Chief Sender of Hugs, Faye, here.
Thank you so much for showing an interest in what we do at BearHugs, it really does mean a lot.
Inspired by a thoughtful package that a friend sent me when I was very unwell, BearHugs is all about helping people to connect and show their love to others even when they can't be together face-to-face.
It makes me happier than I could ever say that I get to send hugs for a living and that my amazing little team offers a personal, human service with warmth and loveliness running through it's core like a stick of rock.
Here’s the story of how it all came to be….
HOW I CAME TO START BEARHUGS
In my early twenties, I started to notice a gradual decline in my health. In 2013, I had to give up working as a Speech and Language Therapist and found myself mostly housebound.
I spent the majority of my time in a dark room tolerating noise, company or mental stimulation for only short periods before needing to return to full rest. Sitting up left me dizzy, chewing food was a challenge and my legs struggled to get me from my bed to the bathroom. I became entirely dependent on others and used a wheelchair on the rare occasions I left the house. I now know that my symptoms are caused by Lyme Disease.
The idea for BearHugs first came about after I received an especially thoughtful package from a friend just when I needed it most. When you can't leave the house very often, anything arriving through the post takes on greater significance. That little package completely turned my day around. Although I wasn't able to act on it straight away, it planted the seed in my mind for what would later become BearHugs.
With so much of what I felt had defined me stripped away by falling ill, I felt lost and frightened. Slowly though, I began to relearn what was important to me. I started to introduce activities, however small, into my day that would bring me fulfilment. I revisited large-print children's books from my childhood for a few minutes at a time. I spread an episode of a TV show I loved across a week. I made a bracelet in ten bead bursts. And then as I saw improvements in my health I increased these activities and started to add some more. I wrote blog posts about my experiences and started to sell the jewellery I was making online, donating the profits to charity.
It was around this time that I started thinking a lot about the thoughtful care package my friend had sent me. I wondered if other people might like help to send similar packages to their friends.
After browsing their website, I contacted the Prince's Trust, hoping they could help me turn my little idea into a business that could work around my health. I enrolled on the Enterprise Programme and with the brilliant, accessible support on offer, wrote a business plan. I then received a small grant that I used to put together my very first ‘hug in a a box’ hampers. I could have burst with happiness when my first customer decided to send a hug to a loved one.
Now, several years later, I am incredibly fortunate to be doing a fair bit better. While still affected by my health, I manage a lot more with my days and try my best to not take that for granted.
BearHugs has grown too! My house was over-run by hug supplies and I had to find a bigger space to pack my customers’ orders. When I got a little overwhelmed, I bought on some amazing team members. And as we expanded our horizons, our team grew again. I’ve been humbled to have BearHugs recognised with a number of awards and have been proud to develop our charity partnerships.
It’s not always been easy but I love BearHugs with every bone in my body. I honestly couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I have lots of different responsibilities these days but there’s still nothing that makes me happier than hand-packing our hugs.
Starting BearHugs has completely reaffirmed for me that there always opportunities if you look in the right places. And now I’d love to see BearHugs create opportunities too.
WHY INCLUSIVE, ACCESSIBLE EMPLOYMENT IS IMPORTANT TO ME
Falling ill showed me first-hand how difficult it is to find accessible employment when you have a fluctuating health condition.
I was capable and I knew I had a lot to offer, however, due to the varying nature of my illness, I struggled to find a role that was a good fit. The hurdles weren’t about my abilities, they were about accessibility. I designed my business so that it would match my capability, needs and lifestyle. And now I want to offer opportunities to others which match their capability, needs and lifestyle too.
There is an enormous amount of untapped potential out there as a result of employers not considering accessibility requirements when curating their working environments.
I’m now on a bit of a mission to prove that inclusive, accessible employment can not only benefit individuals with chronic illness but it can benefit business too.