is extremely advanced, so I struggled even more. I’ve always had this fear that I wouldn’t be technically able to do something like programming. Thankfully the industry has come a long way, many people are self-taught and there are so many online learning resources.

I moved into DevOps through the apprenticeship firm QA Consulting. When I applied there, I had to take an aptitude test. It felt like less of a barrier to entry, less intimidating. Yes, there is a numeric test but there was also a personality and a logical thinking test to assess my aptitude. I passed and the rest is history. It was a big eye-opener that sometimes you don’t know until you try.

 

Adrian Adair Morson Group
ADRIAN ADAIR OF MORSON GROUP INTERVIEWING Tawfe’eq Babou, HIS WIFE AND THEIR CHILDREN. IMAGES © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE

To anyone unaware, could you explain what DevOps is?

DevOps is the bridge between software development and business operations. It’s not just understanding how to execute the technical aspects of a project, it’s managing the whole lifecycle i.e. understanding the requirements from the product owner, the programme specification, the customer base, the goals of the company and managing workloads, the project and stakeholders throughout the process. Cross-department communication and understanding is the difference between software development (whose main focus is making sure the code works and has been tested and debugged) and DevOps.

 

How have you seen your career in tech benefitting you and your family?

The immediate benefit for me is being able to work from home. Having twins who are under 2 is hard work. By being more available I’m able to support my wife and I’ve seen a boost in her energy levels. I also get to see my children more which makes us all happier. For some women, it can be difficult to maintain an identity outside of the family unit, so it’s really important to be able to support her so she can explore things she wants to do outside of being a mother. She’s always been such an independent person and I don’t want her to lose that. Through my work, she’s been looking at how she can develop professionally. Being able to find a solution for all of this through tech has been amazing.

Although, we’re pregnant again…

Wait, what, you’re pregnant again?!

Yes, haha. So we have twins, and we’re expecting twins again.

(Audible gasp)

Yes, it’s going to be a challenge for sure. To be honest with you if I wasn’t in my current career, I would hate to think how stressed I would be about it. I wouldn’t be working from home and I wouldn’t have the flexibility I’m currently afforded to support my family. But it’s not just that, working in tech has allowed me to dream about true career development. The idea that I won’t be in the same position in five years is motivating and job security is key. Having four children under the age of two won’t be a small task, but the benefits of working in tech all make it feel achievable and will hopefully make it a happy experience too.

 

Adrian Adair Morson Group
ADRIAN ADAIR OF MORSON GROUP INTERVIEWING Tawfe’eq Babou, HIS WIFE AND familY. IMAGES © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE

What advice would you give to people considering a career pivot?

One thing I would say is that things are always worse in your head. For example, if you think tech is this super technical thing which is unlearnable, you’re wrong.

So, my first piece of advice is to almost take a helicopter view of yourself. My pivotal moment was doing that spider diagram exercise; putting myself in the middle and matching my aspirations to my interests to my skills and trying to see the trends. Do your research and you will be very surprised at how many things you are interested in and how varied roles and opportunities are.

My second top tip is once you’ve chosen your route, get yourself a mentor. You’ll be so surprised how many people, no matter how busy or senior you perceive them to be, are willing to help, share their insight and connect you with others that will be able to help you in your career. One thing I’d say to people who are looking to get into tech, in particular, is that there are some amazing mentors here in Manchester that are willing and want to help and it’s such an amazing privilege to have access to that.

 

Would you like to give any of them a shoutout?

Yes! My Dad always used to say we are fishermen of people, you cast your net wide, keep the good, and throw the bad back in the water. These are the exceptional ones:

First, Naomi Timperley. I spoke to her initially at the Manchester Tech Festival and we arranged a coffee over Zoom where she set me some assignments; one was to talk at their next event. Having someone willing to give you advice and push you into action can be so impactful because it can be daunting coming into an industry for the first time. To have someone senior or who is an expert in the field have your back isn’t something I have seen outside of tech, to be honest.

Another person is James Akrigg, he’s ex-Head of Technology for Microsoft. I met him at the tech social as well. He’s another person who has given me advice, guidance and, most importantly, feedback.

 

Why is tech a great career option for those looking to re-skill?

The tech industry is booming not only with opportunity but with a fantastic network of diverse people who have different backgrounds and experiences. People are doing some amazing things for diversity in tech and addressing the digital divide. It’s refreshing. As a community, we must champion these facilitators to positively disrupt the industry.

What many people don’t appreciate, is that there are loads of non-technical roles within the tech industry too. I want people to understand they don’t need to be a mathematical genius to come into the digital realm because it is an amazing space. One thing I love about software development and DevOps is that you can take an idea and bring it into the real world and see it positively impact people. That’s so cool and empowering.

There is something for everybody in this space. Through recruitment and outreach programmes we need to help people understand there are so many transferrable skills in tech. People have ability based on aptitude and therefore ample opportunity to find a role in tech that they love and can excel in. As I said earlier, not every tech role is a technical role and we need to promote that. We need to show that tech is an open door and there is something for everybody. With tech being one of the fastest-growing economies there are huge opportunities here.

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What are your aspirations and where do you see yourself in the future?

I have a very personal ambition. I studied in Ethiopia and I have African heritage so the issues that affect the country are very real to me.

Specifically, I aim to use my skills in the digital arena to work on food loss preventative measures within East Africa. Africa loses enough calories to feed 1.7 billion people, three times a day every year. The idea that Africa suffers from famine for a lack of produce is largely incorrect. For example, in the UK we waste food, this waste is everything after it gets to the consumer – throwing food away after it goes off etc. In Africa or other developing countries, food waste happens before it gets to the consumer. Not having the correct packaging for produce, poor communication between farmers, suppliers and the marketplace are examples of this loss. In addition, lack of refrigeration causes toxins to get into the food which leads to illness, susceptibility to things like malaria and cholera and a long list of other issues.

Growing up in Africa seeing so much food but realising how little of it reaches the consumer was shocking to me, because I always assumed that the reason people go hungry is that they haven’t got it. But systems around the supply chain are so broken, that’s the main reason that these situations arise. Within five years I aim to be using tech to help solve these issues, helping farmers and suppliers to communicate across the supply chain accurately, implementing systems so data can be harnessed to help see what needs to be optimised and where processes fail. Better transparency across the supply chain is a big thing, but it’s solvable, and it’s solvable through tech.

 

I also hear you’re an advocate for digital literacy and you’ve also mentioned the digital divide. Could you tell us a little bit more about the issue and your activity in this area?

Of course, the digital divide means the difference between those who have access to the internet, computers and smart devices as opposed to demographics who don’t have access to the same resources. For example, Manchester City Council is still trying to get enough computers for students. We’re considered the second biggest city in the UK but we’re the sixth most deprived area in the UK.

And the reason the digital divide is so important is that pretty much everything has gone or is going digital. Every business is a digital business now, they all have a website or some other digital outreach, email, or social media. This means if you aren’t digitally able or haven’t had the resources to use these online platforms, you’re already going to be outskilled by the rest of the market. For example, a lot of homework is now done online and children that don’t have the access to computers or the internet are already falling behind.

I want to advocate for better digital literacy because technology is moving exponentially and as time goes by, if no action is taken the digital divide will become almost unclosable. I’d like to see a holistic approach to solving this issue; increased awareness of the digital divide coupled with private sector investment and a curriculum that serves the needs of our children’s futures.

 

—– It was a joy to meet Tawfe’eq and his growing family. I’d like to thank him for an inspirational and eye-opening discussion, personally champion his game-changing ambitions and offer support by focusing the conversation on the digital divide. I’d also like to wish them the best of luck as they juggle 4 kids under 2, a feat I can’t even comprehend!

As a lad originally from Blackpool I’ve personally seen the impact of digital poverty. It’s a topic I’m particularly passionate about and one of the main reasons we’re proud to partner with Manchester Tech Fest (MTF) a week-long event in Manchester in October. The festival is not only providing a space for the tech community to connect and inspire the next generation but is committed to finding practical solutions to breaking down the digital divide. I’d highly recommend for anyone looking to get into the tech industry to attend and get involved with the MTF community. Registrations for this year’s festival, together with more information regarding partners, sponsors, speakers, and exhibitors, can be found at www.manchestertechfestival.co.uk

If you, like Tawfe’eq are considering a career change, looking to take your first steps into tech or are interested in recruiting great people for your organisation, the tech team at Morson is on hand to help you every step of the way.

We’re also keen to speak with organisations who are considering offering training to develop and grow their workforce. As Tawfe-eq so clearly articulated there’s great people with aptitude and potential who just need an opportunity – whether that’s returning parents, career breakers, ex-forces personnel or ex-offenders. As a business, offering training enables you to develop and retain a workforce that fulfils your specific needs. We’re actively working with several organisations who are exploring this path to help guide and set a course for success. Get in touch at adrian.adair@morson.com to find out more.

 

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STEVE OLIVER, MUSIC MAGPIE CO-FOUNDER & CEO

STEVE OLIVER, MUSIC MAGPIE CO-FOUNDER & CEO

Inspirational Dad of three Steve Oliver co-founded the globally renowned business musicMagpie in 2007, following the collapse of Music Zone (the business he was Managing Director of at the time). musicMagpie is a leader in the re-commerce of consumer technology (including smartphones, tablets, consoles and wearables), disc media (including CDs, DVDs and games) and books, with sustainability running to the very heart of its operations.

After losing Music Zone, and consequently the value of half their family home, Steve took a huge risk and invested the other half of the family home into starting musicMagpie, a new business venture that he started from his garage in Stockport with his co-founder, Walter Gleeson. Despite the risk and the company’s humble beginnings, musicMagpie had sales of over £145m in 2021 and, in the same year, floated on the London Stock Exchange at a value of £208million.

You don’t have to spend long in Steve’s company to realise that, whilst he is an incredibly successful businessperson, he is first and foremost a family man, and his beloved wife Cath and their three daughters are everything to him. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Steve to listen to how he managed to build such a lucrative business and become such a well-respected CEO, all whilst being such a devoted husband and father.

“Life runs in parallel and not in series, and it would be so much easier if you could do these things in series. For example, if there was a stage in your life where you could say ‘Right, I’m going to focus on having children now for 10-15 years, and then you could say, ‘right, now I’m going to grow my career for 10 -15 years’ and you could have had that time to only focus on your business, then things would be much easier but it rarely works out like that and you very often end up doing it all at the same time!”

How did having children impact your career and your career choices, and vice versa – how did building a business affect your family life?

“Well, I’ve got three girls, all of whom mean the absolute world to me and, alongside my wife Cath, are by far and away the most precious things to me. I have always tried everything I can to make a better life for us as a family. The desire to provide all my family with long term welfare and security has always been my greatest motivation, but equally I was always determined not to compromise my relationship with any of them in striving to achieve that – it’s been incredibly difficult at times, but I hope they would agree that I have nearly always got it about right!’” He laughs

“The thing is I’m blessed in every way possible with Cath – I knew within two weeks of meeting her that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her and we’re still blissfully happy now! Cath is everything to me, we’re the best of friends and barely ever have a crossed word. We’ve been lucky that one of the many ways it has worked for us as a family is that Cath was always very happy to take the lead with our girls and she therefore adopted the primary caring role, which in turn allowed me – and she completely supported me – to work really hard. Because I was working so hard on building the business, it did mean that I wasn’t at the tea table every night, but I was always there for all the big things, all the parents’ evenings, school plays, sports days, birthdays and assemblies. I was also always at the breakfast table every morning, although that’s because I’ve never been an early riser!” He laughs. “Alongside taking the lead with our girls, Cath had her own teaching career and then she went onto job share and reduced her hours slightly; that worked really well for us as a family unit, but I owe everything to her for allowing me, and supporting me endlessly, to build the business with the musicMagpie team.”

How did you find balancing your priorities as the girls were growing up? As it can be really hard to juggle the demands of building a business and raising a family.

“My life is really simple – firstly family and friends, secondly the business, and then thirdly sports – mainly football, a bit of cricket, a lot of watching Man City, and playing as much sport as I can still. Those three things – always in that order – are my life – I’m a simple soul really! Family and friends have always come first, despite how important the business has been to me, and I think it’s very important that it’s that way around for anyone who is raising a family whilst growing a business. I do think it sad sometimes when I see people get those two things blurred and the family side of things does inevitably suffer.”

Have you always been able to maintain those priorities? Is that something that you did quite naturally or was it something that you had to work on to achieve the right balance?

“I have always found it came quite naturally to me; I have always known where the line is. Of course, I had the sacrifices of not being at the tea table every evening, but both Cath and I could reconcile that, because if they ever needed me, I would literally drop everything for them. If there was something the girls wanted me to attend, I would be there. I may have been the parent always flying into the school foyer with 30 seconds to go – I was actually infamous for it – but no matter what I would be there one way or the other! I think another thing was that, if Cathy rang me, regardless of where I was or who I was with, I would answer it, and if she or the girls needed me – bang I would be there”

What have been some of the toughest times that you have endured in business and how did that affect your family life?

“When I came out of Music Zone I had essentially lost half the house financially and was both professionally and personally heartbroken at the pain. I couldn’t have got through that and gone onto do what I have done in business without Cath; she has been my practical support and crutch, and my emotional support and crutch. As I joke with her it’s a bit like my forty-odd years of watching City – they came good eventually – just like I did!” We all laugh. “Despite what we had lost, she backed me and supported me into using the money from the other half of our house to put into the start of musicMagpie and start again. That kind of support is invaluable in every way! In fact, my father-in-law was 80 last month, and I don’t know about you, but I hardly ever handwrite to anyone anymore, but I wrote him a card with quite a lengthy message in. Cath gets all her caring and supportive qualities from both her mum and dad; and second to my dad, he’s the person I would always turn to in life to because he’s so wise and kind, and he didn’t ever judge me throughout the ups and downs of my career. He always backed me, and he always believed in me too. It would have been very easy for him as the father of his little girl to say, ‘Steve, go and get a job and show some responsibility.’ He’d have been perfectly entitled to, but not once did he ever do that and so, I wanted to write this note to him to say thank you. In the same way that I’m so grateful to Cath for supporting me, both he and my mother-in-law, like my own parents, were incredibly supportive of me as well. And they all did help us financially at times, but more importantly than that they supported us emotionally with their unconditional love.”

 

You can tell how strong your family values are, not just with yourself, but it seems to run through your whole family, you’ve mentioned how invaluable that support is, do you think that has played an integral role to your success?

“Yes, without a doubt! Cath and I actually celebrated our silver wedding anniversary during the pandemic – when you could only get together outside – and I’ve got a lovely picture where Cath and I are sitting in the garden, where we had both of our parents on either side of us and my dear sister and brother-in-law were there too. We’re all extremely close and my sister’s kids are like our fourth and fifth children. And when Cath and I looked at the picture, we realised that both our parents had each been married for over 55 years, my sister and her husband had been married for 30 years, and we were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. So yes, I think for us and our children, we’ve been very lucky to grow up in that environment and it has provided a great deal of emotional security. That is no disrespect to anyone else at all because obviously there are so many single parents out there doing a brilliant job. My brother-in-law, who is like a brother to me, grew up with a single parent and he was brought up with a lot of emotional security because his mother did the job of both parents wonderfully and she was an amazing lady. I guess my point is that for me there is a definite correlation between the emotional security from family support and success in business. I remember saying in my wedding speech to our parents, ‘All we can promise is to raise our children with the same love, support, respect, and security that you have given to us.’ It all sounds a bit cheesy and sentimental but it’s true, and we’ve certainly tried to pass that on to them, and hopefully we have. I think it’s particularly hard for children more so than ever with all the pressures on them these days, so you just hope to give them a stable base to grow and flourish from.”

One of your daughters works for you at musicMagpie, doesn’t she?

“Yes, she does and what I really admire about Ems (Emily) working here is that she has done it despite me being CEO. She’s had to work even harder to establish herself and her own relationships and professional respect from her colleagues. Everybody knows she is the ‘boss’s daughter’ – but nobody cares because she’s never used it, and we’ve never used it to her advantage or anything like that. I always say to my peers on the Board that I want her to be ‘Emily Smith’ to everyone in the business, so she neither gets any over treatment nor under treatment that she would do otherwise. The single biggest thing that I admire in her is the emotional intelligence that she has shown to make that work, because that’s really difficult for a 21-year-old (which is how old she was when she joined). She came out of university with a first in biomedical science, but to have the emotional intelligence to form her own trust and respect with all her peers, and my colleagues on the Board, took a lot of maturity and strength. She’s been promoted three times now by her various line managers, and in a completely unbiased way she’s thoroughly deserved it each time! She won an award recently, and obviously I was really proud of her as both her father and her CEO, but equally I was conscious not to over play how proud I was, as I don’t want it to come across as disrespectful to other employees or to Ems. But it’s really, really nice to have her in the business as it’s given us an even tighter bond.”

Did you ever have, or still have, a particular staple that you will use to help you maintain that work life balance and ensure that at certain times it’s just family time and work is off limits?

“Well, I always believed in working really hard in the week, even in the evenings, but my weekends are sacred. That goes for now and when I was at the peak of building the business and working really hard, sometimes it may just have been the Saturday that I was able to take off at that time, but I have always tried to protect that quality family time at the weekend. And something else that I do, which I learnt from my mum and dad, is that however hard you work, holidays are the most precious times together. I am guilty of never really switching off from my phone with emails and so on, but I will always make sure that I do that as much as possible whilst I’m on holiday to make sure that I give those chunks of time, to make sure I’m present, and that we’re able to create great family memories together as I did growing up.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s easier said than done and you can never completely switch off when you run a business. I spent the majority of the girls’ childhood building a business, and if something is wrong in that business, then you have the ultimate responsibility and sometimes you can’t leave things. When you have 1,000 people on your payroll and things aren’t going so well, you feel a deep sense of responsibility, so even when you’re with your family and you want to just be with them, you can’t switch off 100% because you need to stay in touch with what’s going on. But I’ve always tried to make it a conscious effort at weekends and on holiday to be as switched off from work as possible. I’m getting better at it, even in the last year I’ve realised that I am getting older, I am getting more tired, and I know that I must have some more down time going forward. I’m definitely not 35 anymore!”

How easy do you think you will find having more downtime when you have work at such an intense pace for so many years?

“I was having a really interesting lunch with a longer standing public CEO about this recently, and it was a real eye-opener and a real epiphany moment for me because what they said is as you get older you can’t continue working at 110%, working 12-13 hours a day. It’s not just the quantity of that work that’s so exhausting but the intensity of the constant stress of it. You can’t continue working at that same intense level forever. But it felt until recently that it was either A – you work full 110% pelt or B – you stop; and to stop just feels a bit scary, because your business does become a bit like your fourth child, and I’m not ready to let it go and just stop working yet as I am incredibly excited about musicMagpie’s future. So, this person was telling me that there is an option C – do it but do it more on your terms. I’ve got great people around me in the business, and Gemma Boyle coming in as my EA (Executive Assistant) recently has changed my life as she’s not just one step behind me organising practicalities, she’s one step ahead of me and organising my meetings, chasing actions, and creating structure in my life. Even reading my emails to say right you need to do this, thinking ahead as to whether something needs booking – it’s all those little things that mentally pile up in your brain and I used to end up doing them in bed at twenty to one the morning on my phone. So, thanks to Gemma and all the other amazing people that I’m so blessed to have around me, both professionally and personally, I am already shifting more into option C and can look forward to the next stage of the musicMagpie journey.

My core belief in working with people and building a business is that to make a success of it you have to trust them, you have to value them, and you have to respect them. And even though I like to be involved in the details, especially the numbers side of things, I do take a step back and think to myself they are in a senior role for a reason, they are excellent at what they do, it’s what they get paid to do, and actually they will get fulfilment and feel good about what they’re doing if I allow them to do their job. So, it’s about adjusting your mindset and actually letting go a little.”

Seen as you’re such a family man yourself is that something that you have instilled within how you operate musicMagpie, and how you can implement things to support your team so that they can fit their roles within their family life too?

“Yes, 100%! And I’m not just saying this, this is my other family, the musicMagpie family! It’s lovely actually, I was moving some stuff around my office the other day and I found a card that someone who is a fairly new addition to the musicMagpie family had sent to me and Gemma after our colleague conference last month and it said ‘I’ve never come across anything quite like the musicMagpie family and the way you look after people so well.’ And that’s a lovely thing for someone who’s only come into the business fairly recently to observe and believe. While I do think that it’s entirely possible that the business will have a technically better CEO in the future, somebody who’s more experienced at public life and might sometimes make better decisions than me, the business will never have another CEO that cares for the people as much as I do and tries to keep the family feel and dynamic instilled at the very heart of it.

The most recent person that’s joined the business in the senior leadership team said to me just last week that it’s the thing that struck them more than anything else since joining us, that we’re only 15 years old as a business and just looking out from my office there is at least six people that have been here for 14 years. I think it’s because I recognise the talent, the care and the passion that so many of our Magpies have and so enjoy working with people who have those qualities.”

What do you think you have implemented into the running of musicMagpie that makes it such a special place to work?

“Two of our core values are ’Care’ and ‘Make a difference.’ It’s what I strongly believe in personally, it’s what everyone else at a senior level believes in and it’s, hopefully, what is instilled throughout the company. We’re not just here to make a successful business and make money, we want to make a difference to our customers, our colleagues, our community and to our planet. They are my core values and if I take that back to my own girls, they are qualities that I have tried to instil in them too. Two of my best friends in the world – one’s a hospital consultant and one’s always worked with less privileged people in mainly the charity sector – both make a difference in life, and we’ve got so much respect for each other as pals because of that, and that’s what I want to instil into both of my families. The world is a fairly horrible places at times, especially at the moment it feels, and it is up to all of us to show social obligation and step up to the plate to look after those less fortunate than ourselves. However big we get I never want us to lose that core ethos of caring.”

What’s your message to a budding entrepreneur?

“It’s really simple, do not underestimate how much hard work it is! It seems like such an obvious statement, but I think too many people don’t realise just how true a statement it is. When I co-founded musicMagpie, I was still doing a full-time job as an MD of a retail business as I had to put salary on the table for the family, because musicMagpie couldn’t pay me a salary. At this point I was doing pretty much every role in musicMagpie too – customer service, writing to Royal Mail in the middle of the night, and so on. Emily was only little at the time, and she would leave notes on my desk saying don’t work too hard daddy because you are looking tired. But being entrepreneurial and setting up a business is tiring, and it is hard work and I’m afraid too many people underestimate that when setting off. But you also have to work smart, and be passionate about what you do, and ALWAYS try and get your work life balance right while being aware that there are times where you will just have to grind it out to get to where you want to be – it is never a straight line or an easy path to the top!”   

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Mike Toolan

Mike Toolan

MIKE TOOLAN © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

“- there is a guilt anytime you do anything for yourself” Mike Toolan

Award-winning Radio & TV Presenter, doting Dad of two, Mike Toolan, is one of the UK’s most loved presenters; with an impressive career spanning over 20 years. After starting his career as a radio presenter in America, his career in Radio really took off in UK at the exact same time as he became a dad for the first time! In recent years Mike became a single dad, with his two children living with him full time, so he had to learn to manage the juggle of looking after two teenage children and school runs, alongside his work as a radio & TV presenter, Voice-over artist, numerous theatre roles and the latest string to his bow – writing for TV! We sat down with Mike to chat about how he managed to get through the haze of his first big break as a breakfast presenter (with 4am starts), alongside becoming a father; becoming a dad to two under two, and the job opportunities that he turned down when they didn’t fit into his family life.

Known for his incredible sense of humour we enjoyed a hilarious interview with Mike, but underneath the jokes it’s clear to see just how much Mike’s children mean to him and it was inspiring to hear that despite having to turn down some amazing opportunities in order to put his role as a dad first, it hasn’t hindered his career at all, and he has no regrets about prioritising his family life first and foremost.    

Mike Toolan & Sir Alex Ferguson. (Image: Key 103/Hits Radio)
MIKE TOOLAN IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY
MIKE TOOLAN IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

Where was you at in your career when you became a dad and how did you find the transition of managing your career alongside fatherhood?

“I have been a radio presenter all my life really, but I had just started on the breakfast show on KEY103 the same week that Luca was born. So that was a busy week!” He laughs “I think I got less sleep than a political prisoner for the first months, because he had colic as well, so he didn’t sleep at all, and I was getting up at 4.30am every day. It was all just a weird blur for those first six months to be honest. Obviously, it was amazing being on the breakfast show and it was all quite glamourous, and I remember thinking ‘I should really be enjoying this, but I’m just too tired to’. It was a bit like that feeling you get when you’ve been on a long-haul flight, and you get off the plane and the place is stunning and there’s a nice pool and you just think yeah this is great, but I just want to sleep!”

How did you survive? Because obviously it was a great moment in your career to get the breakfast show and obviously becoming a dad for the first time is wonderful, but that was quite a demanding schedule.

“I’d break up my sleep into two halves. I remember people in December would say only 18 sleeps until Christmas and for me there would be 36!” He laughs. “Every day turned into two days, I would go to sleep everyday about midday, wake up at 4pm and it would feel like a new day, although I did spend most of the time feeling very confused – I’m not sure I even knew my own name at that point!”

So as if that wasn’t enough to manage you went on to have another child – your daughter Lottie. 

“Yes, and there wasn’t a massive gap between them either, Luca was around 18 months old when Lottie was born. Lottie was a bit of surprise really – a nice one of course – but having two under two was a lot – the juggle was real managing that!”

Your children are a lot older now, how have you found managing all the different stages that children go through?

“I personally don’t think that there is any one stage better than another stage, they’re just different. It’s like my son Luca, he’s growing up now and he and I are just like mates, and it’s wonderful. And Lottie has just finished her GCSE’S and she’s an amazing girl. And it is so different to the beginning, because obviously at the beginning you’re like a full-on carer. When you have a baby, you get up to someone else’s schedule, your playtime is to someone else’s schedule, your sleep is to someone else’s schedule, you eat to their schedule and it’s almost like being in jail but you’re in love with warden.” We all laugh “Because it’s like 4am and you wake a bit disgruntled, then you’re like ‘oh it’s you’ and suddenly you don’t care what time it is. As the move through the different stages there are advantages and disadvantages to each stage.”

How do you think you have changed since becoming a dad?

“I think I was a lot more selfish pre kids, when you have kids, you instantly have to put someone else first don’t you? Your whole priorities change, and you become a much kinder person. I remember that’s when I started doing charity work, it sounds like a real cliché, but once I’d had kids if someone at the children’s hospital or somewhere would ask me to do a charity event I would be like ‘Yes!’, because you have this precious little bundle of life and you want to put more back into the world.”

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Has parent guilt been a factor for you throughout the years and do you manage to factor in some ‘me time’?

“Oh yeah, there is a guilt anytime you do anything for yourself – I was raised a catholic so there’s enough guilt going on there anywhere!” He jokes. “But there were things like I had always had a season ticket at Manchester United, but when Luca was born, I thought no, I can’t just leave him and his mum every other Saturday to go watch the football, so I decided to give that up. And for the last ten years me and Luca have been trying to get a season ticket back!” He laughs “But if you’re a decent parent you’ve got to put all of there interests first. There’s always going to be sacrifices but you get the fun in different ways once you have the kids because you’re having fun with them instead. Massive Saturday nights out with the lads become Saturday swim club with the lads, so you have fun like that. I was lucky because there was a group of us, almost like the show Friends. We were a group of single lads, then there were girls on scene, then everyone started getting engaged and married, and we all had kids at the same time. So now our kids are all the same age and we’re all still friends, so it’s been great to have that network of people all going through the same things.”

Has becoming a parent ever impacted your career decisions?

“Yes, it has actually. I have been offered jobs in London on a couple of occasions, various big radio opportunities in London, but I couldn’t really take them, because at the minute the kids live with me full time and have done for a few years, but there was a time that they were split 50/50 between me and their mum, and I just didn’t want to lose all that. I was actually offered to do This Morning regularly too, it would have been two days a week doing the interactive stuff it was called ‘The Hub’ and it was myself, Rylan and Coleen Nolan, and they said to me did I want to do Tuesdays and Thursdays, but it would have meant I would have had to give up my radio job here and spend time away from the kids so I just couldn’t do it. But I have no regrets about that at all.

I read a book recently called the 5 regrets of the dying. It’s written by a woman in America who works in end-of-life care, and she interviews all these people on their death beds – it’s really interesting. And she asks them ‘What is your biggest regret in life?’ and a lot of them say that their biggest regret is that they didn’t achieve their full potential in whatever area. I think yeah, I could have gone on to be a TV presenter but I couldn’t have sacrificed the relationship with the kids so I would still do the same thing tomorrow if I had to. I think whatever is meant for you will come anyway. Family is everything, and I’m very lucky to be able to do something that I enjoy as a career and it’s obviously important to me but it’s a secondary thing for me.”

Are there particularly moments that stand out to you where the juggle of work and kids has crossed over?      

“I was interviewing Fergie (Alex Ferguson) at Tesco when he had his first book signing, and he invited me down and I was on my way down there and I got a phone call from Lottie’s school and she had a sick bug, so I had to go and pick her up. But I still had to do this interview with Fergie, and I was just like, ‘Oh no! Oh god! What am I going to do?’ there was no one else that could help and no where I could take her, so I literally had to take her along and she had to sit there whilst I did the interview. Thankfully she wasn’t sick again, so it was alright, but he tried talking to her and she just kind of stared at him with this green face, and I was like ‘This is Sir Alex Ferguson Lottie’ and the poor thing was just sat there heaving!” He laughs “And there was another time, where I had to go and pick up a signed copy of Fergie’s book from his house for a charity event and had to call on my way home from the school run, so I had Luca with me – he was about 8 at the time and a massive Man United fan – and I said to him we’ve got to go to the Man United manager’s house. And Luca’s face was picture, because Fergie was his idol he was like a god to Luca, and we actually ended up going in and he gave us a tour of his house and sat down and had some tea with him. It was incredible, Luca was just sat there in his school uniform in a bit of daze, he couldn’t believe it. It’s still actually to this day one of his happiest memories. But they were both one of those times where you’re juggling, and you’ve got no choice but to do both things at once. Overall though I think I’ve been lucky that because of the shifts I’ve done, that other than having to get someone to come round and help in the mornings, I’ve been able to do the rest myself. Because I was on the breakfast show and I would finish at 10am, I could do everything apart from the morning school run. I was always at the school gates for pick up, doing the homework and cooking dinner and I know a lot of people don’t get that, as they might not get home from work until about 7pm so I have always felt lucky that my career has allowed me to be able to be hands on like that.”

Have you got any tips for any other parents juggling work and family life?

“I’m always making notes of everything on my note’s app, and I put everything in the diary, so the iPhone has changed my life in that way as there’s always reminders popping up. So, I would say just to be as organised as possible, as it really helps you from dropping the ball. I have to write everything down otherwise I’ll forget as I have a memory like Nemo!

Then the other thing that I do, that is quite a nice tip, is that whenever we go to bed, I have always got the kids to say their prayers at night – not even from a spiritual point of view, but just for them to think ‘what are you grateful for today?’ And we’d do a little list of gratitude, and then the one thing that does is remind them of the best bits of their day, even if that’s the dessert they’ve eaten or something like that. I think that it’s important that the last thing they do before they go to sleep is remember all the good things that have happened, and then they end their day on a positive. That’s really helped them both actually and I think it’s important to integrate a bit of mindfulness into their daily routine.”

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD

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CHEMMY ALCOTT

CHEMMY ALCOTT

CHEMMY ALCOTT © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

“I vowed never to lose myself when I became a parent.”

Inspirational Mum of two, and BBC Ski Sunday Presenter, Chemmy Alcott, went down in history as being the first British Ski racer to win a world cup run, and she is widely regarded as one of Britain’s greatest ever skiers. Chemmy is no stranger to adversity having broken 49 bones in her life, and still returning to the slopes against all odds, so it’s no wonder that when she was offered her dream job as BBC Ski Sunday feature presenter at the same time that she was due to give birth to her first child that she chose to take on the challenge of both roles; returning to work only two weeks after giving birth!

Alongside her successful career as a BBC sports presenter, Chemmy is an inspirational speaker and also runs her own business – CDC Performance – with her husband, 25 Time British Champion Dougie Crawford, providing world class ski coaching and experiences. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Chemmy at her lovely family home that she shares with Dougie and their two boys, Locki 5 and Cooper 3, to discuss how she does it all, and why maintaining her own identity is so important to her.  

CHEMMY ALCOTT IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY
CHEMMY ALCOTT IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY
CHEMMY ALCOTT IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY
CHEMMY ALCOTT IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY

You returned to work very quickly after having both your boys, did you always plan to return to work so quickly and was it important to you that you kept your own identity outside of being a mum?

“I think I was quite lucky as a lot of my friends had kids before me, so I saw them really change through parenthood and lose themselves, and so I vowed to never let that happen to me when I became a parent. But I then went completely the other way, as both my babies were born in the January, and I went back to work skiing only two weeks after, with both babies. In fact, our first labour was really complicated, and they were said ‘Look this isn’t going great…’ with my reply being, ‘Don’t even think about a c-section, because I’ve got to ski in two weeks – I’ve got to work!’ Maybe I felt more pressure being female, but I was about to start my dream job at the BBC doing Ski Sunday, and I remember thinking, ‘I can’t give up this role. I don’t want them to give this job to anyone else, this Is my job! I’m going to make it happen!’ So, when they initially offered me the job my naive plan was, I’m going have the baby, I’m going to go straight back to work, Dougie’s amazing at supporting me so we can do this! Although it was crazy, it was just epic, because people just lose themselves so much and it can be so hard to find yourself again, but I never got chance to stop being me. Actually, in skiing they say that if you’ve skied your whole life and then you become a parent, but then you don’t ski for 5 years then you’ll never ski again! It’s because the fear of being responsible for someone else and the danger of the sport just crushes you so much that you never allow yourself to have that play time again. I hoped that wouldn’t happen to me though, although looking back I think it’s pretty mad that I was skiing only a few weeks after having a baby, but I was really fortunate in how my body held up.

It was also quite empowering returning to work so quickly. I remember when Cooper was born and two weeks later, we were at the World Championships, and I was working, interviewing the guy who had just won the World Champs downhill. It was a great interview, and when we finished the interview, the producer said ‘Woah, that was epic! You’re on a buz