Sitting at home with her feet up on a chair and watching the kids playing in the garden, Charlie Reilly talks business.
It’s not the sort of relaxed scene in which you’d expect to find an award-winning company owner while her mind’s on work.
But this, Charlie explains, is what suits her and helps her cope with the challenges of health and home.
For the Gosport mum-of-three, these are considerable. Charlie is using the chair as support for her legs because she suffers from fibromyalgia – a long-term condition that causes muscle stiffness and pain all over the body.
‘This eases the pressure on the joints,’ she explains before revealing that sometimes she’ll sit like this in important meetings.
The 32-year-old businesswoman, mum and student also suffers from ME, or chronic fatigue syndrome as it is often known.
It means that some days she finds it hard to get out of bed – but because her work offers flexibility of location and hours, Charlie copes.
And the founder of The Reilly Enterprise Ltd never forgets that family is her priority.
Her son Ryan, 12, has a development disorder with traits of autism, and is currently being educated at home.
Add to this the fact that Charlie is studying for a degree, and it seems incredible that she should have recently landed a business award.
The hard-working head of a party entertainment company was presented with first prize at the Networking Mummies Small Business of the Year awards at a ceremony in Birmingham.
Accompanied by husband John, who also works hard on the business as well as being employed at a nursery, Charlie was thrilled to receive the honour.
The Reilly Enterprise was awarded because of its work in the community, which includes a social enterprise about to be launched.
Charlie hit upon the idea of Square Pegs Round Holes because of her own and Ryan’s issues with work and health.
The project’s aim is to help young people from financially disadvantaged backgrounds and youngsters with disabilities to increase their employability skills and find work.
The scheme will offer workshops and Charlie hopes to talk to businesses about employing those who have plenty to offer but might not fit into an office environment without adaptations and support.
Having faced considerable challenges, she’s a great believer that people with health issues can work with the right degree of flexibility.
Because Charlie runs her own business, she can do something even when the ME – which results in long bouts of exhaustion – takes its toll.
‘There have been times when I have worked from my bed,’ she says. ‘I have a sea view, so if it gets too much I can have time to relax.’
To ease the pain associated with fibromyalgia, Charlie has a desk that changes heights and has no problem telling clients that she needs to pur her feet up.
‘But imagine if you’re an employee in a board meeting. It’s not so easy to look after yourself.’
A big inspiration for the project, which has attracted funding from the University of Portsmouth and social enterprise charity UnLtd, is Ryan.
He has neurodevelopmental disorder which affects emotion, learning ability, self control and memory.
While Ryan finds it difficult to learn, he’s a bright boy.
In fact his skills with technology have produced adverts for the business and he also worked on a video for Charlie to use to attract funds.
‘I want him and others to have aspirations and goals.
‘Just because people might not fit into a traditional work environment, doesn’t mean their skills can’t be used,’
Charlie gave up a successful management career to give Ryan more support and then set up the core business – providing life-size foam characters to appear at children’s parties – to earn money on the side.
She also launched Sweetheart Sweet Carts, an event-dressing service.
She and John began recruiting self-employed party entertainers and giving training and employment advice to young people.
And they also provide mascots for charity events.
It was their community work that finally convinced Charlie to set up the new project.
She knows she can make it work with a lot of help from John and their team, and a few adaptations to make life easier.
‘I’m a firm believer that you can find ways to do things and be useful.
‘People need to have a sense of purpose even if they face many difficulties.’
For information, visit thereillyenterprise.com.
It is estimated that ME, or chronic fatigue syndrome as it is commonly called, affects some 250,000 people in Britain.
The predominant symptom is usually severe fatigue and malaise following mental or physical activity.
The full extent of the exhaustion often becomes apparent 24 to 48 hours after the activity.
Other symptoms can include clumsiness, muscle pain, problems with memory and difficulties with control of the nervous system resulting in sweating episodes, fainting and palpitations.
Despite the fact that the Department of Health accepts ME as a genuine medical condition, there is misunderstanding and diagnosis can be difficult.
Symptoms are similar to other conditions and there are no examination findings which can confirm diagnosis.
The ME Association funds and supports research and offers support and information. Visit meassociation.org.uk or call 0844 576 5326.