An interview with Helen Redfern by Nikki McCann.
Helen is the joint founder and owner of Green Heart Collective and is also a carer

‘I have everything I need’ is now Helen’s mantra.

Although it has taken Helen a long time to get to this point in her life, after years of fighting for all her kids to get what they need to help them find their place in the world with their individual difficulties and being knocked back time and time again, Helen now realises she is the expert when it comes to her kids and her family, and she will do all she can to help them (now all young adults) to gain some level of independence.

“Initially I did struggle with the word ‘carer’, even though we were bringing up 3 adopted children each with very different needs and issues, which only became apparent as time went on, alongside our two birth children. I just thought of ourselves as a ‘family’ and that’s what life is like. It wasn’t until October 2019 that I realised that I was a carer and this recognition helped me as I had been feeling increasingly isolated and that friends and other family members just couldn’t understand what I was going through”, Helen explained.  

“Being able to talk to a Carer Wellbeing Facilitator at Gateshead Carers and then a counsellor meant I was able to concentrate on me. It made me realise that I don’t live to serve my family and it set me free to say I’m allowed to do the things I want to do. Even saying that is still hard and makes me feel like I’m being selfish and it is a battle every day to have the confidence to live in that truth”.  

This new found freedom and self-awareness allowed her to detach from extremely difficult and traumatic situations and to set aside time for her own activities. “I would recommend to any other carers in this situation to ‘carve out some time for you’, whether it’s attending a yoga class, going for a walk, joining a group or learning something new – plan this time in and commit to attending”, she added.  

Helen has always been determined and when she sets her mind to something, she will see it through. She completed the Great North Run by setting herself a challenge to train and run every day for 9 months, which was an amazing confidence boost!

“Looking back, I don’t have any regrets, my husband Andy and I have been together now for over 30 years and have always been committed to green issues, living sustainably and to making a difference in peoples’ lives. ‘Humans are here to help one another”, said Helen.

Both Helen and Andy wanted to adopt children and the challenges that their needs have presented to them only makes them even more determined to ensure that their children can live independent and fulfilling lives and this is very much part of their business philosophy too.

They set up Green Heart Collective at the end of last year, although the whole concept and business structure had been in their heads for a couple of years and the name already in the bag!

Green Heart Collective is a social enterprise with people and planet at its heart. This fresh initiative looks to take preloved clothing and other items, upcycle and rework them, creating an affordable, sustainable and immensely satisfying retail experience for all.

With the pandemic forcing a number of changes upon them, including Andy‘s change from full time employment to being a freelance consultant and the two of them spending much more time together at home, it brought their dream for the business forward in some ways. Helen explained “I started selling preloved clothes on Ebay and Depop and learnt about selling items online. Just before Christmas we saw a unit at Team Valley, perfect for our business idea and we snapped it up!”

Two weeks on and they had their fabulous website up and running combining their skill sets of computer and IT expertise (Andy) and copywriting, photography and design (Helen) to launch their brand new website  

“Our vision is to create a real sense of community at our Green Heart Collective warehouse where we plan to run workshops and invite artists and groups to connect together. It will be a welcoming and arty place with wonderful friendly vibes and with particular opportunities for those with learning difficulties and autism, like our son Jordan, to enable them to thrive and to have a real sense of purpose in the community.  Our daughter Courtney has been modelling the clothes for us too which she has really enjoyed and luckily we share similar style values and tastes when it comes to clothes!” Helen said.  

Andy is quite an entrepreneur and has set up businesses before but this one is their joint dream and a place to secure a future for their family.

“Before I reached out to Gateshead Carers and embraced independent counselling, I felt that Andy and I had lost touch with each other and this venture is allowing us both to set ourselves free and to do something we are both passionate about together.  We have now found a way to be, and to work, together” Helen explained.   

Although family life continues to be very busy - they now have two granddaughters too and the business is full on - they both recognise the value of rest and wellbeing so they set aside evenings and the weekend as much as possible for rest and relaxation.  Being really busy with building up the business has also helped Helen to control her anxiety.  “I feel less anxious than I did as I am physically active at work and mentally I am in a much better place. Green Heart Collective is making me content and really happy” she said.

You can check out and enjoy Helen and Andy’s website at where you can read more about them both, their values and vision and take a look at their fabulous clothes! If you would like to get involved with Green Heart Collective, why not visit their webpage and find out about making clothes donations or volunteering?

I posed one last question for Helen, who is a self-published author and also has her own blog site, ‘Does everyone have a book in them?’ Her answer? ‘Everyone definitely has a unique story to tell and most probably at least one book in them too, but not everyone can have the opportunity or self-belief to get started and actually write it!’ Well perhaps Helen’s example can help you see anything is possible if you put your mind to it and encourage you to write your story! 

Green Heart Collective online links:

Email:       [email protected]