Yvonne Newbold is a blogger and best-selling author, she’s also a finalist in three of this year’s BAPS Awards categories. In this Q&A, we find out more about how she got into blogging, her advice to others and what fictional character she envisages herself as!
What inspired you to start your blog/organisation?
It all started on the day that I was given a terminal diagnosis of breast cancer. I’d been having intensive treatment for bi-lateral breast cancer for several months, and at the end of it I had a series of scans to check that the treatment had worked. Sadly, it hadn’t, and instead it had spread into my bones.
I had three teenagers, the middle one, Toby, has profound and multiple disabilities and he is medically very fragile. The Oncology Team are usually very careful in these circumstances not to give too much detail of how long someone has left to live. However, I needed to know because I knew that I would have to make some very urgent and important decisions to protect Toby’s well-being into the future, so they did tell me. They said that if I continued treatment, I may live for another two years, but that the goalposts had changed and it was now about prolonging life because a cure was no longer possible.
On the way home afterwards, I knew I needed a bucket list, and I knew exactly what it had to be. I wanted to spend whatever time I had left doing something to ensure that the next generation of children like Toby and their families had better support in some way. That’s what I’ve been trying to do ever since.
That day I started writing a book, The Special Parent’s Handbook, which subsequently became an Amazon #1 bestseller. I poured into it absolutely everything I’d learnt about what it’s like to be a parent of a profoundly disabled child. I had an overwhelming sense of responsibility to write down everything I could think of that I’d learnt along the way that might make it easier for somebody someday.
The success of the book meant that I started being asked to speak at medical and SEND conferences, and then people started asking me to run training courses for their staff teams or parent groups. At exactly the time I should have been putting my house in order and waiting for the grim reaper to turn up, I was being offered all these amazing opportunities instead.
This work has since developed into working with families of SEND children who also have significant levels of violence, and I founded The SEND VCB Project three years ago. Through this work, there are now at least 500 children who are living happy and productive lives full of hope for the future who have left their violent episodes almost completely in the past.
Yes, three years ago – when I was told I would only live for two years. I’ve actually managed to survive, so far, over seven years since that very difficult conversation about my prognosis. I’m still on long-term treatment which is working incredibly well and beyond anyone’s expectation, and it is successfully holding back the progression of disease. My mobility has crashed as a result of treatment so I now have a bright red mobility scooter to match my lippy, but it’s a very small price to pay to actually still be alive and doing so much. I think a terminal diagnosis gives you a different perspective on the urgency of getting things done and I don’t stop because there is so much still to do.
Due to my cancer status I am one of the people who have been identified as being at a particularly high risk of serious illness from coronavirus. That means I’m currently on extreme shielding, and even having to keep my distance from the rest of the family at home. However, I’m approaching it as a wonderful opportunity to put all the work that I do online as well as supporting as many families as I can through these difficult weeks and months of lockdown.
So I’m in the process of starting a non-profit company called Newbold Hope CIC, and I’m on a steep learning curve trying to master some rather swanky new software that I’ve just bought to enable the exciting online plans to take shape. Over the next few weeks I’m hoping to be able to offer regular webinars, an online club for any parent of a SEND child who would like to spend this period of enforced family togetherness as an opportunity to get to the bottom of their child’s behaviour, and eventually set up online courses for parents, professionals and children too.
I’ve been wanted to do this for a long time, but there has never been time because I’m so busy travelling all over the country to deliver workshops, as well as spending hours of time online supporting a community of nearly 40,000 families via social media platforms. If I can do this, it means that my work can continue even when I’m unable to do it myself, and hopefully families will be able to benefit well into the future.
What other blogs/organisations do you turn to for advice?
There are so many that are packed full of invaluable information that I regularly read to keep in touch with what’s going on, and to share on my two Facebook pages. I must read at least 20 blog posts a week, and it’s so difficult to choose my absolute favourites. Most of the bloggers have become very good friends online, so I really don’t want to name any as being really good, because they all have something amazing to offer, and I really don’t want to leave anybody out! However, if I really had to, here are my top six! Steph’s Two Girls, Riding on a Star, The Passable Parent, Isla’s Voice – our journey with autism, Sensational Learning with Penguin and Faithmummy.
Describe yourself in three words
Unstoppable. Chatterbox. Kind.
Caramel almond and sea salt Kind Bar.
Favourite thing to do if you have some ‘me’ time?
Read – I wish I had more time to lose myself completely much more often in a really good book.
If there was a film of your life, what would it be called?
Adventures on a mobility chariot.
Which talent of yours are you most proud of?
I’m incredibly lucky to be able to communicate in a way that seems to connect with people.
If you could be one fictional character, who would you be?
What’s the closest thing to magic?
When parents tell me about how happy their child is now, because of the work I do. They very rarely talk about the violent times, it’s nearly always about how happy their child is. That’s what it’s all about, because happy children are seldom violent.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start blogging?
Just do it. Jump right in and start writing. Write about whatever you’d tell a close friend over a cup of tea in your kitchen. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and the more you write the better you’ll get at it. When you write, use the words you’d use in conversation and just be yourself, telling your own truths. Authenticity is what people warm to, that’s what will make them want to read all the way to the end. Expect to feel very vulnerable and self-conscious when you press “publish” – I still hate that moment after all these years, but do it anyway, be brave and get your voice out there. We all feel insecure, we all worry about what people might think, but you’ll be surprised at how incredibly kind most people are, and you’ll connect with people through your writing who will become some of your closest, most precious friends even if you never get to meet them. If you’re a SEND blogger, please send me a copy too, and I’ll share it wherever I can. Good luck and enjoy it!
What are you most looking forward to at this year’s BAPS Awards?
Seeing everyone, having loads of hugs, catching up with old friends, meeting some very good friends for the first time in real life, and just having a really good time with some really lovely people.
Be sure to check out Yvonne Newbold’s blog here.
The Baps Awards Ceremony takes place 4th November from 6.00pm. This year we are at a stunning new venue – The Athena in Leicester. We’d love for you to join us for a fun night of celebration – book your tickets here.
The BAPS Awards
The BAPs (Bloody Awesome Parents) Awards allows SEND bloggers to be recognised for their talents, tales and achievements. Founded by Bringing Us Together and My Family, Our Needs, these awards celebrate SEND Bloggers everywhere. Click here to find out more…