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SEED Christmas Message

2nd January 2020

Well what a year it’s been! I can’t believe we are nearly saying bye to 2019?! Personally the last few years have been a rollercoaster ride for me and I have found myself saying “Next year will be better.” Or “Next year will be easier!” But this year, despite 2019 having its many challenges, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Maybe it’s my mindset, which I have been working on a lot lately, but I genuinely think I feel so different this year because of some of the outstanding people I have met in connection with our amazing Charity and the opportunities that have arisen by following, what I believe, is my purpose.

Yes I am an actress, and I love what I do, but this year I stepped up more than ever in my role as Patron of SEED and I have found a new love in philanthropy, public speaking and a blossoming love for our SEED, which this year I have seen flourish it’s petals more than ever before.

As many of you know, we created our educational toolkit last year, which we launched in 2019, expecting it to be so easy, as to us it was a no brainer. An educational resource which teaches the teacher how to teach accurately and responsibly about eating disorders, body image and well being. Which in turn, being in schools, would create more awareness, the chance of early intervention, and most importantly, the chance to save lives. ‘Everyone will want this’ I thought! ‘I will get it out there Mum and Dad, don’t you worry!’ Well, what a shock to the system that was! I can’t tell you the blood, sweat and tears I have faced this year with my plight to get this into schools, let alone Mum, Dad, and all at SEED. I have been opened up to a whole new world of committees, schools, education, charity systems, crossing the ‘T’s’ and dotting to ‘I’s’…it’s a minefield! Getting to the right people, getting that foot in the door, breaking down the wall…it’s been such an experience. Harder than blooming acting and I don’t say that lightly! I have learned and grown so much because of it. It’s not that people didn’t believe in the toolkit, or the work SEED does, but it all came down to resource, funding and finding the right route in.

I immersed myself in the world of education and charity, connecting and trying to learn for myself how to take this into schools…and what happened because of it has been utterly amazing. I have always loved public speaking, but when it was suggested I apply to do a TedX talk with the intention of bringing the message of SEED and the fight we have for early intervention to a bigger platform, I thought ‘Me? Me apply? Are you mad?!!’ Honestly, of all the stages I have been on, all the shows I have done, even the Emmerdale live episode back in 2012…TedX was scarier than all those put together! You know why? Because it suddenly dawned on me…this was my purpose. Sustaining SEED and the amazing work my parents and all who volunteer do. It mattered. It mattered more than anything I had ever felt mattered before. It was above and beyond, and without sounding ‘naff’ as we say Up North…it was my calling.

I worked so hard to create a talk that would make people listen, connect and understand the severity of an eating disorder and the enormity it has on mortality. I delivered that talk, I realised my fear and let my heart speak…and the impact has been unimaginable.

2020 for SEED is also the year we celebrate our 20th year since we began…since that time Mum turned around to Dad, while I was in hospital on yet another drip…and said…”This isn’t happening anymore Dennis. No family should have to go through what we have, no family or sufferer should ever have to face the fight we are having to save our daughters life. Nope, it’s not happening, and we are going to do something about it!” SEED (Support and Empathy for Eating Disorders) was set up originally as a help line in our living room in Hull…and now here we are. I couldn’t be prouder of my parents. I literally burst with pride and emotion when I think of the lives they have saved, including mine.

My parents are angels. Marg Oaten MBE and Dennis Oaten are 2 of the most amazing people I have ever met in my life. But my parents are also human. This year we faced Dad and Mum being in hospital, within a week of each other and the reality hit home that they need to slow down and SEED needs extra support for someone to help take the pressure off them…and thus my plight for the toolkit evolved into my plight to sustain the charity and continue the amazing work we at SEED do. In my TedX talk, I spoke about how you can “Use the dirt…you can grow flowers where dirt used to be!” and that is never more truer than the flowers we are growing as we go into 2020, ending 2019 with the amazing grant from Goldsmiths Charity Company to get our toolkit into schools and gain sustainability has been a dream come true and has set us off with more fight and belief in our cause than ever. The legacy will continue as long as I have blood in my veins and I am so excited for what the future holds for SEED…it goes without saying we still need more help and support and we still need more seeds, more soil, more petals, but we are sprouting and we are blossoming…and I won’t give up.

I have met so many people this year that have inspired, coached, mentored, supported, believed in me and held my hand on this journey, than ever before and I want to thank them now. I won’t go into depth of their individual wonderfulness (and my God they have been wonderful in so many different ways!) As I wouldn’t get this out before Christmas! But here goes! Jaz Ampaw-Farr, Leah K Stewart, ALL the cheerleaders for life I met at The We are Reach Women in Leadership summit, Paul Jeffries, Gemma Greaves, Steve Pinto, Wandsworth Chambers of Commerce, Sandra Hutchinson, Simon Hutchinson, The Goldsmiths Company, Julia Pittman, David Milner, Richard Lamberth, Arnold Isaacson, Cheryl Rogers, Claire Rackham, Adam McCooey and all at Social Sense, Ian Stafford and all at The Sporting Club, Rebecca Hopkins, Kelly Hannaghan, Annie Moon, Samantha Jayasuriya, Carl Vernon, Liz Wright, Anj Handa, Stuart Abrahams, Sharon Doughty, Jacqui Larson, Louise Jarrett, Marianna Hartley, Rachel Parker, Shaun Dowling, Rachel Johnson, Beverley Corson, Marco Boi…I am sure there are more so forgive me if I have missed anyone…my point is the power of kindness and connection holds no bounds and I am truly blessed and grateful. And to those at SEED who have been a tower of strength and support, our volunteers, Gill Poole and our Trustees, all of you, you amaze me.

Personally also to Beth Morris, my friend and publicist, for her unwavering support of my parents, SEED and I (get ready for the SEED Gala Beth…we got work to do!) And of course to Joff Powell, my best friend in the world who continually picks me up when I feel I am on the floor with exhaustion and tells me constantly “WE’VE GOT THIS”, the man who loves me for me and believes in me always.

This year I learned the motto of the Turtle too…”you don’t get anywhere in life unless you stick your neck out for others”, I heard the phrases “Lift as you climb” and “Collaborate to accelerate” and I began to learn to start trusting myself more and valuing my core…my morals, my ethics, my roots. I not only learned a lot this year for SEED but a lot this year about myself. We are ever growing if you wish to. For 13 years I stopped growing, I stopped my life in many ways and I nearly lost it because of an eating disorder…I want to be the guide to make sure no other has their life robbed because of such a devastating mental health illness. I was lucky; my experience enables me to use it for good and hopefully help others…long may that continue with SEED.

Christmas is one of the hardest times of year for those suffering from an eating disorder. In fact Christmas is a hard time of year for many, and for so many different reasons. All I can say is this…It will be Ok in the end and if it’s not Ok it’s not the end. Be kind to yourself. Leave expectations at the door and if you can, just for one day, focus on what you have, not what you don’t have. Breathe a little, love a lot. Be in the moment and embrace life. Even if it feels hard, it’s your life and you only get one shot at it…open your eyes to the cheerleaders around you. To anyone fighting an eating disorder or affected by one…you’re not alone, you are worthy…you have me, you have SEED, you have value and we won’t stop fighting for you.

May your 25th December be a kind and loving one. Here’s to 2020 and the next part of the journey…a journey that can be an adventure, a journey that is ever changing, a journey that IS worth it.

All my love,

Gemma x

Gemma Oaten