There are no boundaries to what we can achieve

Glenda Roberts trained in psychotherapy after becoming a carer to her brother who suffered a head in

Glenda Roberts trained in psychotherapy after becoming a carer to her brother who suffered a head injury. Glenda is pictured in Sudbury. - Credit: Archant

Life was tough when Glenda Roberts was growing up but her experiences have helped stand her in good stead for how things turned out. Sheena Grant reports

Glenda aged six

Glenda aged six - Credit: Archant

When Glenda Roberts returned to the tough south London neighbourhood where she was raised, after working and travelling around Europe, the only thing on her mind was helping her brother recover from the devastating head injuries he had suffered in a street attack.

Little did she know that the experience of caring for him would set her own life on a totally different path.

Glenda had travelled and worked in the clothing industry since leaving school with no qualifications, after a teacher told her the best she could hope for was a job in Woolworths.

Now, back home caring for her brother, she found herself becoming fascinated by the human brain.

Glenda Roberts in her Sudbury offices

Glenda Roberts in her Sudbury offices - Credit: Archant

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She went back to education, accumulating a raft of qualifications, and today is a leading light in the field of counselling and psychotherapy, particularly for people who have suffered a brain injury.

Recently, Glenda, who founded the Sudbury-based ExploringU Counselling practice in 2008, was presented with an Executive Award by global business publication Corporate Vision Magazine in recognition of her innovative leadership skills.

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“The award was not just for me but for the whole team of professionals at ExploringU who strive to provide the very highest standard of service,” she says. “But I do sometimes have to pinch myself when I think of where I am now, considering where I came from.”

Life was hard in the area of London where she grew up, especially for a mixed-race child living in a predominantly white area.

“That for me was the place that I had to try and survive, because I realised that it was going to be tough from when I was about six years of age,” she says. “I felt like I did not see any people like me, of my ethnicity, in the place I lived. They were all white people. I remember walking down the road and hearing people saying ‘look at her’ and calling me names.

“But my dad did something really good to get us accepted. He had a job on the railway but ran a community centre in his spare time, putting on events for local kids and things like bingo and entertainment for the elderly. That helped.”

Even so, Glenda’s childhood was punctuated by moments of fear and violence that left their scars. One of the worst was when a friend was attacked and killed at the club her father ran, on a night he wasn’t there to keep order.

“I knew I did not belong in that area,” she says. “I just wanted to keep my head down and survive.”

As soon as she was old enough she threw her energy into working on clothes stalls at local markets, saving any money she made with the idea of building a better life for herself.

“My teachers said I was such a daydreamer I would end up working in Woolies. That was the best it was going to get, they told me,” she says. “I decided to prove them wrong.

I knew I had an eye for fashion, so I worked on the market stalls from the age of 11. I never went out drinking or anything like that. I wanted to focus on getting out of that tough council estate.”

She set herself a goal of saving enough to buy her first home, something she achieved at the age of 21, and got a job with a fashion firm that came with a company car. But eventually the allure of that lifestyle dulled and Glenda decided to go travelling.

“I bought myself a kit car and with a friend travelled across France, Switzerland and Germany before I ended up living in Italy for a few years,” she says. “I was living there when I got a call from my parents that my brother had been attacked and they couldn’t cope. He had suffered a brain injury that had changed his personality. I decided to come back and look after him.”

By then, Glenda was 24 and her brother 26.

“I couldn’t understand why my brother had changed so much and I developed an interest in the brain and personality, and how a brain injury could affect someone,” she says. “I used the same drive and determination that had taken me into the fashion industry and across Europe to learn about the human brain.”

Glenda went back to education in 1998, studying counselling and psychotherapy while also working with people who had suffered brain injuries. In 2008 she qualified as a psychotherapist and is a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

As well as its Sudbury base, ExploringU also has practices in Colchester, Saffron Walden, Harold Wood and Hatfield Peverel, and will soon be opening two new satellite centres in Bury St Edmunds and Northampton.

“This has all stemmed from the interest I developed when I was caring for my brother all those years ago and my fascination with understanding how the brain can completely change through a physical trauma,” she says. “Without that experience with my brother I probably would have stayed in the rag trade.

“I had left school with no qualifications or understanding of how to write essays, so when I first went back to education I had no experience of learning. But because this was something I was committed to doing, it just worked. I gelled with everyone I was studying with and was excited at the new horizons that were being opened up for me. It was about challenging myself, learning how to do things and not being embarrassed by not knowing things or putting my hand up and asking for help.”

And she has even found the experience of growing up in a tough environment has helped her when it comes to some of the work she has done, particularly with the victims of crime.

“Nothing fazes me because of where I had come from and what I had seen,” she says.

The range of clients her practice works with is huge, from those suffering relationship difficulties to people who have depression and anxiety, but her specialism remains working with brain-injured clients, helping them adjust and adapt to their new circumstances.

“When I work with those people there are no boundaries to what they can do or achieve as far as I’m concerned,” she says. “I will work with them for as long as they want me to ? I’m 10 years down the line with one client.

“I like to think we offer them their lives... not back to how it was for brain-injured clients but an opportunity to go for something they had not thought was possible.”

Glenda’s move to south Suffolk came in 2003, when she was looking to leave Chigwell for somewhere quieter.

“It was a busy time: studying, working for a brain injury organisation and bringing up three small children as well,” she says. “In fact, I was pregnant and lost a child when moving here. One of the rooms in this practice is named Jevington after that child I lost, who would have been 12 now.”

After all these years, Glenda can’t change the habits of a lifetime and is still aiming high when it comes to what she hopes to achieve in the future. She even has ideas about sharing her expertise with more people than ever, perhaps through the medium of television.

“It would be a great way to break the stigma of so many things, encourage people to talk and realise it is OK to say how they are feeling,” she says.


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