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Ally’s Story

Adversity turned to action.

A remarkable and moving tale of resilience, loss, and the healing power of helping others.

“I’m a millionaire…in hugs” says Ally in a Liverpool accent, vivacious in a leopard print dress and headscarf, bright lipstick and statement glasses. Her brand-new pumps were bought by her mum, “I’m proud of you like it’s your first day of school” she’d said. Ally is the CEO of Evolve, a charity that delivers age-appropriate prevention/education about substance use. The hugs take place in school halls and counselling rooms, and today, at Cheshire Community Foundation’s President’s Awards, Evolve has won an award for excellence in delivering a Small Grant project.  

Ally’s story, she says “proves you can come through adversity”. At 19, she moved to Germany, there she met her first husband who was thirty years her senior, an imbalance of power that pervaded the relationship. “Looking back, that’s when the abuse began, but of course I couldn’t see it at the time.” In 1990 they had a son, Rory, and a year later Ally and Rory left Germany and returned to her parents in the UK, fleeing the abuse of her marriage. A divorce ensued, traumatic and costly, and Ally received threatening letters and phone calls throughout, which she translated from German for her English legal aid solicitor.  

Rory’s father was granted brief custody visits in Germany, and it was while returning from one of these visits that Ally faced an unimaginable tragedy. Her young son Rory was killed in a heartbreaking and totally unforeseeable accident. It was one of those sickening chance events where Ally describes all the different ‘sliding doors moments’ that could have resulted in a different outcome. “He was 2 years, 6 months and 19 days old. I remember visiting him in the chapel of rest, grown men working there were just sobbing.” 

Ally spent some time in a psychiatric ward following this unspeakable tragedy. She describes weeks and months of numbness, a battle over funeral plans and a traumatic encounter with Rory’s father at the funeral, his abusive whispered barbs still bringing her to tears over three decades later.  

“Things like this have a ripple effect on a family, you don’t always notice it at the time.” Ally had returned to her family in Liverpool; her parents, sister, and brother supporting her through the horror of life without Rory. Ally’s nephew Christian was “about 11 at this time, and he’d started smoking weed. By 13 he was expelled, went to a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU). At 16 he had no qualifications or job prospects. When he was 20, he became a dad.  

“When you’re buying weed off the streets you don’t know what it’s mixed with. Weed led to cocaine, which led to him being in debt to his dealers who were also his ‘friends’. Christian lost access to his child, lost work, he was addicted.” 

By this time Ally had trained as a counsellor, turning her experiences of extreme traumas into a motivation to help others.  

“We got him help; he went to rehabilitation. We paid off his debts to the gang, got him clean, and despite dyslexia, he started training to be a counsellor. He used to come round to mine to do his ‘homework’. He was the sweetest soul. But he had made some bad, uninformed choices. We did everything we could to protect him.” 

Ally at CCF President’s Awards 2024

Christian was 23 when a second tragedy struck Ally’s family, and he was killed during what started as an ordinary evening, walking home from the pub. 

“Drug dealers are very unforgiving. They expect loyalty, and they will use you as an example.” Ally describes, with the accurately numb language of police procedure, the coroner’s report and open verdict. “His life wasn’t important to anyone but us.” 

15 years after Rory was buried in Port Sunlight his cousin joined him, and Ally can’t quite bring herself to go. “We’re just nice people who have had all this trauma. It was my mum’s 80th on Sunday and our two boys were missing from that party.”  

Somehow, gripping tightly to one another through their shared and different pain, Ally and her sister persisted. Today Ally has a partner, Will, and a daughter, Keziah, who she is proud to say is the first in their family to go to university; she studied music and is now working on a master’s degree in Queer History. Ally continued her counselling work, and in 2013 started up Evolve. 

Holding musical fundraisers led by her dad, Roy, and daughter, Keziah, with help from her friends and family, Ally rose enough to begin delivering the sessions and counselling in schools. She talks about the persistent need for intervention – a Year 7 girl bringing ketamine into school from her mother’s supply, using it in the toilets with other girls to make friends. A boy left incontinent for life after using ketamine. Addiction leading to stealing, leading to prison.  

Ally receiving a President’s Award 2024 for Evolve from Lady Alexis Redmond MBE and Mel Sproston

Through Covid, she had to reduce Evolves visits to schools of course, and spent some hours with Motherwell Cheshire, another excellent local charity. “I had to work, it kept me sane, but it broke my heart to have to take Evolve part time. The need for it hadn’t gone away. Then I found out about CCF and applied to you for a grant. It was that grant that got Evolve back to full time. Honestly, I don’t know what I’d have done without it.” More projects and more grants followed. Ally credits CCF with keeping Evolve, and in turn her, going.

Asked how she faced such adversity and didn’t give up, she answered with moving honesty and wisdom. “I nearly did go the other way, a couple of times. But I always managed to get some fight in me. There are no regrets, just learning curves, bumps in the road. Maybe three or four times, something will go wrong and eventually you learn from it. We have to learn, to become the people we are meant to be. Without these bumps our lives would be…flat. I went on many a bumpy road, but I learned.  

My mum, dad and my daughter are the biggest influence, the biggest inspiration. I did it all for them. If it wasn’t for them, I’d be dead. I stand up in an assembly at a school and look at all their faces and just think, this is priceless. Evolve is a privilege and a passion. I speak to over 10,000 young people a year and if I can help one make a good decision when they’re at a crossroads, to choose a safer path, it’s worth it.” 

Evolve and fellow winner TAGS are working on a collaboration for 2024/5


Ally’s story is a stark reminder of the power of ‘lived experience’, leading to action. So many of the grassroots charities supported by our grants are led by people like Ally, who survived something so impactful, that their only option is to find a way to help others in the same position.  


Donors to Cheshire Community Foundation aren’t just supporting the clients of charities like Evolve; they are also empowering leaders who have turned their suffering into a force for community good. Ally’s journey illustrates the profound impact that thoughtful, targeted support can have on individuals and the community.