'I didn't even know what MS was': Baffins couple battle MS with an Exit Plan

After a shocking MS diagnosis, Dave Smith and Rachael Kent are starting a business which hopes to shine a light on the restrictions on everyday life that come with disability.

By Elsa Waterfield
Wednesday, 16th March 2022, 12:27 pm

Rachael, 35, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease that affects the central nervous system, six years ago. Both she and her partner Dave are learning to accept what it might mean for their future together.

Dave, 46, currently works at ITV Meridian but growing up he often lent a hand to his dad who was in the property business and has felt a pull towards entrepreneurship from a young age.

‘I was pretty much running a guest house by the time I was 11,’ says Dave. ‘But then we got hit by the ’90s property crash and basically lost everything.’

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Pictured is: Dave Smith and Rachael Kent Picture: Keith Woodland (130321-2)

Even after his dad’s lack of success, and a dramatic change in his home life, Dave always felt he had unfinished business.

During lockdown, a time in which can-do Dave felt restless and ‘uneasy,’ he began to dig into the idea of starting a business in the property field.

‘I just went online, did what everybody does, went on YouTube, started following a few people, looked up a few courses, started reading books,’ he says.

All the while, Dave’s partner Rachael was struggling with symptoms of MS and coming to terms with her diagnosis.

Dave Smith wins Community Contributor award at the Aspire Nation Event Picture: Aspire Education

‘It started off with tiredness, she was just sleeping all the time. Then it was pins and needles,’ Dave says.

‘She’d put her head forward and get this dizziness and the pins and needles would rush down her spine.’

‘Me being the supportive partner I am, I would just say ‘get out of bed earlier, go to bed earlier, go down the gym, eat better, go for a run,’ he adds with a twinkle in his eye.

During ‘pretty stressful time’ for the pair, Dave suggested various lifestyle changes to Rachael including diets, vitamins and different activities, wondering if it would help the symptoms that were rendering her so exhausted.

Pictured is: Rachael Kent Picture: Keith Woodland (130321-15)

‘Now I look back and it makes sense, but we had years of not knowing,’ says Dave.

After years of going in and out of GP surgeries and undergoing multiple tests, Rachael was diagnosed with MS - a lifelong condition that can affect the brain and spinal cord and cause serious disability.

‘I woke one morning with a completely numb left leg – I didn’t even know what MS was,’ says Rachael.

As a freelance make-up artist and owner of her own brand, KMK make-up, Rachael suffered another blow when she began noticing she was unable to feel her hands and realised that her make-up career may no longer be a long-term option.

‘I love my job - I don’t really want to leave it but I think I’m going to have to at some point, due to the progression of the illness,’ says Rachael.

Having just gone through two rounds of chemotherapy, which aims to slow-down the progression of her illness, Rachael says she looks forward to being ‘back on her feet.’

‘I need to keep my brain occupied, if I’ve got something to focus on I find it so much easier,’ she adds.

Despite her struggle, the pair have turned something negative into a positive.

Dave took an online course from Jamie York, a property investor from south-east London, and was inspired.

In an attempt to involve Rachael and get her interested in a potential new career, Dave invited her to sit in on one of his sessions.

‘It was like a penny-drop moment. I’d decided I was going to do something for me, something that didn’t involve MS.’

‘And all of a sudden, she sits in on the course, and she's loving it!’

In a fusion of Dave’s drive to re-enter the property market, and Rachael’s diagnosis, the couple created Exit Plan Property Group.

‘For me personally, I found that there’s a huge need for homes that have some sort of accessibility requirements in Portsmouth,’ Rachael says.

The aim for the business is to create homes and holiday homes, in and around Portsmouth that really are, disability-friendly.

‘We’ve actually found something that’s a passion for the two of us,’ Rachael adds.

To better understand how his business could help others, Dave spent time with a charity which he has previously raised money for, Help for Heroes, chatting and getting to know ex-service personnel.

The charity provides recovery and support to members of the British armed forces who have been wounded or injured in the line of duty.

‘What I started to do was see the point of view from someone in a wheelchair, spend time with them, and just note down all the things that they can and can’t do,’ says Dave.

‘I want to get more disabled people in Pompey involved in what able-bodied people take for granted.’

Not only does the business hope to normalise homes for those with disabilities, it’s allowed the couple to see beyond Rachael’s diagnosis and look forward to their future together.

‘Rachael runs her own make-up business, but this is quite different, I wasn’t sure whether she’d like it but she’s literally shining.’

‘For a long time she was trying to shut the door on her MS and ignore it, it’s really helped her in coming to terms with it.’

Through advice and direction from contacts at the MS Society, which Dave joined shortly after Rachael’s diagnosis, they hope to create stylish, safe, and ‘warm’ properties for anyone with disabilities in and around Portsmouth.

‘One thing I hate, if you walk into any disabled toilet, it just feels like you're in A&E, says Dave.’

‘It's about making a space that you walk into and go, ‘Ooh, this is nice’ rather than, ‘Ooh, this is functional,’ he laughs.

As their contacts grow within the industry, the couple are also looking to incorporate courses in entrepreneurship into their business as well as offering their own expertise.

‘Out of all the people I’ve met along the way, I haven’t met any disabled entrepreneurs. There has to be a way of empowering people in disabled communities and helping them bring a passion forward.’

As they expand and grow Exit Plan Property Group, the pair hope to be able to help people achieve their dreams and find something they love.

After recently being nominated, and awarded the title of Community Contributor, at the Aspire Nation Awards, celebrating the achievements of small businesses, Dave and Rachael feel they’re moving in the ‘right’ direction and are more prepared than ever to face what may come their way.

A message from the editor, Mark Waldron.

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