Mandy Charlton - Photographer, Writer, Blogger

Photographer of Families, Small People and Delightful Places. Travel and Lifestyle Writer and Blogger. Lives in Newcastle, Loves the North, Often Accompanied By A Beagle Named Holly Bobbins

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Rumours, Challenges and Misconceptions...

Mandy Charlton, Inspire Me, photographer, writer, blogger, rumours, challenges and misconceptions

Well it's been another relentless week with endless days, a change in the company structure (again) and stuff to deal with that no one could have planned for, I guess my experience of running a company has been much like my experience of shooting my first wedding all those years ago, a baptism of fire!

I think I've already admitted that learning how to be a CEO isn't easy but I do have inner strength and utter resilience and after all, I've overcome so many obstacle's in my life to get to right here, right now that I know we as a company are growing in strength every day that we exist.

So much good has happened, no less than 31 licensed groups, 43 paid members, every day is about finding people who are on the same mission as me.  My Linkedin pings me approximately once every hour with someone who wants to add me and then sends me a message trying to sell me help, consultancy, coaching, I'm not entirely sure that's the point of Linkedin but it certainly makes me prickly.

I'm a very straightforward person really, I am who I say I am, I'm always honest, I have learned some tact and diplomacy over the years but I recognise there's still a way to go.  I do know that it's not always easy when you have anxiety because you always believe you are in the wrong and that people naturally hate you but in reality I try to spread only love, if you ask anyone, I rarely say a bad word about anyone and if I do it's usually a question of "How can this person be this way, I don't understand?" because I naturally start with love in all relationships and between us, I'll never get my head around bullying or backbiting, to me it makes no sense at all.

I think we as women tend to internalise a lot of things, we are definitely the ones who deal with guilt and often we are great over thinkers, I guess this can lead to feelings of persecution but really it shouldn't, if you think someone has issues with you, what you should do is approach that person, offer out a hand of friendship or maybe even coffee and cake because you might just find someone is different on a one to one basis than they seem to you online or in emails.

I remember in my childhood doing a performing arts week and some girls saying to me "you're so different to what everyone say's you're like" I'd been bullied and the rumour mill was in overdrive and really it's this kind of thing that has followed me through life, a photographer met me a year or so ago and was honest enough to say "you're lovely, people told me that you didn't like other photographers and that you're crazy" (i'm paraphrasing but words to that effect) and I do internalise the facts that I wonder what it is that makes people even want to start rumours.  Jealousy?  Fear?  I'm not really sure but I do know this, no one should ever be jealous of me and scared?  No one should ever in a million years be scared of me.

This week in photography has been a dream, I've booked 5 weddings, 4 photo shoots and all in life is good, it deflects some of the challenges I face because I know well respected I am and so if I can just continue to get these feelings to grow and if I can reach people and let them really know the leader I am and that I am trying to be then truly I have the power to inspire and do great things.  I know I have by my side the most amazing team and together we are going to change the world, you better watch this space because we've only just begun.


Friday, July 06, 2018

How Do CEO's Take Holidays?

Cresswell in Northumberland, Cresswell towers, coming home from holiday early, Mandy Charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

Last night after just 3 nights in beautiful Northumberland, we came home early due to various issues, mostly to do with work and the lack of not only WIFI but also pretty much zero phone signal, a half bar of 3G which lasted for just a few moments every hour wasn't a great prescription for being able to work whilst relaxing.

It sounds like a first world problem but even though I'd told people that I would be away on holiday with my both of my daughters together for the first time since 2015 it didn't stop people asking so much of me that I couldn't do that I felt anxious, overwhelmed and eventually decided to come home and so I'm back at my desk well before I was due to sit down again on Monday.

I don't remember this ever happening with my business in 12 years, my wonderful photography clients just always understood but being a CEO is different, not only do you have a team of people working for you, you also have the demands of your members, the licensee's and the admin who just don't have the ability do do some of the things you can.  I understand it, once you become a CEO people feel they have ownership of you and even when you gently impress on them that you're on holiday they still send repeated requests because there's no one else they can ask.

I suppose it's a unique situation, most CEO's have achieved so much that their team deal with most issues because they're paying them, they've built huge powerful iconic companies and they have payrolls to match.  We don't have that, we are two months old, we were a not for profit, we started with zero funding and yet there are some who feel that I should be able to pay large amounts of money or the expectation that we are suddenly rolling in it at the cost of our members and it's just not true.  We did make a profit in our first month of our £400 and in our second month of just under £600 which is amazing for a brand new organisation.  That doesn't actually account for money payable as a salary though so yes it seems like we're doing well and we are actually doing amazingly but we're far from being a company who can employ the people we want to employ like admin staff, coaches and problem solvers.  The suggestion by someone that I'm running a pyramid scheme made me laugh out loud, I live in the dodgy part of Heaton, holiday in cheap caravans and don't even have a yacht for the bath never mind in real life.

I have such belief that we can be a globally recognised organisation that I am risking everything, in 2020 I'm retiring from wedding photography and even next year I'm taking the business I love so much down to just 1 day at weekends so I'm ever more available for people who need me to do things.  I already give more hours a day than is possibly healthy but I'm willing to do whatever needs to be done to achieve the goals I've set myself.

I don't know if I'm going to holiday again anytime soon, usually I try to take a break every couple of months just for my mental health but it's not tenable if I end up back at my desk, early, feeling anxious and depressed because overwhelm has grabbed me by the throat.

I know there's a suggestion that I could maybe just turn off all notifications, not read or respond to emails and maybe even totally disconnect but anxiety won't let me do that, I'd dread and fear opening my email box after a week away.

Abigail quite rightly says that Richard Branson has his own island for a reason, CEO's can't have holidays so he bought an island, from where he can leave his desk and go kite surfing at any given moment so whilst I can't quite afford my own island I do have a plan for the future to work hard, buy a caravan (with super fast internet) and escape to their as often as I can whilst still being able to be present.

Life is changing, life has changed, I'm still adjusting but I'll get there...

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

A local business needs your support, here's how you can help...

Fentimans, the Big Cycle for the Rainbow Trust, Mandy Charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

I've always been a huge fan of Fentimans, Looby loves their victorian Lemonade and I'm a huge fan of their pink grapefruit flavour.  What I didn't know was that they're actually a company born in the North East of England, Hexham in fact so when they asked if I would write an article in support of their charity efforts in exchange for some drinks I said yes, Looby wanted the drinks and I wanted to support a local company to do something good.  I won't say too much as I think their press release covers many of the points.  But for the lazy skim readers amongst us, basically, Fentimans are uniting with Hanover Dairies to cycle 300 miles for the Rainbow Trust.  The Big Cycle will see them ride for 7 days over 300 miles, I can barely run for the bus so it's not for the feint of heart!  the charity at the heart of their quest supports families who are going through the trauma of having a seriously ill child, something not many of us have had to experience luckily but even when I spent over a month in hospital with Looby a couple of years ago, I can tell you how traumatic it is to see your child at the worst point of their lives.  I was luckily, after 3 rounds of surgery Looby was finally better and is well today, it's not always the case for other families and my heart goes out to them and thats' why I'm proud to support The Big Cycle.

Here's some things you can do - To support ‘The Big Cycle’ and make an online donation visit  The text message giving code to donate via text is: MILK73 to 70070.

Here's that all important Press Release with all of the official details.

On the 29 th of June, two long-standing friends from North East drinks giants Hanover Dairies and Fentimans, makers of premium mixers and soft drinks are taking part inan ambitious bike ride called ‘The Big Cycle’. It will see them embark on an epic 7 day 300-mile cycle to raise money and awareness for The Rainbow Trust, which supports families with a seriously ill child.  The cycle itself will take on some of the most challenging national parks andcountryside across the UK. Starting at Kielder Forest, the route takes them to Lake Windemere, it then follows Kendal to Preston on Lancaster Canal, the Peak District, Cannock Forest Trails, the Forest of Dean and then it finally finishes at the Rainbow Trust HQ in Surrey. 

The Rainbow Trust is a national charity which offers emotional and practical support for the whole family; from their child’s diagnosis, during treatment and, if needed, through bereavement and beyond. It relies almost entirely on voluntary donations and the money raised from events like this help the charity to continue the support over 2,300 families through its nine care teams in England.  The Big Cycle Team hopes to raise over £20,000 for Rainbow Trust. Trevor, Owner of Hanover Dairies says: “We are passionate about supporting Rainbow Trust so have decided todo a cycle challenge to raise money for this special charity. We will be raising funds through our many doorstep milk customers, family and friends. “Currently our training schedule sees us covering 50 plus miles per day on our bikes to ensure we meet the challenge ahead. It’s exciting to be working alongside Fentimans for this event and we hope to raise awareness and significant funds to help support families who have a seriously ill child.”

Oonagh Goodman, Director of Fundraising and Marketing at Rainbow Trust, says:“We are incredibly grateful that Hanover Dairies in association with Fentimans istaking on this enormous challenge to help raise awareness and funds for RainbowTrust. I would like to say a huge thank you to all those involved, and I’m especially excited to welcome the riders to our Head Office in Leatherhead when they arrive in June.”

To support ‘The Big Cycle’ and make an online donation visit
The text message giving code to donate via text is: MILK73 to 70070

I was sent a selection of Fentimans drinks in exchange for some help to publicise this bike ride and though Fentimans won't pay my bills, it's a charity I support, a local business which I want to succeed and really, such an ambitious goal, I couldn't really say no even though I'm working 15 hours a day with The Inspire Network currently!

I will get back to my regular blogging schedule one day....


Monday, June 18, 2018

To all of the haters

Mandy Charlton, CEO of The Inspire Network, To All of the haters, photographer, blogger, writer

When you go into a new business, any business, there's a time of phrenetic change, in your life, and in the lives of the people who surround you, your friends, your family, people affected by that business in so many different ways.  When you are a change maker, a disruptor or a newly appointed CEO, that change is multiplied tenfold.

The truth is you can't make massive change without creating disruption and you can't be a disruptor of industry without making massive changes.

In the six weeks I have been the CEO of The Inspire Industry we have made so many changes, we have leapt over a thousand hurdles, we have instigated so many new policies and we have started to lead an overall change in the mindsets of everyone who knew and loved the company before it was a company.

Not for profit companies have a massive place in society overall, they're often run by great philanthropists and they have to be, they require so much time and dedication that other paid work falls by the wayside. In a business networking organisation not for profit requires time and energy taken away from your business, the one that makes money and that's why it's only tenable whilst a business is tiny.

When I became the CEO, we were already over 10,000 women strong in our group membership, we already had groups all over the region.  But in every single action to sustain the network we were asking women to take time away from their own businesses, the ones which fed and provided for their own families and that felt like it could only continue for a finite amount of time.

We are now The Inspire Network International Limited, we are a fully formed profit making company, we made a profit even in our earliest days, if you discount the fact that all of the money which has come in has gone back into building our new amazing organisation.

We have today, after just 6 short weeks, 26 new groups, all having their meetings right around the region and beyond and in every single circumstance apart from 1, those ladies are able to run how they see fit, charge whatever they want to charge and they are not giving up work or income to mould their amazing satellite groups. The 1 group which isn't profit making is Inspire Young Women and quite simply it's not profit making because it's for 16-24 year olds, not women in business although they're absolutely welcome to join, no, our young women's group is about empowerment, about making your voice heard as a young person, it's about self worth, making your mark on the world and feeling you have value, something young women don't hear enough of in our society today.

I'd like to say that the last 6 weeks have been easy or a breeze but I'd be lying, it's been 19 hour days, continuous meetings, exhaustion and when Looby and I took a break, it was clear I really needed it, we both did.  There have been days where I've cried at my desk, days where I've questioned myself and I guess those are the days when the small undercurrent of haters really get you down, it doesn't matter how big you become or how well known you are, in fact it's often a sign of success when the haters do come out to play.  You see, the jealous, the insecure, the ones who complain, it's because they don't have faith in their own abilities, some people, let's call them bullies cannot bear to look at their own businesses so they pick faults with others.  Then there are those who say "Oh I love those ideas, but I don't like that business so I'll copy that.  It's flattery to be copied, it's also a sign of unoriginality and eventually those businesses will fail because negativity, compliant, bullying and copying only lead you so far.

So what can you do in your business if it happens?  Well the truth is, whether you are a CEO or a You Tuber or a blogger or a writer, all you can do is find your people, surround yourself with good people, people who care, people who you trust, people who won't mind if you wobble or have the worst mental health day because you'll be able to be honest with them, those trusted advisors will know you like you know your own heart and they will celebrate with you, cheer you on and comfort you on the bad days.

So go forward and make the changes, be brave, be bold, disrupt things, be the unique one with the original ideas, the one who's not scared to stand up and say "I believe in us, I believe in my ability to grow something that is bigger than me, bigger than all of us.  You, yourself, you who came from such humble beginnings and worked harder to be better and fought great battles, you can do anything so go and be the change and believe you are worth it.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Retreat, Refresh, Relax

Running a business is hard work, being the CEO of an organisation of over 10k passionate women is even harder so doing that and then running Mandy Charlton Photography on the top of The Inspire Network
Rocky's Retreat, a luxury holiday home for hire, haven berwick holiday park, northumberland coast
is definitely the most challenging thing I've ever done, it's 19 hour days and perpetual meetings but it's also the most in love I've been with my life.  Everything is just exactly where it's supposed to be at the moment, personal, business, I'm literally so happy, if a little tired.

Last week I put out the call that I needed a little help and collaboration, Looby and I needed to get away for just a few days and a lovely lady who owns Rocky's Retreat came to the rescue.
Rocky's Retreat, a luxury holiday home for hire, haven berwick holiday park, northumberland coast

Rocky's Retreat, a luxury holiday home for hire, haven berwick holiday park, northumberland coast

Rocky's Retreat, a luxury holiday home for hire, haven berwick holiday park, northumberland coast

Rocky's retreat is a luxury holiday home situated on the gorgeous Haven Berwick Holiday Park on the beautiful Northumberland Coast and for Looby and I it offers the opportunity to just relax, refresh  and re-energise.  Even Looby needed it, after spending an entire week looking after horses at her stables last week, making sure they were all spick and span for the competition on Friday.

Yesterday was my favourite day for ages, we clocked up more than 17,000 steps, we walked through the most beautiful countryside and the sun shone on our faces producing sun beams Roald Dahl style.

The great thing about the Berwick Holiday Park is it's size, it's smaller than a lot of Haven resorts we've stayed at and after our first visit in 2015 I fell in love with it immediately.  Looby reminds me that every time we come I say I'm going to have our own caravan here one day and she's right, now more than ever before I'm determined to make it happen and with the caravans priced at between £18k and £35k it's not like it's some kind of mad crazy dream, that amount of money is totally achievable.

The season here seems to be from around the beginning of March through to the end of November and I've experienced Berwick in all of those months, yes it's sometimes wild and rugged but on a sunny day you could well be Europe for Berwick on a sunny day is a gift from the Gods.  It's also one of those rare places where at one side you have the coast and on the other you have the most amazingly beautiful countryside with the river tweed running right through it.  Situated 100 miles from Newcastle and just 90 miles from Edinburgh it's the ultimate staycation if you don't want to travel too far away from home.

Although Rocky's Retreat doesn't have wifi, it's freely available in the Brig of Tweed cafe and restaurant.  you can access free wifi or I paid £15 for 4 days of really good wifi and I didn't have any problems with the connection when I took a Skype meeting yesterday.

Berwick of course is the perfect location for all of the family including our four pawed best friends and although Rocky's Retreat doesn't offer dogs friendly accommodation, the park is dog friendly and we've already booked to come back in September to stay at the dog friendly Berwick Shores caravan and for any of you worried about the lack of Holly Bobbins, she's in Yorkshire with Harriet's folks and she's having an amazing time, it's one of few places she can go where she's not on the lead at all because of their rural location.

So, you might be thinking "Oh well Mandy, isn't Berwick small, won't we run out of things to do?"

Well let me tell you, no, I still haven't walked the town walls and I've been here several times, yesterday we did a walk we'd never done before and the holiday park itself is situated between 2 beautiful sandy bays.  In fact Rocky's Retreat is right at the stairs down onto one of the bays.  If you really do crave some excitement whilst you're here, it's only an hour to Berwick by train and the train is about 10 minutes walk from the caravan park.

The Berwick Holiday park really does have it all and Rocky's retreat is something quite special, it feels instantly like home, the beds are so comfortable and there are little touches you wouldn't get with the standard caravans, things like supplying coffee, tea, salt, you all know how annoying it is when you want to come on holiday and cook and you have to buy the biggest box of salt which you then end up throwing away or you find yourself packing copious amounts of kitchen cupboard staples you really don't need to take home with you.

The last time we stayed here I found the shop to be expensive and terribly stocked but it seems to have had a total makeover, they have everything from pastries baked daily to lovely cuts of meat and locally sourced produce.

So that's food and walks sorted, if you have any energy left you can burn it off in one of two swimming pools, one of which is outdoor and heated, so yes, on a sunny day you can imagine you are in the med, I'll be honest it's been nippy this week so we've not tried that but we are going to the indoor pool later today.

Looby and I spend so much time together, me being self employed and her being home ed, it's one of the best parts of this life we lead but there's something amazing about being away together, we walk more, we talk more and we even subject each other to terrible tv shows, Love Island anyone?  I'm not sure I've grasped what it's about except girls excitedly screaming "I've got a text".

We're staying at Rocky's retreat until Friday and then we go back and I'm straight into a weekend of weddings and photo shoots, I realise by next week I'll be shattered again but for now, I've never felt so relaxed for quite some time.  If you need a break full of lovely people in beautiful surroundings which doesn't cost the earth, well Berwick really does tick all of those boxes!

We paid for Rocky's retreat but received a discount in exchange for a blog post, social media posts and some photography. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A progress report...

"Where in the heck have you actually been?"  I hear you ask?  Well, apparently in the 19 hour workday's I've been working for the last month, no one really left any spare moments to come and update my poor blog, it's like that year when I started my first business and only blogged 34 times in one year, shameful really and it's kind of the worst because so much has been happening that it would have been great to tell you all stage by stage!  

So, I took over as CEO of The Inspire Network International Ltd when the company was formed on May 2nd, my manifesto for Inspire is to educate, inspire and empower entrepreneurial women at every stage of business and my main task for May was to launch 30 new licensed groups which would mean meetings all across the NE of England and beyond, ready for our June 1st launch when we become national (or international if we can find the ladies out there who want to come and join this thing we're building).

We've successfully launched 25 groups all over the NE and one in North Yorkshire so I'd say it's going well.  We've made a profit from our first day but we're still a very long way from being able to employ me formally, we will though and thankfully I have Mandy Charlton Photography to fall back on which just about feeds the kids and Holly Bobbins although there'll probably be no holidays for us this year, no matter though, I had good holidays last year and I know it won't always be this way, times of transition are always the toughest and also the most character building.  I do need to find some time to try and get away to a small cottage in the middle of nowhere though just for a few days, I have so much planning I need to do and I need quiet, time and no wifi to be able to achieve that.  The business plans in my head need to be written down!

Our first event is tomorrow night, we had 75 tickets which were gone in 24 hours and that's very heartening though I still have to finish writing my TED talk "You can do anything you want as long as you do it on your own terms".  I want to Inspire women no matter what situation they're in that the can go out there and change the world, in fact, it's one of the reasons I took on the company because I fundamentally believe that I can change women's lives for the better.  When I first spoke about my crazy ideas to Julie and Amy (my board of directors) I said we were going to become a for profit company but with philanthropy always at the heart of it.  I want to always give more than we receive and no one should underestimate my power and strength in making things happen.

Overwhelmingly I've been met with joy and anticipation, the kind words of support are so encouraging, last week at the launch of a delicious summer menu at Mr Petit, a small, chic Tapas bar situated in old Eldon Square (check it out if you're in the area, the food is delicious and they make their own magical blend of Sangria, sadly I was allergic but I am allergic to most alcoholic drinks these days) I encountered so many enthusiastic friendly faces who were all excited for the future of Inspire.

My work in June is just to continue the work that I've started, at weekends I go back to my first love, photography and it's really like a holiday in itself because it's so completely different to being a CEO although when I get into bed exhausted on a Sunday evening, I wonder just how many hours someone can work in one week!  Thankfully I'm superwoman and because I announced next year I'll be only doing photography part time I know there's an end in sight although not necessarily to the 19 hour days.  I took one whole day off in May, that was on Monday this week, it was such a big help just to have fun and not worry about a thing, I'm aiming to do the very same kind of thing a couple of times in June, after all you have to look after your own health before you look after the health of a company!

Abigail is coming to work for Inspire as a paid intern once she's finished her exams and that's going to help so much as she'll be handling many of the administrative tasks which take up time but aren't necessarily the most productive things I need to work on.  It's going to give her so much work experience to add to her CV and we'll be looking at setting up our not for profit Young Woman's Inspire group over the summer too.

In mid-June we'll be having a summer social for the whole network and I'm hoping these become a staple of the calendar, a time to kick back, relax and for the first one at least, there'll be artisan pizza's courtesy of our friends at The Northumberland Hussar.

If you thought May was exciting, you won't believe what's coming next...

Thursday, May 10, 2018

My Night with John...

A couple of weeks ago I spent the night with John, actually my favourite John in the whole world...

My happy place, my go to mood uplifter and the place you'll often find me mooching around when I'm procrastinating and planning the day I actually have a mansion.
Garden pod featuring newcastle bloggers, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

The second floor and basement have always been my domains, furniture, soft furnishings, cooking utensils, gifts, garden furniture and of course at Christmas, the Christmas shop is always in the basement.  Yes I love John Lewis, it seamlessly changes with the seasons, did you know that you'll never see the change from spring/summer to autumn/winter?  You might in other shops, but never in John Lewis and I guess that's what makes it so very magical.

We discovered a terrace outdoors that looks out over our beautiful city of Newcastle, up on high, I'd never noticed it before, secreted away only for staff and special occasions, views as far as the eye can see of buildings and rooftops with the hustle and bustle down below.

After the views came the enchanted walk through the kitchens to find a buffet of tiny foods fit for tiny fairy fingers, the foods showed off the kitchens in all of their magnificence, and not just any kitchens, kitchens fit for country homes or chic urban city flats of bohemian owners who like books, poetry and wandering around with a Holga around their neck, taking low fi photographs of curious parts of our historic city.

Then to the back of the basement to see magical garden buildings, some big enough to fit a handful of bloggers and surely sit in your family garden with enough space for you, dad and the kids, covered over for even the rainiest of British summers, nights spent playing draughts or fighting over Monopoly or maybe enjoying a pink gin or too when the kids are in bed.

The upstairs we traversed to mooch and marvel at the grandest furniture department in Newcastle, styles brought straight from Morocco or that chic London gentleman's club of the 60's, you know the ones with the velveteen furniture.  Styles for everyone from the modern to the retro and even something students can purchase without breaking the bank (of mum or dad).  Each element we found in the room designs had been carefully picked and placed and if you ever turn around in John Lewis you may even find your own point of interest as you look down the aisles, not placed their by magic or mystery but by clever elves using years of research to make the department pleasing to the eye.

Styles to lust after, furniture you want so badly that you spend hours looking for just the right cushions to go with the chairs in the soft furnishing department, with rooms to plan and in need of help and assistance the worker bees in the home design service will carry the load for you, in store by complimentary appointment or for the full service to your humble abode they will come carrying swatches and samples of the most divine colours to help you create your own desirable residence.

All too soon our journey was complete and as we said our goodbyes leaving the vast perfect landscape of chairs and beds and tables and drawers I felt that thought which crossed my mind, maybe I could just live in the land of John Lewis forever, I could camp in their beds and dine in their kitchens, I could change the curtains and swatches without anyone noticing, after all, if I was going to do that, then surely I would shrink myself to 6 inches tall so I'd never be discovered.
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