How it Started

Chewing the cud, The Complaining Cow 

School magazine

About 30 years ago, when I was about 12 years old I started a school magazine. I got a couple of friends together and we sold each copy for 10p!

Helen Dewdney stern face arms foldedThen something annoyed me. The boys and girls were put together for P.E. and we only ever did “boys games”. I had no problem with playing what were considered then to be “boys games” (aside from hating all sports of course!) My issue was that we never played netball (the only game I was actually good at of course, played Goal Attack – I’m sure I liked that position because it had the word Attack” in it! Anyway I digress…) I mentioned this to my father who casually said “I wonder what the Sex Discrimination Act would say about that.” So did I, so I decided to ask the whole school through the magazine. Result? I got stopped from producing the magazine. However, the following week the discrimination (as I perceived it) stopped the following week and we played netball.

Fighting and effecting change

Now of course, I would write an article about equality, varied curriculum, anti discriminatory practice, Curriculum etc etc. But of course it wouldn’t be happening, the equivalent now might be not letting the girls play football?! Back in the 80’s I think it was poor planning and laziness, perhaps the Head wasn’t aware that the staff were putting everyone together every week? Who knows? But what I do know, is that most of the pupils were moaning about it at the time. No-one did anything about it. So I did. It gave me my first lesson in censorship, stopped my tiny earnings, it got me into trouble and I’m not sure if that was the start of my name frequenting the staff room (which it certainly did!) but most importantly it made a change. Remember this was long before the concept of School Councils where now an issue such as this would easily be discussed.

As a teenager I wrote to Jackie magazine talking about an organisation that raised funds for alternatives to experimenting on animals and got my letter printed. They didn’t pay up so I had to write and complain. At college I wrote to Nursery World informing them that the “100’s of jobs” was grammatically incorrect twice over. No-one responded but they did change the fortnightly cover.

So, I pinpoint my censorship episode as the time I decided that if I was going to complain I was going to do something about it. Principle of the thing, if it was wrong it should be brought to the Powers That Be’s attention regardless of the names I got/get called for doing it! This has probably been the driving force in my life, fighting for the rights for children and young people, fighting the systems in local government (as an employee and resident!) and fighting for better customer service. All boils down to the same thing, sometimes changes have to be made, it is the “Principle of the thing”.

I became a volunteer for Waltham Forest Mencap for many years in clubs and on the committee fighting for children and young people’s rights in the community. I worked for the National Association of Toy and Leisure Libraries fighting for children’s right to play. I was a Play Service manager at Thurrock running projects and fighting for children’s right to play and then the Children’s Fund Programme Manager and Play lead for the whole of Essex. Yup you’ve guessed it, commissioning and running early intervention and participation projects, fighting for extra funding (and yes it was good getting 11 out of 12 men in suits who had never heard of the word play hand over their agreement to commit time and resources to a consultation project which in turn ensured a few million quid from the Big Lottery. (Remember those days?!)

So always fighting.

How open are you to challenge?

Developing complaining effectively

Then, still as a teenager, I found my ‘cowsin’ Tricia complained a lot to companies and got redress. I think it was a chocolate biscuit hamper or similar that she got free that got my attention! Already armed with a ferocious and passionate fight to challenge and change the unjust, my fight to right the wrongs of bad customer service began…..

The fight for the consumer

Always fought for friends and family to gain redress where it was justified to do so.

Sometime in 2013 someone suggested I shared my stories and wisdom such as it was/is. So I set up a blog. Asked Facebook friends for a suggested title and put a couple out to vote!

The lovely Karalyne gave me my new and perfect name (she has a Blog here humorous to the point and well written) and The Complaining Cow Blog began…..

I'm on a mission to rid companies of poor customer service!

The Complaining Cow Blog growth

Couple of years into writing the blog it became hugely apparent, that there was a gaping great hole in the market for a book. It became an Amazon bestseller as soon as it was released in 2014 and remains so. I guess I was right, there was a big gap! How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

In 2019 I wrote a follow up book another best-seller 101 Habits of an Effective Complainer.

As the years have gone by I have developed an ear for what rattles consumers and what companies should do to put matters right. I therefore now also advise businesses in customer service and complaint handling as well as advising consumers!

Why businesses should work with The Complaining Cow




book Logo cartoon cow at a laptop of book cover. How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!


Find out more and GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS! Advice, tips, consumer laws and template letters.





101 Habits if an Effective complainer book cover with logo


101 Habits of an Effective Complainer Sometimes complaining can be hard. You may need some confidence, it can take time or you just don’t know where to start. Although written in a light-hearted style this book packs a punch and will help get you in the perfect frame of mind for complaining effectively.




Ombudsman Omnishambles The UK ADR landscape 20 months on...


In April 2016 I co authored, with Marcus Williamson, Ombudsman Omnishambles: Serious unresolved issues affecting the operation of the ombudsman ADR system in the UK and  in February 2018 More Ombudsman Omnishambles: The UK ADR landscape 20 months on. These reports  heavily criticised the approval and oversight of providers.



Fire Whirlpool The tumble dryer story without the spin


In April 2016 I wrote a report outlining the whole story to date. It includes contradictions, results of Freedom of Information Requests I made to Government departments and Peterborough Trading Standards, London Fire Brigade statistics and recommendations, research and investigations. All in one place. Whirlpool. The Tumble dryer story without the spin




Services I now run a variety of services  for  businessesThe Complaining Cow logo, complaints, consultancy, speaker, workshops and more

More about my  work as The Complaining Cow can be found here  and my work in the media at Moodia Coverage.

Helen Dewdney Consumer Champion Showreel

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6 replies on “How it Started”

Great to see somebody else standing up for whats right and trying to do something about it, I have made a habit of telling people where they have performed up to and beyond my expectations that they are doing a great job, keep it up and on the flip side where anybody does not perform give them a kick up the backside, you are usually thanked for it in a roundabout way and in this day and age substandard performance does not have to be tolerated.

Thank you for your comment! Yes, I have been known on the rare occassion to thank people! In work when I manage people, I certainly like you performance manage appropriately and I expect other managers to do the same. Impossible in public sector I can tell you! But hopefully as you will see from the 10 Top Tips companies can use complainers effectively too!

What a great, useful website and long overdue. You are just the person to right the wrongs of our “wonderful” Customer Service industry. Any plans to market yourself as a consultant to Customer Services companies? Prevention sure is better than the cure.