“For a long time, it was as if I had the word ‘victim’ tatooed on my forehead.”
Julie Hampshire’s statement is refreshing in its honesty.
“I had a severely dysfunctional unbringing - which included divorce, abuse and addiction - and a broken marriage and I didn’t value myself at all,” she reveals, shaking her head.
“I know now that if you walk around behaving like a victim, you’ll never be anything else.”
Julie, of Brampton in Rotherham, was 12-years-old when her parents separated, and her mum, an alcoholic, moved in with another alcoholic. When Julie grew up she married a serviceman, but that marriage broke down too, leaving Julie a single mum to the couple’s son, Jack - now 14.
“I was relatively successful in my career, working as a learning and development consultant with Aviva in Sheffield,” she recalls.
“I was a good person and a good friend, but as a woman in my own right, I had low confidence and little self-esteem. For many years I felt sad, tired, inadequate and unappreciated.”
The turning point came for Julie when, ten years ago, she was suddenly made redundant.
“I was offered some work doing life coaching,” explains Julie, now aged 50.
“I took a two-day life coaching course that changed my life completely. I saw that my behvaiour was that of a victim, that I wasn’t taking responsibility for my own life and that my actions were my choice. As I began working as a life coach, teaching others the methods I’d learned, it reinforced the messages for me in my own life and I began to see things completely differently.”
The final push for Julie came five years ago when her ex-husband died very suddenly.
“We were parenting Jack very closely together, he saw our son every day, then one day he suffered a massive heart attack at work and never came home,” she says simply.
“That’s when things really had to shift. I knew I could no longer work as I had been doing. I had a grieving child and I was fully aware of the potential impact of the situation on him. I knew it was my job to help him manage his grief and lead a life where he didn’t end up feeling like a victim himself.”
Julie took a step back from life coaching to focus on her son.
“I’m so glad I did, as, today, he is a beautiful well-balanced 14-year-old,” she smiles.
“But I also realised that the messages I’d learned were too important not to share, so about four years ago, I launched Girlie Gatherings in the region,”
Girlie Gatherings is a social enterprise that aims to provide women in South Yorkshire with opportunities to build confidence and self esteem.
“It’s not about women getting together once a month to have a moan,” Julie is quick to clarify.
“We provide information, activities, opportunities and experiences that women can learn and become better informed from.
“We have two monthly meetings, one in Wath and one in Wickersley. The first hour is a life coaching session and the second usually features a visiting expert - we’ve had people coming to chat to our group about everything from debt counselling and will writing to burlesque chair dancing, meditating reiki and astrology - it’s really fascinating!
“We have up to 15 women per session attend to ask questions, share experiences, brainstorm solutions, meet new people and forge relationships, both personal and professional. We want to empower women to become well informed so that they can make their own decisions, as well as provide them with affordable and accessible life coaching.
“It’s a great leveller as it doesn’t matter who you are, we all have the same problems, whatever our walk of life and I’ve found that women are great about sharing and being very natural with each other.”
Another upside for Julie was that it was a way to earn a living which allowed her to include her son.
“I didn’t want to leave Jack at home with somebody else while I went out to work and this enabled me to bring him along for those first two years. And I think some of the important messages got through to him, he knows it all as well as anyone.”
And after three unsuccessful attempts, the group finally received lottery funding last year, ensuring its immediate survival.
Julie adds: “I’ve said before that the group is like a really well kept secret, but it’s important - to ensure the future of this vital group - that more people learn about what we do and what we have to offer. I know from experience the difference it can make.”