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When all you want is your big sister
One in four women are now drinking beyond the recommended alcohol limit each week – and some, like Kym-Marie Cleasby’s daughter Beth, have risked their health and even their lives in a terrifying cycle of binge drinking.
Now, an army of self-proclaimed ‘Big Sisters’, who have each made their own mistakes growing up, are here to show young women there is more to life than getting falling down drunk.
Kym-Marie Cleasby, 50, from Witney was so horrified by the extent of her teenage daughter Beth’s binge drinking she left her job and made it her mission to steer other vulnerable young women away from the dangers of alcohol.
Last year she set up the new and unique charity, Wash My Pink Jumper, and has been joined in her quest by 15 women – or ‘Big Sisters’ – who will be offering young women in Witney, aged 16-30, support, advice and mentoring through weekly coffee meetings and a telephone helpline.
‘Big Sister’ Miriam Williams, 24, is a part-time charity worker from Witney.
She said: “I volunteered for Wash My Pink Jumper because at university I drank, struggled with depression and didn’t know where to turn to.
“I became very lost and really needed support. And Wash My Pink Jumper is the kind of support that someone like me could have turned to aged 19.”
She continued: “The culture of drinking at uni was considered normal, and not drinking excluded me and left me feeling very alone.
“I would have loved a ‘Big Sister’ to talk to and support me in this, which is why I’m so keen to be able to do that for young women. I got involved simply because I couldn’t stand by and watch if I had the ability to help.”
‘Big Sister’ Jamie Drew, from Witney, is mum to two daughters, aged eight and 10, and wants to help create a lasting support network that could even help her children one day.
She said: “Growing up in the United States I went off the rails in my teens and though I had a great family, I had no-one to mentor me and talk to me about making the best decisions.
“Arriving here in Britain from the States to go to college I wasn’t a drinker, but soon realised that going out drinking was something young, British people did a lot and that buying alcohol was often cheaper than buying a coke.”
She continued: “I want to be there for girls who are making important decisions and maybe need someone to talk things through.
“I also hope that when my daughters are older, and maybe don’t want to talk to me about some things, there will be a Wash My Pink Jumper Big Sister they can talk to.”
Women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week but one in four women between the ages of 16-24 regularly exceeds those levels.
Wash My Pink Jumper founder Kym-Marie Cleasby will never forget the day she learned the true extent of her teenage daughter Beth’s binge drinking.
She said: “Beth was at university studying fashion photography and within the first term had spent all her student grant and was £1,000 overdrawn.
“When she confessed that it had basically all gone on drink – and that she was drinking around 240 units – the equivalent of 120 pints a week, I was terribly shocked.
“But she also said drinking was just something her friends ‘did’. And that she felt she had no choice but to join in, which left me heartbroken.
“I desperately wanted to show her that it didn’t have to be like that. That she had other choices, and ones that wouldn’t make her ‘boring’.”
The full extent of Beth’s binge drinking was terrifying.
Now 24, she explained: “My binge drinking started before I joined university, however being a student definitely exaggerated it.
“Some clubs sold pints for 50p while a bottle of water was £1.50, but they wouldn’t give you tap water.
“My friends and I would easily drink a litre of vodka between us before going out and spending £50 in venues where drinks were £1 or less.
“Unfortunately my drinking began to spiral, and nights where I could barely remember getting into a club, let alone leaving it, became a regular occurrence. Waking up with strange men in my house or waking up in strange houses and not knowing how I got there, happened weekly.
“If I hadn’t stopped drinking when I did I might have ended up in hospital or worse.
“The thought that during my blackouts I could have been assaulted and still don’t know if I was, scares me.”
Beth would eventually get her drinking under control, thanks to the support of her family.
But Mrs Cleasby’s wish to help other girls break the cycle of binge drinking continued, and last year she gave up her job as a director of a large international charity to start Wash My Pink Jumper.
The unusual name, Wash My Pink Jumper comes from a coded phrase Mrs Cleasby and Beth used during her daughter’s recovery.
Whenever Beth felt she was in a situation that could lead to binge drinking, she would phone her mother and say the phrase, prompting her mum to pick her up.
Mrs Cleasby said: “Wash My Pink Jumper is not for alcoholics. “It is for young women who want to escape the binge-drinking lifestyle, and because of that we have come up with a unique two-tier service – a 24-hour helpline for girls to phone, and also a weekly coffee meet-up at a cafe in Witney, where they can chat to our ‘big sisters’, women who can mentor them and instill them with confidence to make their own choices, away from alcohol.
“Of course drinking can also endanger your health and put you at risk of serious assault and if needs be we can also refer to third parties if we need further professional help.
“I have referral systems set up with Base 33 (a local initiative for the young affected by drugs, alcohol etc) and Wash My Pink Jumper is also on the agenda of the next Neighbourhood Policing Team in Witney.”
Mrs Cleasby had hoped for at least 10 women to volunteer for Wash My Pink Jumper, but was stunned when 30 came forward – 15 are now ‘Big Sisters’ while 15 others will be manning the charity’s helpline.
‘Big Sister’ Nikki Nash, 32, is a mum-of-two from Witney.
She said : “It’s been shocking to learn, through statistics, just how much of a problem binge drinking has become and just how many young people are now regularly drinking themselves into oblivion.
“We hope that by meeting young women in a cafe environment, we will build friendships and trust.
“We’re not there to step in and save the day. But we hope to be there for people who might need us. And for me it’s an honour to be able to do that.”
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