For our eleventh Monday Meeting, we’re very honoured to speak with with Florence Norman: one of the most inspirational women we know.
Previously a PA, Florence is the Founder of Free Me; an incredible, London-based charity dedicated to women striving to achieve and maintain recovery from eating disorders and addictions. Located in Notting Hill, the charity’s doors are open to all women who are dedicated to recovery.
We’ve teamed up with Free Me to launch Work to Recover; a new scheme designed as a supportive route back into work after recovery.
Florence – please would you tell us a little about Free Me and the work that you do?
Free Me is a registered charity that provides care to women recovering from eating disorders and addictions. We offer free therapeutic groups and activities, access to a dietician and one on one therapy. One of the therapeutic services we offer is a jewellery making workshop. All the beautiful jewellery is then sold under our jewellery brand Sweet Cavanagh.
What inspired you to found Free Me?
The idea to set up Free Me came from my own personal experience with addiction and eating disorder. I came into recovery over five years ago and saw first hand how limited the services in the UK are. It is incredibly hard to get treatment with the NHS, and the private care is very expensive.
A friend of mine was finding it hard to stay clean, she relapsed constantly. I knew I couldn’t control her illness but what I could do was something that had helped me: I could sit and make jewellery with her. I used to go over to her house with my beads in a big backpack, and we would sit and make bracelets for hours.
She asked if we could invite another girl, then another and another. One day one of them commented that if we sold the jewellery we could be a social enterprise; I had no idea what a social enterprise was but I knew we had started something important, something that could make a difference and from there I went on to found the charity.
How did you come up with the idea of jewellery making as a form of therapy?
I started making jewellery in rehab as part of the program. I remember making my first bracelets and the impact on my self-esteem was quite profound. There was something so powerful about creating something, using my hands and completing a task.
The pieces were mine and I loved them; for the first time in years I felt good at something, they didn’t rely on anybody else’s approval, they were just for me. I think the physical act of making jewellery is very peaceful and meditative, it helped me to quiet some of the destructive thoughts in my head.
Since I founded Free Me, I have been lucky enough to find some amazing people who have helped it grow. Maxine Charnoff [Free Me’s Head of Therapeutic Services], who has run the program for the last year, is a constant inspiration and has helped so many women find and keep recovery.
Can you tell us a little about your work as a PA prior to founding Free Me?
I worked for a recruitment agency in the city before I came into recovery and founded Free Me. I loved the work because it was so relationship orientated and I’m sure that it prepared me for the work I’ve done since.
It takes a lot to be a reliable and efficient PA, much more than people think, and even though it is hard work, it is incredibly rewarding when you get to know your team and can almost anticipate what needs to be done next.
“I had no idea what a social enterprise was but I knew we had started something important -something that could make a difference.”Florence Norman
How do you think Work to Recover will help the women in Free Me’s care?
Work to Recover is an absolutely brilliant initiative that will provide a vital link in the recovery process.
Building the confidence to get back out into the professional world is a key step in getting better and is often one of the biggest relapse triggers, Work to Recover will offer our amazing women the opportunity to take that step under the safe and expert guidance of the Sidekicks team.
This program adds another depth to Free Me’s services and we are so excited and proud to begin this new partnership.
You can admire and own the extraordinary pieces made by the women in Free Me’s care on Sweet Cavanagh’s website.
You can read more about the Work to Recover scheme here.