Lisa Strutt
Friendship 50
Friendship 50

My purpose is to support leaders clarify their purpose and live their legacy, the life they really want to lead now. There is nothing like losing a loved one, in my case, my husband John to pancreatic cancer, to bring the importance of this into sharp focus. Life is for living, not some time in a mythical future, but right here, right now.

As I turn 50 this year, (half way to 100) I’ve come up with a plan. It’s called Friendship 50 where I’ve invited 50 friends to challenge me to learn new skills or take part in 50 unique experiences or adventures. This blog is about the importance of friendships and supportive networks. It’s about capturing life in real time and sharing the fun, the laughter and learnings.

Let the games begin!

You can also read some blog posts about my Friendship 50 challenge using the links below

1. Walking Tour of Lisbon’s Street Art

Due to my husband’s job in the Royal Navy, we moved around a lot. When we moved from Portsmouth to Portugal in 2012, we got involved in an international swim team called the Lisbon Bullsharks. Terry, an entrepreneur and Elaine Hamill a palliative care nurse from Liverpool moved to Portugal and joined the team with their two children. I took them under my wing and we became firm friends. Forever grateful for how welcome I made them, they invited me back to Portugal in May 2022 for a walking tour of Lisbon with a twist: exploring the eclectic mix of street art, while learning about the changing face of the city. It was the perfect way to catch up and support local businesses, which Terry is passionate about.

2. Knitting with Lawyer and Mediator Dorcas Crawford

I got to know Dorcas through a women’s networking organisation called Lean In. I had returned to Belfast in 2015 after 18 years and didn’t have many business connections in Belfast. We arranged to meet for coffee and an hour and a half later, it was clear that we were kindred spirits. We are both busy people, so in April 2022 Dorcas’ Friendship50 challenged me to relax by learning how to knit. I discovered that it is good to be a beginner again and have to learn something from scratch.

3. A Day with RNLI in Cullercoats

I got to know Scotsman and retired Royal Navy Commander, Mike McGuire when I lived in Naples, Italy in 2011. He was then my husband’s boss at NATO. Mike did the eulogy at John’s funeral. He and his wife Jacqui have been very supportive of me and the children. He’s a volunteer with the RNLI so he invited me to get an insight into his work with attendance at the charity ball fundraiser and a visit to the lifeboat facility in Cullercoats. I had no idea that RNLI is entirely funded by donations. I was amazed by the commitment of the volunteers to put their own life on the line to save others. It was incredibly humbling.

4. Wimbledon with Emma Stokes-Heley

I’ve known Emma since she was my daughters’ Brownies leader 12 years ago. She works for Macmillan Cancer Support and we reconnected 5 years ago when John’s cancer was diagnosed having been out of touch for a while. Her Friendship50 challenge was a surprise until the last minute when she revealed that I would need all-white sportswear. She invited me to visit Wimbledon and play tennis. I hadn’t played in 35 years. She taught me some very basic techniques and I enjoyed the thrill of learning in such an iconic setting and making progress even in a short amount of time.

5. Art Class with Renowned Local Artist, Aly Harte

I got to know Aly because much of her art is inspired by the death of her father at a young age. When John was dying, Aly painted a landscape of the Causeway Coast as a birthday gift from me – a legacy piece he could give to the children as a reminder of his favourite beach. In a masterclass lasting only an hour, Aly’s challenge to me was to paint a landscape using watercolour. Although it’s no masterpiece, I was amazed at what I could accomplish in the time. I discovered that painting is both soothing and fun. I enjoyed unlearning the mindset that I’m no good at art.

6. Solent Swim with Penny Cox

Penny is a keen sea swimmer. She has been trying to get me to swim in the Solent since we met at St Jude’s Church, Southsea in 1998 and I had always resisted. She was my birth partner at the birth of two of my children (Rosie and James). On a particularly sunny day (26/08/22), I accepted the challenge for my Friendship50 and joined her in the sea off Southsea. It was a special moment to share.

7. Cambridge High Tea with Ruth Flood

Ruth is one of the smartest people I know. We became friends after attending a business networking breakfast event at the Apple Store in Belfast in 2016. She admired my shoes and I, her coat. She invited me to explore Cambridge where she did her undergraduate studies at Peterhouse. Three-day visit (August 2022) incorporating punting on the River Cam, staying in the Fellows’ quarters, and attending the Hockney Exhibition. It was a marvellous insight into college life and the richness of the culture and history of Cambridge.

8. Learning the Eyeliner Flick with Personal Stylist, Nuala McMenamin

I have used Nuala’s personal stylist services personally and professionally for 5 years. I’ve always admired her unique style but especially her eyeliner flick, so her challenge was for me to master a classic black eyeliner flick. This challenge was full of laughter and fun. The outcome: I still can’t do the flick!

9. Mountain-biking with my GP friend, Emma Dickson

I met Emma at a book group in 2016 in Belfast. We shared a love of leadership learning. When I shared my Friendship50 she was one of the first to respond such was her desire to share her passion for mountain biking with me. I was terrified. This was the most physically and mentally demanding challenge. Two hours of mountain biking in Castlewellan Forest Park.

10. Being on a Film Set with Philip Crawford, award-winning Creative Director at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast

For my challenge, Philip invited me to be both behind the camera and in front of it. I was an advisor to some actors shooting film shorts about end of life care and I also got to record my own story of telling my children about their dad’s terminal diagnosis, a piece called, “Walking in My Shoes”. I confronted my fears and put myself out of my comfort zone. Definitely one of the most challenging Friendship50 activities.

11. Chocolate Making with Shane Neary

hat an incredible Friendship 50 experience I had yesterday with Shane Neary of NearyNogs in Kilkeel.

Who doesn’t love a chocolate factory?

I learned about old ways of extracting the chocolate from the cacao nibs, the history of chocolate, its health benefits and that Shane runs the only bean to bar chocolate factory in Ireland.

After swapping our personal stories and experiences, we both concluded life can be messy; so can careers but that doors can and will open for you when you least expect them. It’s about how you respond, the decisions you make when life throws you curve balls.

Success is also about seizing the opportunity and working hard because nothing comes without hard work. There is also benefit to be had from having good people surround you.

Thank you Shane for a fantastic experience. Your creativity, tenacity and desire to develop and grow was truly inspirational.

And before any of you sigh deeply at my #friendship50 celebrations, I promise I’ve only five more to go.