“FOR six years I’ve eaten, slept and breathed abuse — it’s been nice to do something separate,” says high-profile CSE campaigner Sammy Woodhouse as she sips a drink in her new cafe.
The 34-year-old (pictured above left) has taken a break from lobbying MPs and can now be found whizzing up milkshakes alongside her sister Rachel Williams (pictured with Sammy) at Brookers.
The siblings have named the Rawmarsh cafe and dessert bar in memory of their mum Julie, who was known as “Brookers” growing up after her maiden name of Brooks.
“My mum passed away 14 years ago and she had always wanted to buy a cafe, so me and Rachel decided to follow my mum’s dream,” said Sammy.
The Monkwood Road cafe, which has six staff, opened five weeks ago, and Sammy admits she was initially nervous about being in a public-facing role.
“At first, I didn’t want to speak about the cafe publicly,” she said.
“I was thinking: ‘Am I going to get people coming in and giving me hassle?’
“But then I thought: ‘I can’t live my life worrying about people like that, I have to be me’.
“People recognise me but I’m used to that — everybody has been really good and supportive.”
Sammy said she had been enjoying the front-of-house work and preparing sandwiches whereas Rachel prefers serving up the desserts.
It’s a far cry from the Jay Report era when Sammy went by her pseudonym “‘Jessica” to speak out about her abuse at the hands of prolific child abuser Arshid Hussain.
A year after Hussain was jailed for 35 years in 2016, Sammy waived her anonymity and has gone on to help shape legislation and campaign for victims’ rights.
The mother-of-two said her anonymity hadn’t been hiding her from her abuser but from society because rape victims were wrongly seen as “damaged goods” — something she wanted to change.
Sammy said the cafe signalled a “new chapter” and it was “refreshing” that it wasn’t connected to abuse or exploitation, although some customers had spoken to her about CSE.
“People do come in and speak to us about stuff and of course we will help — we’d like to think that any business would,” she added.
“But I used to go to bed thinking: ‘Have I contacted that MP?’ Now it’s: ‘Have I ordered my sausages’.”
Rachel (36) said: “Sammy’s life has been CSE for so many years.
“Even though people do come in and recognise her and speak to her, it’s been nice to do something in my mum’s memory and see my old sister again and have a laugh.
“It’s been hard work but it’s been worth it and we get to show to our kids that no matter what you go through in life you can build a dream and build a life.”
Sammy said she was now looking into opening a second dessert bar in Rotherham.
“I want to fetch my kids up knowing that you work hard, dream big and achieve it — you’re not going to get very far in life sitting at home feeling sorry for yourself,” she said.
The new venture hasn’t put an end to Sammy’s campaign work — she has an outfit on hand at the shop to change into if she is called on to do a TV interview.
But she admits she may have to “apologise about smelling of bacon” when she gets there.