From Barclaycard Cardiff to Buckingham Palace
Annabel Jones, Barclaycard Risk and Governance Manager, was just 22 when she suffered a stroke at work. Eight years on, she travels the country campaigning for the rights of stroke survivors, has addressed the National Assembly for Wales – and was recently awarded an MBE by Prince Charles.
One evening in November last year, Annabel Jones came home to find her fiance holding a letter addressed to her marked with the words ‘urgent’, ‘confidential’ and ‘her majesty’. “You might want to sit down for this,” he told her
It was at that moment, standing in her kitchen in Cardiff, UK, that Annabel learned she had been included on the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list – and was to be awarded an MBE.
“He panicked when he saw the letter and opened it because he thought I was in trouble,” laughs Annabel, who works for Barclaycard as a Risk and Governance Manager. “I think he thought I’d been put into witness protection or something.
“I read the letter about six times and rang my parents straight away, it was totally overwhelming.”
That recognition was the product of six years’ work with the Stroke Association – the UK charity dedicated to preventing strokes, funding research, and campaigning for the rights of stroke survivors of all ages. It’s a charity that is particularly important to Annabel, following a life changing experience eight years ago.
“It really was a totally normal day,” Annabel recalls. “I’d finished my lunch and was getting back to my desk when I felt this searing pain in the back of my head. I felt sick and started to sweat – and that’s when half of my vision went.”
Annabel didn’t know it at the time, but she was having a stroke. She was driven to a nearby GP surgery by her line manager, before going to the hospital where she spent a week recovering.
“It sounds strange now,” says Annabel, “but I just felt really embarrassed and silly. I’d just graduated from university and started my career and I was worried about what people would think.”
Understandably, once she left hospital, Annabel found herself in a difficult place. The trauma she suffered had led to her losing her central and periphery vision – which had a significant impact on her mental health.
“I’ve lost a lot of my vision, which means that I will never be able to drive again,” she says. “That was tough to take.”
“The Stroke Association was absolutely amazing”
It was at this time that Annabel was put in contact with the Stroke Association – a charity she says was instrumental in her recovery process.
“The Stroke Association was absolutely amazing, I honestly couldn’t have asked for more support. It was such a tough time for me, and they helped me get back to my best.”
Despite her ordeal, Annabel was desperate to get back into work, something she says she was under no pressure to do.
“Barclays was amazing, they told me to take as much time as I needed but I really wanted to get back to normal. They made so many adjustments for me when I returned to make life as easy as possible, and told me I could do as much or as little as I wanted.”
It was after her return to work that Annabel decided she wanted to give something back to the charity that had done so much to help her.
“What started off with a bit of fundraising in the office led to some external charity events, and then it kind of snowballed.”
And ‘snowballed’, it’s fair to say, is quite an understatement. Since 2012, Annabel has gone from a casual fundraiser at Barclays, to travelling across Wales giving talks at universities and corporations, sharing her story. She has also been invited to join a Welsh advisory committee dedicated to addressing key issues affecting stroke survivors across the country – and has even addressed the National Assembly for Wales.
“That was a huge honour,” says Annabel. “To be given that platform to influence and effect change is something I am very grateful for.”
Annabel was invited to join a stroke advisory committee for Wales, a board dealing specifically with the key issues affecting stroke survivors in the country made up of social workers, medical professionals and others with first-hand experience like Annabel.
As part of Annabel’s role, she also goes out in the field – meeting young people with similar experiences to herself who are looking for guidance and mentors. “That’s one of my favourite things about the work I do,” says Annabel. “Using my experiences to help others who are going through what I went through.
“One girl I worked with suffered a stroke when she was at university. She was in a downward spiral and I enjoyed being there for her. I think it helped her because I’ve been there, and I could show her that things will get better.”
A royal day out
In March of this year Annabel, joined by her family and fiancé, made the journey to Buckingham Palace to receive an MBE for her services to the stroke community.
“It was surreal,” says Annabel. “We turned up and were invited to walk straight through the front gates. All the tourists started taking pictures, I think they thought we were famous.
“We popped our coats in the cloakroom, walked through the royal grounds and entered the palace – and it was exactly how you’d imagine.
“They don’t tell you who you are meeting until the day, but it was Prince Charles. He was so genuine and friendly. He asked me about the volunteering I did, and I shared my story with him. He was really interested in the Stroke Association.”
For Annabel, absolutely nothing has changed since she received her MBE. She went straight back to work and has continued her ambassadorial duties with the Stroke Association. The news has spread throughout her local community, earning her a small amount of fame which she did not expect.
“So there’s a small online publication in Wales who have, shall we say, a very heavy presence on Facebook. They published an article detailing all the Welsh people on the New Year’s Honours list, and for their headline image they had photoshopped a picture of me and Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas.
“It was shared all over my friends and family’s social media, I honestly couldn’t stop laughing.”