MEL SHEEHY © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHYMelanie Sheehy is one of the co-founders of the renowned Manchester PA Network (MPAN) and Manchester PA Awards. Alongside this incredible career accolade, Melanie is also Chapter Manager for YPO (Young Presidents Organisation), as...
Emma Neville and her two daughters she shares with football legend Gary Neville © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE
Philanthropist, qualified counsellor, wife, and doting Mum of two
“the first big thing that I did for them was a fundraiser which was 3 days, 3 countries and 3 mountains, I was quite nervous going as it was with a group of ladies that I didn’t know bar two of them, but collectively, we raised £178,000 ”
Philanthropist, qualified counsellor and doting Mum of two, Emma Neville, has always kept herself out of the public eye despite her husband, Gary Neville’s, extremely high profile and widely documented career; meaning that a lot of Emma’s personal achievements and her incredible dedication to support so many charities have gone under the radar. Emma is exceptionally modest about her charity work and what she has achieved already in her career as a counsellor. It’s a journey that she embarked on around five years ago; after spending many years embracing her role as a full-time mum and taking the lead with the family’s home life to counterbalance Gary’s demanding career schedule. But as the girls got older Emma realised, she wanted to do something for herself, consequently pushing herself out of her comfort zone and pursuing a lifelong ambition of becoming a qualified counsellor. Emma also accelerated her contributions to several charities through volunteer work, rather than ‘just’ making monetary donations. Emma volunteers for many charities including Destination Florida, Bury Cancer Support Centre, Girls Out Loud, Child Bereavement UK and she is very passionate about enhancing the amazing work that these charities already do, as well as helping to raise awareness for them.
When you meet Emma, you can instantly see why she is so well suited to her chosen career path, as her warm and endearing nature shines through. It was an absolute pleasure to chat to Emma and listen to how she has carved out her new career path, whilst making a difference to so many people’s lives, and to hear how she balances that alongside her role as Mum. We chatted away to Emma before the girls, Molly 13, and Sophie 12, returned home from school and joined us for our photo shoot; that we managed to squeeze in between school finishing, teatime, and netball practise!
So, why don’t you just tell us a little bit about what you have been up to since embarking on your new career.
“I qualified as a person-centred counsellor in 2019 – I never thought I would actually finish it as lockdown came along and it was really difficult as I’m very much a classroom learner and without the classroom, I didn’t think I would have been capable of doing it on my own. But I got there, and I passed, and I was really proud of my little self! I gain my 100-hour client learning at two placements; one was at the Simeon centre, and one was at the Bury Cancer Support Centre. They were two very different organisational structures, I enjoyed both ways of how the client process worked. After my placement finished at Bury Cancer Support Centre, they asked me if I would like to stay on and continue in the role, and I was so happy that they had asked me as it was such a special place that I accepted straight away!
Emma Neville and her two daughters © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY FOR BROOD MAGAZINE
Emma Neville. IMAGE © TOM PITFIELD PHOTOGRAPHY for BROOD
I’ve completed numerous other courses since looking into different modalities, such as transactional analysis, working with children and adolescent counselling course and trauma and PTSD. It is really important to me that I make sure I’ve learnt as many skills as I possibly can, so that I can offer people the best support possible.”
What made you enter the world of counselling, to take the first step and start the course?
“Well, I had always wanted to do it, I remember contemplating it when was working at wholesale jewellers in my twenties, and I was obviously quite young then though so I’m really glad that I didn’t do it at that point in my life, as I feel like the life experiences I have had since have actually helped me become a better counsellor. So, even though it is something I’ve always wanted to do, I feel like I’ve done it at the right time in my life.
It was actually through working with a charity that I decided to take the plunge and start the course. I was at a ladies lunch at the Hilton in Manchester and Gary Barlow was speaking as an ambassador for Child Bereavement UK and I got chatting to Liz Taylor, who had put on the event, and I asked who the CEO was, and Liz introduced me to Anne Chalmers. I had a really good chat with Ann, and she gave me her card. I left the event with an overpowering urge to be involved with them somehow, I wanted to help them to do more; hearing all the stories and watching the videos had really touched me. But I didn’t want to just make a pledge and give money though, I wanted to do more than that, I wanted become hands on with the charity. So started doing some volunteer work for them on their family support programmes, which run from a centre in Widnes. I would do one weekend on and one weekend off there. We would read bereavement books with the children and do various craft activities with them and talk about the special person that they had lost. These children would have lost their Mum, or their dad, or their brother, or their sister. People used to say to me ‘How can you do that it must be really depressing?’, but for me those Saturdays were my favourite Saturdays out of the month. I would leave there feeling so privileged that these amazing children had let me into their lives. And as the weeks went on, it was just so wonderful to see the children’s personalities grow and develop, and to watch all the friendships form between the children. They were making friends with other children that they could relate to, as they had all shared similar experiences. So, it was through doing that volunteer work that gave me the push to become a qualified counsellor.”
“…I explained some of the children that I’m working with have lost their mummy’s and daddy’s, or brother’s or sister’s, so I was needed there to help those children.”
So how long had you been doing volunteer work before you decided to enrol onto the Counselling course?
“I did it that for a year and I did some training with them whilst I was there, and then I just thought right it’s time for me to take the next step and I enrolled on a part time course, at night school for my Level 2 qualification. I hadn’t studied for a long time, so it was a big thing for me to go back into the classroom. Then I progressed onto my Level 3 and then Level 4 – which is a two-year course with 100 hours placement. So, it took me three and half years in total to become fully qualified.”
During those three and half years of studies and placements, how did that impact your mum role and how did you find the juggle?
“I did feel guilty doing the work on the Saturday at times, because obviously the girls are at school all week, but I looked forward to sharing how my Saturday had gone with them once I got home. I’ve always been open with them as well and explained that some of the children that I’m working with have lost their mummy’s and daddy’s, or brother’s or sister’s, so I was needed there to help those children.”
Are the girls proud of you now that they are that bit older, and they can understand more about what you do and what you have achieved?
“I think so!” she laughs, “They’ll often ask me what I’ve done that day – sometimes they’re not listening to me (she laughs) but other times they really do take an interest and they’ll ask about the books that I’m reading etc. When I’m putting on a charity event though I like to try and get them involved, so I will ask them to come up with ideas for fundraising etc. I actually did a placement at a hospice in Radcliffe, and they did a stall and was selling toys to try and raise money for the hospice. I think it’s really important to get them involved and I hope that they themselves will go along the path of getting involved with doing some aspect of charity work too.”
Did you feel like you had to wait until the girls were a bit older in order to start your education and career?
“I definitely wanted to be with the girls when they were younger and be that mum that can do every school pick up, but as they started to get a bit older, even from the age of about 7, they would start taken themselves off to do things for themselves and it just felt like it was the right time as a whole for us all. In hindsight I think I would have liked to have started this journey earlier. But I suppose everything happens at the right time in the end, and I still had and do get, those feelings of mum guilt, even though I know that they are fine. I would have struggled to have started my studies now as they have so many activities and commitments after school, but back then they had only just started playing netball, so it wasn’t too intense at that point trying to manage everything. I am also not very good at delegating and that came from my own feelings of wanting to do everything for them, so I’m lucky that the career I have chosen actually fit’s in really well for us a whole, as it’s quite flexible, so I’m lucky that it didn’t add too much pressure. It was very important to me when I started it that I could schedule it into my family life without it affecting it too much.”
Has having a career helped you to find your own identity outside of the parent role?
“Yes, definitely. I felt a change around the time I was thirty-five and I really felt that I needed to do some for myself and to see what I could achieve in my own right. I realised that I do want to feel important and valued as a person, and not ‘just’ as a mum. When I only had that mum role, I would drop them off at school, come home do the housework, get the shopping in etc and before I knew it was time to pick them back up again, and I can remember thinking the days just go so fast, ‘how do people do it?’. So, I always really admired working parents. I think because Gary’s work life has always been so full on, I never know his schedule and when I do it changes that much, that was why I never really pushed myself because I felt like I had to fit around that and take the lead with the girls. And I know Gary would have supported me if I would have wanted to do something back then, but I felt like it was the right role for me at that time. When I started my course and I was one of the older ones on the course and I had a lot of self-doubt, where I questioned whether I was capable or not, but I really felt it was really important to keep going and push myself. I needed to prove to myself that I could do it. I knew if I would have just given up that I would have been so angry with myself, that no matter how much I was struggling and doubting my capabilities, I made sure I turned up to every class and got through it.”
Obviously, Gary has very high profile and has had a very successful career, so you didn’t necessarily need to build a career of your own from a financial point of view, so your driving force has been to help a number of charities elevate their services, raise awareness and funds. Tell us a little bit more about that.
“When I started volunteering with Child Bereavement UK the first big thing that I did for them was a fundraiser which was 3 days, 3 countries and 3 mountains, I was quite nervous going as it was with a group of ladies that I didn’t know bar two of them, but collectively, we raised £178,000 and it felt incredible to give back and I felt really proud. Then a few months later I connected with Mike Hymanson (Chair of Trustees) from Destination Florida (A Children’s Charity that takes children with life-limiting conditions away for a once in a lifetime magical holiday) I knew Mike through friends, and after we chatted, he asked me to go on the fundraising board for them and I said yes. When I started on the board, initially it was very much about how I could encourage the connections I had to contribute and pledge money and that alone just didn’t feel like enough, I wanted to do more. So, I started to thrive when I was able to tap into my creative side and come up with ideas. So, I’ve worked with them for two years now, helping them organise events and fundraisers. I’m really looking forward to going on a trip with them to Disney in 2023.
Emma conscientiously checks back to her notes at this point to make sure that she includes all the charities that are close to her heart. We’re very impressed with how organised she is, (it’s not often BROOD interviews are organised!) and she jokes that Gary always says, ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!’ so she has done what he’s always telling her to do!
“So, then I heard about another charity – Girls out loud (a social enterprise designed to empower girls to channel their potential and make better life choices), so I joined their big sister programme and that was life changing for me! It was working with year 9 girls, going into to schools to see them for an hour, outside of the classroom. They would give you a structure, but you could choose how you approached each week yourself, as it always depended on how open the girls would be with you, because some days they wouldn’t want to talk, so you couldn’t just pull this worksheet out and start trying to go through that with them. It was amazing to meet my ‘little sister’. She was such an open and honest girl, and she was trying to build her confidence. We would talk a lot about resilience, and we made mood boards, vision boards and mantra jars, things like that. The hour would fly by, and I always wanted to give more time. I did that for 12 months. I really enjoyed the programme and I found it really interesting to see just how much social media influences their lives. I absolutely love that charity and I can’t wait to do more with them.”
Do you think having teenage daughters of your own helped prepare you for that role?
“Because I know that I’m a bit of a rescuer I was conscious not to take on that mothering role, and I definitely didn’t want to talk at my ‘little sister’ because I’m the ‘big sister’ and I’m meant to know more. But it wasn’t like that at all, it was a two-way street, I learnt a lot from her about life as a teenager at school and what they do after school. It did make me feel relieved that it wasn’t me at school! It also made me realise that I might need to give the girls some slack sometimes, as it’s a lot to deal with being at school. Working with Girls Out Loud gave me an insight into life at high school and what children go through, so that’s something I will be mindful of when it comes to the girls. We did a study around screen time and there was one girl had been on her phone for 16 hours and that just blew my mind! I couldn’t understand how that was even possible? But she explained that she was up until 2am most nights on her phone. It was eye opening to see just how much social media influenced their lives.
I remember one of them saying when she discussed not taking her phone with her when she went out, she said, ‘I was just able to ugly laugh without my friends taking a picture of me’ This was a 14-year-old girl! It’s just frightening to think they have to think like that because everything is documented and before you know it someone has posted your picture on social media whether you like it or not.”
What advice would you give to the BROOD readers who are parents of teenagers?
“I would say just listen to them and try and just keep conversations going. I know that can sometimes be difficult, but just asking how they are is a good start. I also think a big thing for us, as parents, to make sure we own up to our own mistakes and learn to say sorry, because when we’re in the heat of the moment and we’re stressing at them and complaining, sometimes just saying ‘I’m really sorry about this morning, I wasn’t in a good place, and I was rushing and I shouldn’t have stressed at you’ that can make a big difference. Sometimes we put a lot on them, especially when I think about the morning chaos and when parents get stressed, it makes you wonder does your child leave the house or the car and take that stress and negativity into their school day? So, I think holding your hands up and owning your mistakes is very important. Children can read you; they know when you’re not yourself, so being open with them can put their mind at ease that it’s not on them. Just letting them know that we’re not perfect either. That it is ok to not be ok.”
Have you had any ‘BROOD moments’ since embarking on your career, where something has happened with the kids, and it just turns chaotic, and you end up plagued with the dreaded mum guilt?
“There are loads of things that have happened!” she laughs, “but there was one time that stands out, right at the beginning of my starting this journey and it was when I went on the charity hike for three days. Basically, Sophie had an ingrowing toenail, and it was something I had meant to get looked at, but I didn’t get chance to before I went away and then whilst I was there Gary sent me a picture and half her toe had gone blue! I’d just climbed a mountain; I had another one to climb the next day and the day after that and I remember thinking ‘Oh my god! What am I going to do!’ I felt terrible, and then Gary rang me – not in the best of moods!” she laughs, “and he said, ‘I thought you’d dealt with this!’” We all laugh at this point, understanding this exchange between parents all too well. “We had the normal exchange that we have, and I said to him ‘well you’re a parent too, so you’ll have to deal with it’. But then I got off the phone, I went into this room, and I just cried my eyes out, I felt terrible for not being there and I just felt like I needed to get home. I was imaging the worst and I just felt so bad, but this lady really helped me to calm down and she was from the medical profession, and she was like ‘ring Gary, tell him to draw a line on her toe and as long as the blue doesn’t go below this line it will be fine’. So, I rang Gary to ask him to do that so I could have piece of mind, and he had already spoken to a doctor that had said it was going to be fine, which was huge relief, because when I first spoke to him it felt like it was the end of the world, like she was going to end up having to have her toe amputated and it was all my fault!”
So, what are your plans in terms of your own personal development and within your career?
“Well, the Bury Cancer Support centre has been open for nearly 20 years now, so they are doing a big fundraiser for their anniversary next year, so I will be helping with that, which I’m really looking forward to. I will also continue to volunteer with them because they really are an amazing charity. It is a cause that is close to my heart, and the work they do is just invaluable. I will also continue my work on the fundraising board with Destination Florida, and I’m looking forward to working with Girls Out Loud again.
For me personally, I just want to keep looking out for different charities that I can volunteer for and help with. I want to continue working with teenagers and get more involved in a teenage charity, as it really feels like that is the right fit for me and somewhere I can help to make a real difference. Working with teenagers can be challenging, but it’s a challenge that’s worthwhile.
I will continue to keep doing courses that are going to add to my skill set, so that I can continue to keep improving my skills as a counsellor. I’m currently doing a menopause coaching certificate and I’m hoping this will help many ladies and clients that I have and it’s a subject that I’m really passionate about.
I have achieved certificates in Holistic therapies, such as reflexology, Indian head massage and Hopi ear candles over the years and I’m really interested in these therapies so I will also further my skills in this area, as I feel it goes hand in hand with counselling and client wellbeing. My love of learning has definitely come back, and I just love learning new things.”
Written by Lolo Stubbs
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TOM PITFIELD
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