Angela Whiley

on her love for place, and surviving the most difficult year of her life.

Sam chats to the inspiring Angela Whiley about her love of place, particularly the town of Elland through her work at Calderdale Council, and living in Halifax. Angela also shares with us her personal story of the most difficult year of her life, and what this means for her today.

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View Transcript

Show Notes

Content warning: childhood cancer

For support and information on living with cancer or supporting loved ones:

Macmillan Cancer Support

CLIC Sargent – support for young people with cancer

Cancer Research UK

Find out all about Elland here.

The Wild Remedy – How Nature Mends Us by Emma Mitchell

Guest Info

Angela Whiley

Angela Whiley is a project manager at Calderdale Council. She got to know Sam through her previous role as the Retail and Market Towns Manager, where she was supporting businesses and activity in Elland, including our festival! Angela is now working on some exciting projects for Elland, including the redevelopment of the library. On a personal level, Angela has a varied and vibrant background, having lived all over the world. In the early 2000s her first born child, Matthew, was diagnosed with a rare childhood cancer, and Angela described this as the most difficult year of her life. Matthew thankfully made a full recovery, and Angela is now mum to two grown up children, who have recently left the nest for university!

Transcript

Sam McCormick:

Hello, and welcome to Curious e-Motion. I’m Sam McCormick. And today, we meet the inspiring Angela Whiley. Angela works as a project manager for Calderdale Council. I first met her a few years ago when I started Welland Festival in Elland, which is a small market town in the lower valley area of Calderdale, about three miles south of Halifax. Angela is currently working on some exciting projects for the town, which you’ll hear about in this episode.

Sam McCormick:

I’ve always been inspired by Angela’s openness to share her experiences, so along with some exciting Elland news, today she shares with us her love of place and nature, plus a very personal story about the most difficult year of her life. We discuss some experiences that you might like a heads-up on, so if so, do check out the show notes first. Let’s get into the show.

Sam McCormick:

So, welcome, Angela. Thank you so much for joining me. It’s lovely to see you, even though we are virtually doing this.

Angela Whiley:

Yes. Thank you for inviting me. It has been a long time. Time has become a funny concept in 2020. Some things seem very recent and others ages ago, and they’re not. Very odd. But nice to see you, too.

Sam McCormick:

You’ve been a massive support for our work, particularly regarding Welland in Elland, which is our wellbeing festival. Having got to know you and having all of your support with that, which we’re so grateful for, it would be lovely to chat about your experiences working in Elland. I know that you used to, in a previous role, work quite closely with the businesses in Elland.

Angela Whiley:

That’s right. Yeah. I was Calderdale’s first, I think, inaugural retail and market town’s support officer, which generally involved working with businesses across the valley, all the ends, as previously mentioned, and looking at how they could work together to drive momentum in their own towns. Obviously, the high street environment has changed again this year, but at the time I was doing this, the main rivals were internet shopping and big out-of-town shopping parks. And people had forgotten the joy of the independence on the high street, I think. So, the role was created to encourage people to work together and for the good of place, I guess, would be the…

Angela Whiley:

But Elland just quite quickly became one of my favourites. I just have a soft spot… It sounds a bit romantic and silly, but I really genuinely think it’s a sleeping little gem. And I don’t know what the silver bullet is, but I’m sure it’s there somewhere and it needs… Or it needs people like you or Matt moving in and pushing and with ideas. And I suppose it always needs money. But there’s promise. For me, there’s real promise.

Sam McCormick:

Yeah, definitely. There’s absolute joy in lots of places. It’s just not so obvious sometimes. But once you get to know people and you get doing things, that’s where you find it.

Angela Whiley:

Well, one good thing… I mean, colleagues have worked on this. I can’t take credit for this. But a very good bit has gone into a government scheme called the Future High Streets Fund for Elland, just with some mini projects around the town center to try and drive footfall and boost and courage business into the place. So, it’s difficult for me to mention my employer because I don’t want to make it awkward for anybody, but there is still a genuine desire to see Elland succeed. Often, it’s lack of resource, but this hopefully, gosh, with everything crossed, we’ll finally send some money Elland’s way and we can get on and deliver for the town.

Sam McCormick:

Yeah. It sounds amazing. And their library plans for… Seeing all the scaffoldings up and everything’s still there. [crosstalk 00:03:59] happening at the moment. I can imagine it’s slightly different.

Angela Whiley:

Yeah, no. Oh, you would love it, actually, from an artistic point of view. You’ll have to get your hard hat on and come and have a look. Did you know there was a dance hall upstairs? Do you know anything about the history of that building and-

Sam McCormick:

Yes. I heard about the dance hall. Very exciting.

Angela Whiley:

Beautiful sprung dance floor upstairs. But since the council took over the building for library services, oh I think in the late ’60s… Don’t quote me. She says, on a recorded podcast. We haven’t used the upstairs, and unfortunately, it fell into quite bad disrepair and it was barely safe to put any weight on the floor upstairs. So, everything has pretty much been ripped out. The building is, is a shell, and we are just starting the remodeling inside. The roof is almost complete. Well, it’s had a new roof in that it’s had new tiles, but we’re reusing quite a lot of the old slate tiles, which was still in good condition.

Angela Whiley:

Current projections suggest it will be all complete by mid-March 2021. We’ve got to be careful because if we get an exceptionally bad weather winter, then that could be pushed back slightly. But at the moment, on course for spring next year for a lovely modern facility, again, for the town. And it will still be a library, which is important, but it will center council services and secure them in Elland, as well. It will mean there are stuff in Elland from various departments of the council to, in turn, spend their money on the high street. It’s circular, isn’t it?

Sam McCormick:

Absolutely. Yeah. It’s really exciting. And it’s nice to have that focus, I think, in a town like that, and the fact that it’s staying at the library, I know lots residents and visitors are really keen for the library to stay, as in other towns as well. But also have, like you say, that presence, and, also, there’s something the community can use and the community can be proud of.

Angela Whiley:

Absolutely that. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Some investment in Elland, it is important. Without a doubt.

Sam McCormick:

You grew up in Calderdale originally, is that right, Angela?

Angela Whiley:

It’s not right. No. I’m a Yorkshire girl, through and through. I am Sheffield born and Leeds raised, and I married a soldier and went off around the world. And he was from Calderdale. So, when the time was, “Let’s draw a big circle on the map and see where we want to settle,” that is how I landed in Halifax. And I would not live anywhere else now. I love the hills, and I love the canal. And I love the people and the Piece Hall and the Borough Market and the market towns. I could eulogize about this place. Definitely not moving anywhere else.

Sam McCormick:

Yeah. I am similar. I’m not from this area originally either, but my husband is from nearby, and I went to uni in Leeds and left for 10 years and then came back and feel very similar to you. And I think that’s where our connection with Elland comes in a little bit, as well, in the sense that there’s so much… The countryside here and the beauty in that respect, but also the people, and I just think it’s just a fascinating place. We’ll have wonderful things that people can do.

Angela Whiley:

Yeah. It’s the stories that they have. It’s just this history on every corner, and people’s stories are brilliant. Yeah. Yeah, I love it.

Sam McCormick:

Yes. And talking about stories. It would be lovely to see you… I remember you saying that you traveled all around the world when you were younger, so is that through your husband at the time and his job?

Angela Whiley:

Exactly that. Yeah. I can’t claim to have been some independent backpacker that went to Borneo. I went to Bali with the support of the British army. But nevertheless, yeah, I’m so glad to have had those opportunities. When they say travel broadens your horizons, broadens your mind, whatever, it certainly did for me. Just meet different people, different backgrounds, different ethnicities. Absolutely turned me into who I am, I believe. Very much so. But yeah, I’ve been to the wilds of Borneo. I actually lived in Brunei, Sam, which is a terribly civilized place. There were lots of exploring opportunities there, as well, so I feel very lucky. And it was a great base because you’re already halfway around the world, so I’ve traveled in Australia and New Zealand, as well, as well as most of the Far East. And it all feels like a lifetime ago some ways, but very clear memories as well.

Sam McCormick:

Any favorite places at all that… like highlights from that time?

Angela Whiley:

Singapore, I love very much. It’s 22 years since I was in Singapore. I would love to go back when we’re allowed to travel again, but just to see the changes there, and yeah, have a little bit of an explore. Yeah. Just bits of Malaysia were very special. Brunei itself is a fascinating place, intriguing. Very wealthy country, lots of oil. People tend to have heard of the Sultan of Brunei, and it often, the perception is that it’s Middle East, but it’s actually in the top left-hand corner, the Northwest of Borneo, which is largely Indonesia and rainforest. But yeah, just a really good experience.

Sam McCormick:

I was going to ask as well about what brought you back. And I remember you being very open with me about your experience with your… It’s your son, is that correct?

Angela Whiley:

It’s my son, yeah, who’s 21 now, so this is a long time ago. So, Matthew was born in Germany. We went from the Brunei posting back to Germany. We’d already spent some time in Germany. That wasn’t too daunting at all. And we had a nice two years of babyhood and my second child, who’s a girl, now 19, was on the way. And Matthew had been unwell for a few weeks, and by the time I got a doctor who listened to my concerns, we were at the hospital the same afternoon. And by that evening, he’d been diagnosed with childhood cancer, a rare cancer called hepatoblastoma, which is effect… It’s a tumor of the liver. Very rare. And within a week, with me being heavily pregnant, but within a week we were on a plane to London and living in the Ronald McDonald house in Southeast London, in Camberwell near King’s College Hospital, which is where Matthew had a lot of his initial treatment.

Angela Whiley:

Again, it all seems a long time ago. He was two, and like I say, he’s 21 now. But it was the most difficult year of my life, without doubt. We were without a home. We were in a part of the country where we didn’t have friends or family. And we were expecting child number two within weeks and child number one was really quite seriously ill. It was, yeah, a hard going a few weeks. The army were tremendously supportive and had found us a house, I think, within about four weeks. Yes, it would be about four weeks. We lived in hospital, in parents accommodation, which is what Ronald McDonald provide. And then, on the very day that we moved into our new army housing, I mean quarter, that’s the day that my daughter decided it was time to arrive, so we literally have lived in hospitals and hospital facilities for a month and the one night I was going to be back in my own bed, she was like, “No, I don’t think so.” So, we were back to hospital that same night and safely delivered of a baby girl.

Angela Whiley:

Yeah, it was a roller coaster of a year. And I always say that I was glad for her for the stabilizing influence. That might sound a little odd, but she was the normal… There was a baby that needed taking care of, as well as fitting in Matthews treatment, so they’re both so important and so meant to be here. Yeah. Love them beyond measure. I’m entirely, completely grateful for the NHS, as well.

Sam McCormick:

I always think it’s really amazing how open you are about your experience, and you’ve always been very open to chat to people about it. I mean, I can only imagine how hard that must have been with all of that happening all at the same time, let alone having a diagnosis for a young child. And how long was Matthew in treatment for?

Angela Whiley:

So, he was diagnosed Valentine’s Day. It’s a day you don’t forget. He was diagnosed the 14th of February, and we were, well, we were given his chemotherapy, then surgery, then more chemotherapy. And the second round of chemo, which were four doses, I finished at the end of the November. He was having regular checkups throughout the Christmas period into early 2002, and then, unfortunately, he still had a central line fitted, which is a device that allows blood to be taken easily and treatment to be given. And that became very badly infected and he ended up with sepsis. So, we were back in hospital then in the March, April time. Gosh, it was one of the worst days of my life, and I can’t even remember when it was, so what does that say? That would be April. April 2002.

Angela Whiley:

So, I always say whilst the cancer treatment successfully concluded in the November the previous year, he didn’t start getting completely well, and we started our journey to his complete recovery for a big 6’2″ strapping young man that he is now on, until the April of 2002. So, 14 months of very hospital treatments and very regular hospital appointments and stays. And since then, and I did worry that he would always be a sickly child and he’d need antibiotics for everything and every bug that was going, he would catch. Total opposite. Barely had a doctor’s appointment or any drugs since, other than his standard treatments, his standard checkups rather. And yeah, he’s just left me and gone to university. He’s a little bit of a late starter. He’s worked for a couple of years post A levels, but decided 2020 was the year he would like to go, so [inaudible 00:15:29]. Hooray. Yes. So, they’re both at university now, and I might have to get a dog or something.

Sam McCormick:

So, your daughter’s at university, as well?

Angela Whiley:

Yeah. She saw to the standard route. She went last year immediately after A levels. So, she’s in year two, but she’s younger than him, if that makes sense.

Sam McCormick:

Yeah.

Angela Whiley:

Yeah. Yeah.

Sam McCormick:

But I suppose this year, then, you’ve had a pandemic to deal with and also a child leaving home, which I wouldn’t know myself, but I can imagine it’s a very emotional time. And also, what you’ve been through with Matthew and your children and how you have all come out of that, I can imagine that’s rather a lot to deal with in one go.

Angela Whiley:

Yeah. Yeah, I guess it was a biggie. Every milestone, even though he is a young adult now, there’s no denying he towers over me, and like I said, he’s 21. There’s still something about every milestone bringing you up sharp and thinking how it could have been and how absolutely blessed and lucky we are. Because, of course, we met families during that period who did not have the outcome that we had and very suddenly lost their children, and it makes me think about them and it makes me think, well, like I said, how lucky we were, but how lucky we are to have the NHS and the skills and expertise. So, it’s about counting your blessings, and it might sound corny, but it really is for me.

Sam McCormick:

Yeah. I was going to ask what you found most helpful from that experience? So, I suppose, is that a level of gratitude?

Angela Whiley:

Very much that. Perspective, as well. And gosh, we all have bad days where nothing seems to go right and you’re grumpy at the world, but it’s, yeah, about realizing, “I remember when things were really much worse than this.” So, just keep on keeping on kind of thing.

Sam McCormick:

Yeah. Amazing. And there’s some things… I’m a big fan of gratitude, and having looked into the science behind it as well, there’s lots of evidence into how it helps you… It changes your brain in a positive way and all of this sort of stuff but-

Angela Whiley:

Wow. How interesting.

Sam McCormick:

Yeah. Really interesting. And do you have any specific practices when it comes to gratitude, or is it that case of reminding yourself when you need to?

Angela Whiley:

Yeah, I think it’s the latter. I have I bought as gifts, actually, because it’s quite a popular thing, gratitude journals for other friends. I don’t know what I’m trying to tell them. But I’ve never done one. I don’t finish each day and say, “Oh, well, thank goodness I’ve got a roof over my head.” But even when this whole thing kicked off, the pandemic and I’m, again, one of the lucky ones, I have a job, I’m able to work from home, that’s one of the… Well, both kids were at home in the spring when we first locked down, and I would say, “Look, we are the lucky ones. You will get fed tonight. We are warm. We are dry. We have a roof over our heads, and I’m still bringing a salary in.” And there’s just something in my mindset that looks for all the positive. God, I sound sickly don’t I?! I’m not saying I never find different life experiences challenging. Of course I do. Yeah. It’s not a practice that I do. I don’t regularly write down what I’m grateful for, but I’m aware of it. I am always aware of it.

Sam McCormick:

Yeah. And so, Matthew is well at uni. Hope he doesn’t mind us talking about him on here without him being here.

Angela Whiley:

Oh, yeah. Yeah. He is well. He is at uni. That’s probably about as much as we’re allowed to say without… No, he settled very well. He’s enjoying his course. Yeah. And since Matthew has been well, I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this before, I… Well, the first thing they said to us at diagnosis… And you have to remember this is 2001, so Google is still a relatively new tool. And the first thing they said to us was, “Don’t Google it.” They’ve told us this long, complicated name. Don’t Google it. And I absolutely did not Google it because the doctor had told me not to Google it. And we didn’t have phones in our pockets, then. You had to switch the computer on and make an effort with the big old, clunky thing to Google something. So, then we dug down and cracked on and did all the treatment, et cetera.

Angela Whiley:

And once he was well, I did Google it, and from Googling it, it put me in touch with a lady in Australia, the wonderful Pam, whose son Regan had had the identical diagnosis to Matthew, just three days apart. They had the surgery two days apart, and they had literally been… Well, we still say your cancer twin, which is probably inappropriate, but at the other side of the world going through exactly the same. And we didn’t know each other at the time, but because Pam had blogged on the subject, I found that through the power of the internet and we have been in touch ever since. And I met her for the first time a couple years ago. Matthew has been out to Australia and met Regan, and they traveled, did a little bit of into the bush and did some wild camping in Australia. My little, skinny Yorkshire boy and his Aussie cancer [inaudible 00:20:46].

Angela Whiley:

And I would love that Regan can come here and see Europe when we’re allowed to travel again. I feel like a broken record. And I certainly intend to go to Australia at some point in the next five years or so and see Pam again, and there are other girls in Australia whose kids also had hepatoblastoma who came together through Pam’s blog. So, that was an immense support, and continues to be, because you get to the point where they’re 12 or 14 and there’s a problem at school or whatever, something has happened, and I would talk to those women before I talk to my closer friends here. Because everything that ever went wrong was never, “Oh, we’re bad parents and it was because they have this condition when they were two.”

Angela Whiley:

Obviously, it wasn’t anything we did! Goodness. But he was [inaudible 00:21:42] touch base with people with the same experiences and find that, “Oh yeah, so your boy perhaps struggled making friends.” And there may not have been any connection or these were not things related to their physical health, yet they did have very similar experiences with their schooling and relationships as children and young adults. It’s been enormously supportive for me, is that.

Sam McCormick:

Wow. That’s so fascinating. Isn’t it? I can understand why you going to those people first would make so much sense because it’s such a unique experience that you can’t possibly explain to somebody who hasn’t experienced it.

Angela Whiley:

That’s right. And you do think… I mean, I know you said earlier that I’m very open about it, and I am very open about it, but also acutely aware of how it might make other people feel, whether it makes them a bit embarrassed or a bit like, think I’m fishing for sympathy or I’m always… I’ll say, “Look, I’ll stop talking about it,” and, “Oh, don’t worry, he’s fine now.” I never want to make people feel uncomfortable talking about it because cancer is a scary thing, and it’s still a scary thing. Yeah. I do always put those sort of barriers, but say, “Oh no, don’t worry.” And there’s a sympathy face that people do, and I think, “No, I’m not looking for that. I’m fine now. He’s fine.” But it is a huge part of my life and our experience, and I don’t have to know you very long before I’ll talk about it because… But yeah, I’m wary of making people uncomfortable and would never want to do that.

Sam McCormick:

Yeah. And I think that’s the thing. It’s not coming from a place of trying to make somebody feel uncomfortable, is it? I think it’s more a symptom of our society in the sense that the messaging we’re given around cancer is terrifying, and it is terrifying in real life, as well. Taking the small steps where we can to break it down a bit so that if somebody in your life does disclose something like that to you, that we’re able to react with some empathy rather than sympathy and give it more open-minded about what that might mean, because it’s a much more complex situation than we would find out in the media for example.

Angela Whiley:

Exactly. Who would have realized? Life’s complex!

Sam McCormick:

Yeah. Really?

Angela Whiley:

See, that’s something that society… it tends to be very black and white and everything should be straightforward. I don’t know if it’s making people more stressed and more worried about things when things don’t go exactly to plan. And that’s that resilience for me. It’s about having something in the tank to cope when something sideswipes you on a Tuesday afternoon. And I haven’t got all the answers, by any means, but I’m a talker, definitely.

Sam McCormick:

Well, that’s what I’ve always admired of you.

Sam McCormick:

So, it’s a really funny year to be asking this, and I’ve asked a few other people, what’s their plans? But that’s kind of a ridiculous question, isn’t it? Are there any personal or professional projects coming up or things you’re really excited about?

Angela Whiley:

Well, yeah. Well, couple of things work-wise I don’t mind saying. Very, very keen to find out if Elland is successful in getting this Future High Streets money for Elland, because I really think that’s what can make a difference. We can do some relatively simple, small projects that might change the whole face and give the place a lift, so that’s quite exciting. The library, again, that completed and having people see what a beautifully sympathetically refurbished building, because it is in a conservation area. We want to still have a nod to the history of the building and the town. So, that’s quite exciting.

Angela Whiley:

It’s a bit one day at a time on a personal level, isn’t it? Well, my first trip that is planned is June next year. And I booked it in a little fit of peak about six weeks ago when we’d just gone back into what we now know as tier two, but was called local restrictions or whatever. And I thought, “Oh, we’ve got to be at a point where it’s over soon. When is that point going to be?” And so, I’ve booked a few nights in Guernsey, which is another of my favorite places, childhood holiday destination, and subsequent family holiday destination.

Angela Whiley:

So, I’m going there with a friend, and at the end of that week, Nile Rodgers is at the Piece Hall in Halifax. I have tickets for that, and my whole mental image that gets me through this horrible winter that’s to come is going to be about being on the beach in Guernsey, followed by dancing in the Piece Hall, with a cider in my hand, to some really great ’70s disco. That’s my get you through the rest of 2020 plan. Daydreaming, basically. My short term challenge is the walk up Beacon Hill. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Beacon Hill in Halifax, so you can look over the whole town.

Sam McCormick:

No, I haven’t.

Angela Whiley:

Right. Well-

Sam McCormick:

But I want to.

Angela Whiley:

Right. Well, you and I need to get a day booked in. I am doing it 52 times before I’m 52. I’ve done it 16 so far, and I’ve got 43 days to fit the remaining 36 times in. And onmy Facebook page, I just said, “Right, anybody wants to come with me? This is where you meet, and this is what we do.” And I’ve had quite a few friends and colleagues already, and the only condition is we have a selfie at the top. So, I’m getting quite a gallery of socially distant selfies with the Beacon and the view of Halifax, so I will add you to that list without a doubt. I’ll drop you an email, and you can walk up a big hill.

Angela Whiley:

It’s just a lovely view for me. I find it very calming to see a town from up above, really. It’s not a view you would get of many towns because of… Well, because of the nature of the landscape, again, isn’t it? But it’s fascinating and always different at different times a year, in different weathers, at different times of day. It’s a little 5K circuit from my front door and back again, and it’s helping keeping me sane in these working from home whilst being an empty-nester.

Angela Whiley:

There’s a beautiful book called The Wild Remedy, I don’t know if you’re aware of it, by Emma… Yeah. I can’t remember. The Wild Remedy, anyway. And she takes… It’s a diary for a year, and she uses nature as a way to fight her depression, to see the changing natural world as time moves on. And she does beautiful drawings and photographs. It’s a lovely book. Yeah. I texted somebody recently and said, “One of my favorite things about this lockdown was discovering new paths,” and it sounded much more deep than I intended because I didn’t mean I life, I just meant the foot paths that lead somewhere literally. A new path? Oh, where does that go, that gap in the hedge? But it did sound when I’d written it like I was having some epiphany and was the Dalai Lama or something like that. I just met a new foot paths, go somewhere else.

Sam McCormick:

Well, thank you so much, Angela. It’s just been amazing to hear about your amazing work that you do here. Forever grateful to you. I know you don’t really understand that. And also for telling us your personal stories, just thank you really very much for sharing that.

Angela Whiley:

You’re quite welcome.

Sam McCormick:

I feel very privileged to be here and have you share that. Well, thank you so much, Angela.

Angela Whiley:

Thank you, Sam. Really appreciate it. Thanks for the time.

Sam McCormick:

Wow. What an amazing woman, Angela is. Her honesty, resilience, and optimism is just so inspiring, and I’m so grateful to her for sharing that with us. Thank you, Angela.

Sam McCormick:

For information on support for people experiencing cancer, go to the show notes for a range of resources.

Sam McCormick:

I’m pleased to report that Angela and I made it up Beacon Hill together not long after recording this episode. We had a wonderful socially distanced walk, and I left feeling refreshed and invigorated. The book that Angela mentioned, The Wild Remedy is by Emma Mitchell, and all the info is in the show notes.

Sam McCormick:

I’m so excited to see how things develop for Elland, too. We’re still waiting on the outcome of the Future High Streets Fund, so in the meantime, we’re keeping everything crossed. Thank you so much for listening. Don’t forget to subscribe to Curious Motion to get new episodes every Tuesday.

Sam McCormick:

Until next time, remember, tune into your body, be kind to yourself, and stay curious!