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Lisa Prudhoe talks to workingwise.co.uk about her working life, about resilience and about proving people wrong.
Lisa Prudhoe likes a challenge. When she told her dad she was going to do the Great North Run to mark the anniversary of her mother’s death, he didn’t think she could do it. Since then she has run four marathons and done 108 park runs. “When someone tells me I can’t do something I will prove them wrong,” says Lisa, who has just completed a wing walk after taking three years to get down to the weight required to do it.
She has needed that determination over the years. Lisa has had more than her fair share of knocks – from losing her mother as a teenager to an abusive relationship to dealing with multiple redundancies and a breakdown. But she has found her own way through these and is now in a good place, able to help others with mental health issues.
Her working life has been varied and she has had to pick herself up and start again many times. Her career began at WH Smith where she was a trainee manager. She eventually moved to London to project manage a shop rebrand with designers. Moving away was a big step as she had been looking after her dad and sister since her mum died. She was, however, keen to see the world. She found she really enjoyed project management and stayed at WH Smith for 10 years, moving to their head office in Swindon and working to put National Lottery terminals in stores up and down the country.
After going to Yorkshire for a wedding she fell in love with the place and decided that she would move there. She left WH Smith and took a design job with Asda whose values she was drawn to. She had several jobs with the supermarket company over the years and discovered that she loved coaching and helping others. She became involved with training and development, but her role was made redundant so she had to move on.
She found a general manager role at an events company and stayed for a couple of years until another opportunity came up at Asda. “I like working within the comfort blanket of a corporate. It gives you a framework and allows you to expand your knowledge in a safe environment with like-minded people who care for others,” she says.
Her roles included designing pizza boxes and toppings. A highlight was going to the International Pizza Expo in Las Vegas. However, when she returned to the UK her role had changed. She started working with small local food companies across Scotland and Northern Ireland, such as a handmade biscuit manufacturer, to enable them to sell their products through supermarkets. “That gave me an opportunity to develop a new set of skills, nurturing businesses and I got to travel a lot,” says Lisa.
After eight years, she was made redundant again. “I’ve had to be resilient throughout my life,” she says. “My mum taught us to always be kind, to pick yourself up and carry on if you get knocked down and that there is nothing you cannot achieve if you try your best.”
In 2010, however, Lisa had a breakdown after spending months feeling depressed and withdrawing from others. “The wheels came off,” she says. She was trying to be all things to everyone else and had volunteered to run a marathon with a friend, but had not had time to do any training. Not wanting to let her friend down, she started the marathon, but had to pull out halfway.
Realising something was wrong, her friend cornered her and told her to get help. That was hard for Lisa as she wasn’t used to asking for help. She spent six months in therapy and was diagnosed with a mild version of bi-polar disorder which she says was due to a combination of stress and grief. “I had not dealt with the death of my mum,” she says. Through the therapy she realised that she needed to start putting herself first.
From then until now her life has changed completely. Five years ago as she approached 50 and after being made redundant again and getting coaching, Lisa realised she was in an abusive relationship and made the decision to walk away from her partner and his children.
Around the same time Lisa launched her own jewellery business, Hjarta [it means heart in Swedish, because every piece is made with love]. Her coach helped her start up the business. “It was very cathartic,” she says. “I get to hit a pieces of metal really hard with a hammer and create something wonderful with love. And I love that people wear jewellery that I have made.”
Due to financial reasons she had to take other paid work, but has kept the business going on the side, her roles were varied she even did a year as a security supervisor at an airport.
Now 54, she has a new partner who she can talk to about anything, is surrounded by women who guide and inspire her and works as a PA. She has, however, continued to try new things and to learn new skills.
During the pandemic, she was furloughed for a few weeks in lockdown during which time she learned Swedish and had to deal with the onset of the menopause.
Now back at work, Lisa has just finished training to become a mental health first aider. She received her first aid qualification, poignantly, on the anniversary of her mother’s death. She feels it is important to help others like herself. She says: “I have had to take things moment by moment. There are still times when I can’t take it one day at a time, when I can’t think that far ahead. I spent so long putting myself in situations to avoid dealing with my feelings and now there are so many things that make me reflect. If I had had a person to talk to about my mental health earlier on it would have made such a difference.”
Lisa adds: “There is still a stigma attached to mental health issues, especially for women. I am so proud of how far I have come.”
Of her own resilience, she says simply: “I have been able to create new chapters. It’s not about reinvention. It’s about adding new layers.”