Founder Anneka Hicks Speaks Out: “Why I Left Excluded UK”

Watch the FULL Podcast Interview with Excluded UK’s Founder Anneka Hicks on ‘Why She Had to Leave and Fighting For The 3 Million’

Please be aware that this article and the accompanying podcast episode contain discussion of suicide. If you’re struggling, please reach out urgently to one of the UK’s many free crisis support services (or equivalent in your country.) 

I realised how broken I really was and I had to take a step back, to be honest… 

Founder Anneka Hicks has stepped down from Excluded UK to create a new venture dedicated to tackling the mental health fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. Editor Marc chatted to Anneka about her journey.

Excluded UK’s Story

Excluded UK is a grassroots, nonprofit organisation dedicated to giving personal, business, and career support to those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Excluded UK estimates that 3 million self employed people and business owners have fallen through the cracks of government financial support during the pandemic. 

Anneka is a marketer, strategist, and telecommunications professional with a passion for supporting entrepreneurs and small business owners. Her business, Cloud10 Marketing, lost contracts overnight when the UK went into lockdown last March, and she describes crying with relief when the Chancellor announced financial support for employees under the furlough scheme. However, she soon realised that as the company Director, she was entitled to no support (“I couldn’t furlough myself!” she says.) 

Listen to the FULL Brutally Honest Interview

By comparing experiences with fellow self employed people and business owners, Anneka realised that there were huge numbers who weren’t entitled to any support for various reasons (as someone who went full-time freelance when I lost my job at the start of the pandemic, I’m one of them!) 

In May 2020, Excluded UK was born. “I had a vision of people sharing their skills and experiences to help each other,” Anneka says. Excluded UK and its various campaign groups created an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) with the backing of 270 MPs and daily media coverage. 

Realising the Impact

As the pandemic continued, the situation began to get more and more dire. As well as the thousands of tragic deaths from COVID-19, there was a spate of suicides due to the loneliness, depression, anxiety, and economic insecurity caused by the pandemic. 

Anneka describes members of her team virtually hand-holding with people who were close to the edge. Inevitably, this takes a toll on people – especially people who are not trained mental health professionals. 

I realised I’d spent seven months distracting myself from what was going on with me and my business

“I was doing press and media appearances, but finding it increasingly difficult to talk about the mental health element of what was happening to people in our community,” she says. As an organisation, Excluded UK decided to put some of their volunteers through a mental health first aid training course. It was during one of these courses that Anneka realised how badly the situation was impacting her personally. 

“I realised I’d spent seven months distracting myself from what was going on with me and my business,” she says. “I realised how broken I really was and I had to take a step back, to be honest. I pushed myself to such a limit that at the end of November, I told the team that I needed to take a couple of weeks completely off.” 

Anneka did an LBC interview during which she broke down emotionally while talking about members of the community who had died by suicide, and that clip was replayed throughout the day along with the Chancellor’s response. 

Behind the scenes, Excluded UK was working with various professionals including counsellors and psychotherapists, trying to mobilise a support system to help the people who were in crisis. They fundraised and succeeded in rolling out fully-funded, free-at-point-of-use mental health support for all members within 24 hours. With the current wait for talking therapy on the NHS sitting at a minimum of 16 weeks, this offer has been a lifeline to many Excluded UK members. 

Introducing Younified 

Along with Melissa Knight, one of the other directors of Excluded UK, Anneka has set up Younified. This new platform takes the things they learned from running Excluded UK and expands on it to provide support for physical and emotional wellbeing to anyone impacted by the pandemic – including medical staff, care workers, other frontline employees, people who have had to shield, older people, and mothers who have given birth during the pandemic.

“The problem of mental health is so much greater that we felt that with the research and the experience and the contacts we made through the Excluded UK community, we could put something like that together to support wider society,” Anneka explains. 

She describes this new venture as her passion and her purpose in life. 

Going Forward

When asked what she’s learned from the last year, Anneka says, “however low you get, you’ve got to use that as a foundation to start something anew.” Finding her low point during the pandemic pushed her towards founding Younified and finding a way towards using her experiences for good. 

“The last six months have been the hardest of my life emotionally,” she says, “and I wanted to use the contacts and the experience and the amazing people to help other people get through it like I have.” 

She hopes that as we emerge from the pandemic, people will be more oriented towards supporting one another. She also said that as business owners, we need to prioritise caring for ourselves so that we can recover and ensure that the future is brighter. 

Watch today’s podcast to hear the full interview. We were deeply touched by Anneka’s journey and we’re sure you will be, too.

Do you have a story?

Do you have a small business success story from the COVID-19 era? Drop us a line if so – we’d love to talk to you.

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