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Change Maker: Sarah Hartwell, Foundation Home Loans

  • 28/02/2023
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Change Maker: Sarah Hartwell, Foundation Home Loans
As part of the Change Makers initiative, Mortgage Solutions is speaking to people in the industry who have made a real difference. In our inaugural interview, we talk to Foundation Home Loans’ Sarah Hartwell about her IVF journey, her championing of mental health issues and her pride at being named a Change Maker.

Sarah Hartwell had always wanted a family. However, when she was told she was unable to conceive naturally, she and her husband Stuart took the in vitro fertilisation (IVF) route.

Despite spending £25,000, travelling to Spain and having several grueling rounds of treatment, the couple were unable to have a baby. Her difficult journey led to bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and mental health issues, yet there was a happy ending.

She and Stuart ultimately adopted a baby girl Merci, who is now 10 years old, and her struggle gave her the determination not only to continue forging a successful career in the mortgage industry but also, as a Change Maker, to help others who had been affected by similar situations.


Tell us about your journey and how it led you to want to change the way IVF is viewed in the industry.

My husband and I were trying for a family but nothing happened. I had thyroid issues, so we went to the doctor and I was referred straight away. I went for my first IVF and it didn’t work, so the doctor recommended the donor route. I agreed.

I went to Barcelona for treatment because, in the UK, treatment is not anonymous. If you have donor IVF, it has to go on a register and the baby can find their mother or the mother can find them – a bit like adoption.

We had six months of treatment and, in the end, it didn’t work. The process took everything out of me …and then I had PTSD.

That was back in 2013. I pulled through and went down the adoption route. And now we have a lovely 10-year-old daughter.

In 2022, I did an interview in The Times and I think this raised awareness of the issue;  this is where the Change Maker nomination came from.

Through the whole IVF journey, I had no counselling as none was available in the workplace to help people who are going through donor IVF.


Do you feel the industry is taking the issue of IVF and issues that women face more seriously?

I think they are but there’s a long way to go, but  I think that’s normal; it’s a massive issue. Some companies are doing great work. Co-op, for example, announced they’d given 60,000 staff members time off for IVF – men and women.

I have subsequently worked with an amazing campaigning group called Fertility Matters at Work, to campaign for counselling in the workplace to help people who are going through donor IVF.

It’s important to understand that men are going through this as well. It’s not physical, but they want to go to appointments, the men have to have time off to have tests.

This is what I learned about menopause as well, when I went to the Diversity and Inclusivity Finance Forum (DIFF) talk on menopause.

There was a mixed room and a lot of the men took this very seriously. Because they have wives and partners going through this. They say deaths and taxes are going to happen to everyone but for women, you can add menopause.


How can people be better supported?

With IVF, it’s very different from trying for a child naturally. When you have IVF, you know how many chances you have.

And from my perspective, after the times we tried, I eventually had to stop because of my mental health.

You can’t tell a company to give everyone time off for fertility problems, because it will cost a lot of money. The process needs to start slowly; for example, , we trained up 10 mental health first aiders (MHFA) where I was working at the time.

Foundation Home Loans also has a Mental Health First Aider, as well as mental health support via an employee assistance programme (EAP) service within the core benefits package.

When I was going through my struggles, all I wanted to do was talk to people who had similar issues and had come out the other side.


How is mental health treated in the industry?

I think it’s being talked about more. LinkedIn has helped here. There are quite a few people who have been talking about taking their lives and I think there was a strapline that said ‘it’s okay to not be okay’, and that was the only reason that I spoke openly.

It’s not just an issue in the mortgage industry. It’s universal and I think it’s going to get worse. Mental health issues were already prevalent, then you add in the pandemic, and it’s those younger people, who may be in school now, who are going to come in our industry. Many of them will have struggled for years in senior school.


What more needs to be done?

Work culture is key and that is set at the top. When I started at Foundation, it was clear they cared about their employees.

In addition, having mental health first aiders is imperative. They keep a temperature check of what is going on.

It’s more difficult now because you have more people working from home. It’s easier to hide. If you’re in an office setting, you can notice changes in people.

Look at both menopause and mental health issues, and the figures are rising for people either leaving or being out long term. Women are leaving good jobs due to menopause because they can’t take time out.

I think change is going to be slow. We’ve had to deal with the pandemic and changes to the way people work, although companies I’ve worked for have embraced it. They’ve all had equality, diversity and inclusion protocols in place which they’ve introduced that to the staff.


How do you think we can affect change overall in the industry?

If I was in charge, I would like everyone working on the same agenda. So, if you go to work in any company, issues are embraced in the same way.

Working together and looking to outside agencies like Fertility Matters is also extremely valuable.

Companies need to work out what their priorities are. If people feel looked after in a good culture, you will retain staff. In theory, that will save a company money.


What does it feel like to be nominated as a Mortgage Solutions Change Maker?

It really feels amazing. I think the concept is excellent. The Change Makers that were nominated – I felt honoured to be among them because mine was from my personal experience.

When I was nominated, I was so proud of myself and of all the other people. I am a person that wants to help, and I’ve had some very special people that have helped me and I want to give something back.

I’ve been in financial services for 22 years and I’m proud that I’ve gone through my issues, that I am still here, that I was nominated as a Change Maker and that I can help people.

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