By day, Steph Zielke helps run a flooring business in Yarm. By night, she’s a singer-songwriter. Now, one of her songs has been adopted by a national charity helping those out in the cold. PETER BARRON reports

WHEN Steph Zielke decided to join business leaders on a sleepout to raise money for the homeless, she wanted to do more than wrap up in a sleeping bag and make it through the night.

She did what’s always come naturally to her – she wrote a song about it.

Now, the song – called Revolution – has been adopted as the national campaign track by CEO Sleepout, a charity which invites company bosses to spend one night sleeping outdoors to help combat homelessness in their local areas.

“I was just thinking about how so many paths can lead people from a safe environment to so quickly finding themselves in a position that becomes unbearable,” says Steph, who’s stage name as an artiste is Esmae.

“I never really expected anything to come of it, but the song really resonated with people, and to think it’s been picked up nationally by the charity makes me really proud.”

Steph was born in Middlesbrough, and spent her early years in Linthorpe, before moving to Yarm as a teenager. It was a musical upbringing, with gospel music becoming the soundtrack to her life. That said, the likes of Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston occasionally had to make way for Paddy McGinty’s Goat because her grandad, of Irish origin, was a big Val Doonican fan.

By the time Steph was 16, she’d written her first song while in Los Angeles, and song-writing has become a way of life. Despite not being musically trained – not playing an instrument is one of her biggest regrets – she’s learned to write songs by recording hooks and choruses on her phone whenever they pop into her mind, before finishing the song later.

For a while, her musical ambitions were put on hold as she and husband, James, concentrated on their family business, a flooring company based in Yarm.

However, she gradually got back to song writing, and her musical career went to a new level when she started going to the CPMR Studios, in Nunthorpe, to record her songs. It was there that she met Carl Pemberton, who found fame with brother, Andy, when their band, Journey South, was third in The X Factor in 2005.

“Carl really encouraged me to pursue going professional with my music and it just took off from there,” she says.

Meanwhile, her business connections led to her involvement with the CEO Sleepout charity, which has its roots in Teesside. Launched in 2014 by Andy Preston, now the elected Mayor of Middlesbrough, it has grown into a national movement, raising nearly £3m.

Steph got to know Bianca Robinson, the charity’s Teesside-based CEO, and decided to take part in this year’s event outside Middlesbrough Town Hall.

She was asked to perform at the sleepout with Carl but also wanted to write a song, with Revolution being the result.

“I got into song-writing to express my own emotions but also to help people who are struggling,” says Steph, who saw hardship at first-hand when, in her younger days, she worked as a broadcast journalist and made a documentary about under-age sex workers.

Ten years living in Poland also gave her a sharper appreciation of what it’s like to be cold.

“Anything we can do to raise awareness of those living on the streets is worth doing, and if I can help do that through my music, then that’s going to make me happy,” she says.

Revolution is part of a five-track debut EP, entitled Do Better, with Steph drawing on her love of old-school rhythm and blues and blending it with more modern dance music.

She now hopes to do more performing as her confidence in her music grows.

It’s a busy life because, as well as helping James to run the Wood Connexions business, Steph also has three young daughters.

At just nine-years-old, the eldest has just recorded her first song with the help of Carl Pemberton.

A chip off the old block if ever there was one…

  • Esmae's music can be heard by searching for ‘Esmae’ on Spotify, or on Instagram by searching for ‘Esmae_Music_Official’.
  • To find out about the work of the CEO Sleepout charity, go to

WHEN it comes to supporting the homeless, along with many other vulnerable people, North Star Housing Group has a proud record that can be tracked back nearly 50 years.

The Stockton-based not-for-profit housing association, led by CEO Angela Lockwood, pictured below, manages 4,000 houses and flats.

The Northern Echo:

It also runs five women’s refuges, schemes for people with learning difficulties and mental health problems, drug and alcohol rehabilitation initiatives, and support accommodation for young people and those who would otherwise be living on the streets.

North Star, which has also played a blinder at the sharp end of community support during the pandemic, has deservedly won a raft of accolades this year. Last week, there was another addition to the trophy cabinet when the association was named UK Platinum Employer of the Year, by Investors in People.

Not bad for an organisation that was formed nearly half a century ago by a group of Cleveland churchmen who were worried about housing conditions in Middlesbrough.

I’ll be telling the full, inspirational story soon in both The Northern Echo and Business IQ magazine. For now, suffice to say congratulations on a star performance.

ONTO another wonderful organisation working hard to make a difference to people’s lives...

It was again a pleasure last week to record my Christmas message for the Darlington Talking Newspaper for the Blind – an annual duty for more years than I care to remember, but never a hardship.

Since 1979, the charity has been providing a free weekly audio recording of local news articles for the blind and visually impaired.

These days, around 60 CDs and memory sticks are distributed, as well as the talking newspaper going online, meaning an average of 200 listeners per month benefit.

Like so many charities, the dedicated team at the Darlington Talking Newspaper has continued its vital service throughout the pandemic, and a welcome £600 donation from Darlington Rotary Club has just enabled them to buy a new computer to make the operation run that bit smoother.

Great people coming together to light up the lives of others. Thank you to them all.

  • The Darlington Talking Newspaper for the Blind needs volunteers to help on Thursday mornings to join the team that copies the recordings onto CDs and memory sticks. If you can help, please email