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Hollyoaks legend Emily Burnett: 'With the right people behind you, you can do anything'

Hollyoaks actor Emily Burnett and her aunt Teresa Pope on their life-changing climb to the top of Mount Snowdon

A young Emily Burnett, held by her aunt, Teresa Pope. Image: supplied

Hollyoaks actor Emily Burnett and her aunt Teresa Pope are a formidable team. Together they’ve raised over £13,000 for Mencap and local charity Sunday Circle by climbing Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. Teresa Pope, 61, lives in Cardiff and works in a charity shop, and Emily Burnett is an ambassador for Mencap alongside her acting work. The pair sat down with Big Issue for a chat about careers, achievements, and a message of hope for what life with a learning disability can bring.

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Pope, who has a learning disability, spent 28 years working at Culverhouse Cross M&S – a shop made famous as the branch Stacey works at in the sitcom Gavin and Stacey. A Mencap scheme called Quest, which helped get people with learning disabilities into secure employment, was the impetus. Someone from the scheme went into M&S with Pope in the first week to do the job alongside her and help her learn her role. She now works at a charity shop.

Emily Burnett: So how did Mencap help you, back in the day?

Teresa Pope: Out of Mencap, I’ve got recognised in magazines and stuff. Quest got me a job up at Marks & Spencer in Cardiff. I worked for them for 28 years. I loved the job and I still meet up with the girls now and go out for meals, and go clubbing.

EB: Sometimes she’s not back until the early hours of the morning, out dancing with the girls!

TP: I was out back, bagging the clothes ready to go out. Lingerie, nightwear, putting it on the rail in the morning for the new line manager to check and sort out. Empty bins, and that sort of thing, taking stuff back to different departments.

EB: How did working at M&S make you feel?

TP: Happy. I must admit I go up there now and it’s changed so much.

EB: When you were working there, what were the main things you got out of the job? You used to get the bus there.

TP: Having my independence.

EB: Having an income, so you’ve got your own money, which is a massive thing. And then your friends you’ve got. She’s famous at Marks & Spencer in Culverhouse Cross. You walk down the corridors [and] you can’t get past a department without her being stopped and hugged and kissed, can’t you? We’re there for hours because of you. You were so well loved up there.

TP: Well respected.

EB: You did a proper, proper job, and you have lifelong friends from Marks & Spencer. And friends that are outside the learning disabled community, which is so, so important for you. To be able to be outgoing and be in different circles of people was really big for you. The other thing you’ve got from it, which you are quite modest about, is that you’ve got a pension. For people with learning disabilities, that’s a massive thing. There are very few that have worked solidly, and have had the opportunity to, and have had the environment to do that. And that means you have the means of being able to look after yourself into your retirement. That independence has been massive for you and those around you. And now you’re working at the charity shop.

TP: I absolutely love the charity shop – City Hospice up Cowbridge Road. I absolutely love my job. I love putting the tags on the clothes and putting clothes out. They treat me like a human being.

In 2022, ahead of Pope’s 60th birthday the pair climbed Snowdon with some of Burnett’s fellow cast members from Hollyoaks. It involved a lot of preparation, and was an incredibly emotional day out. They raised £13,000.

Emily Burnett, Teresa Pope and pals at the top of Mount Snowdown

TP: I wanted to climb a mountain because I was 60. I didn’t want any birthday presents, I just wanted to raise money for Mencap and Sunday Circle, to help them.

EB: At the time, when we talked about doing it, did you realise what it was going to be like on the day?

TP: No. It was hard. The next day I was so achey.

EB: You were creaking, weren’t you? Do you want to talk about the preparation, because it was a massive thing, wasn’t it?

TP: I’d done a big workout. I had a personal trainer who was lovely.

EB: He helped you build up the strength and mobility. And in doing that, realising access to the gym was a brand-new thing for you. Not something you had ever considered before.

TP: It did me a power of good. It made me feel a different person. We managed to get a couple of things done (with the money). We managed to get to Buckingham Palace and see around the grounds and in the palace. Some of the younger ones went to Cadbury World. They still had money left over in December – we got to see Peter Pan which Emily was in.

EB: How did it feel when we got to the top of the mountain?

TP: It was absolutely brilliant. We had the loveliest weather.

EB: We had the most amazing group of people, didn’t we? Everyone was singing you up the mountain and encouraging us.

TP: A lot of people from Hollyoaks where Emily was working, and
her friends.

EB: There was a group of over 20 of us, all in our pink Mencap t-shirts and these green mountains. We got a little of the way up, and you struggled. We were worried that you had hurt yourself a little bit. We were worried about whether you were going to get to the top. I turned to you and said, ‘You will not be letting anyone down, you have done amazingly, would you like to go back down now?’ And you said no.

TP: I wanted to get up, and I managed to get up to the top.

EB: You get to the top and the thing you don’t realise is there’s a massive queue.

TP: People let me through. ‘Excuse me, can this lady get to the top of the mountain?’

EB: Everyone parted ways and let Teresa go in front of them. Suddenly there was this massive round of applause and cheering. You’ve got probably about 150, 200 people that have been queuing to get to the top of Snowdon cheering for you. Oh my gosh, I don’t think I could see I was crying so much. Why were you doing it, in terms of what you wanted to show people by doing it?

TP: Just show awareness, and show people they can do stuff if they put their mind to it.

EB: With the right support and the right people behind you, you can do anything.

With a pension and future care plans in place, Teresa Pope can look forward. But Emily Burnett argues everybody with a learning disability should have the same level of opportunity and support.

EB: Anyone that was reading this, or was talking to you about learning disabilities: what would you like people to know about you?

TP: Just be aware that there are people out there who can help you, and you’ve just got to be patient.

EB: You have had the most fulfilled and amazing life – and you still are. But it takes people having that support and no-one should be limited because of resources. We just hope that in the future, and in the social care sector, everyone with learning disabilities can meet their full potential and have everything they need to thrive and not be underestimated. People underestimate you, Teresa, don’t they? They look at you and they don’t necessarily see all the wonderful things you’ve done.

TP: Yeah. Our club is just reaching their 40th anniversary this year. I was in a swimming gala last weekend, up in Liverpool, and I got two silver medals for backstroke.

EB: As a family, we continue to have amazing adventures. We are really aware that we are lucky, and not everybody has that. And just because you haven’t got a family that are fighting your corner constantly, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get all the same things Teresa has had.

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? Get in touch and tell us more. Big Issue exists to give homeless and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy of the magazine or get the app from the App Store or Google Play.


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