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

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Why I'm coming out of the lockdown as a completely different person

Mandy Charlton, in 3 different outfits, why I'm coming out of the lockdown as a completely different person

Before we went into the lockdown and Coronavirus changed everything I was pretty sure of who I was, my self-identity is a really important thing to me and after all for the last 13 years, ever since I started Mandy Charlton Photography I've known myself inside and out as a photographer, I lived, breathed, ate photography until this year of course due to Coronavirus I've not worked as a photographer since early March and I won't return until September 19th when I have a wedding which looks like it will definitely go ahead. 

When the lockdown first happened, I did what most people did, I got tipsy, I cried and then I had a massive meltdown when it felt like my whole life/business/family/friendships were collapsing around me.  Don't get me wrong I like my own space but I operate best when I have people around me and all of a sudden I was completely alone in the world and I did not like it one bit.

I learnt over the first 9 weeks that I could actually spend life alone, I didn't want to but I can be good company to myself if needed.  I think loneliness is actually like illness and it's something I've dealt with for years no matter how many friends I've had.  Call it ASD to give it a medical name or call it being a unicorn, it's always meant that pretty much, I am different, I don't feel things the way other people do and I don't process the world in the same way either.  I find it especially hard when people don't see the world in the same way as me because it's impossible to describe, it's like being a Narwhal in a sea of whales if that makes it clearer?

Coming out of the lockdown has forever changed me, physically, mentally, emotionally, philosophically... I went into one side as a photographer and came out the other door being the owner of a gift boutique which I wouldn't even have thought about starting four months ago.  My gift boutique, Philomena's Boutique continues to show early signs that it will be a success and it will thrive in the future.  It will be a long time before it makes workable profits because of the constant reinvestments into stock but I am looking at a plan to help me scale up quickly so that it provides a viable income so that when I run it alongside my photography business I can make an actual income again one day.

Right now I am questioning everything I ever knew, why don't people understand me, why do I make such a mess of understanding other people.  Why is the world the way that it is and when is it all going to feel safe and comfortable again?

I have a feeling there's not just me that is struggling massively with my identity at the moment. When the world changes so abruptly it's almost a certainty that our reaction to that will be to change ourselves to deal and cope with it all.  I feel like I've missed so much of life but at the same time, trying to return to the norm is fraught with fear and other problems and I'm questioning myself constantly and overthinking every damn thing so if you're feeling the same way then know that you are heard.

One of the biggest things is with this enormous paradigm shift I question just where we'll all be in another 6 months, these first 6 months have felt like an entire century, an epoch all of its own so what if tumultuous things keep happening, what if I end up having to spend another 3 months locked away on my own?  I always try to live like something is amazing is about to happen which is perhaps why the last 6 months have knocked me so hard.  I have learnt one fact though, the way I love my friends and family is different to anyone else and it's almost a certainty that I will never find anyone to love me in the way that I love them and that is the hardest lesson I'll ever have to learn.

Monday, June 15, 2020

How to start a business in the middle of a pandemic

You might think that starting a new business in the middle of a pandemic is impossible, ridiculous and crazy but actually, times of crisis are very good times to start a business as you'll quickly find out if it's going to work!

I've started several businesses in the last decade, made lots of mistakes, had some really great success and learnt so many lessons.  Philomena's Boutique is probably the one I'm most confident about because of the number of transferable skills I've amassed over the years.

Philomenas Boutique Office, mandy charlton, newcastle upon tyne, how to start a business in the middle of a pandemic
The office we cobbled together at incredibly short notice, there's still a way to go but we're limited by a broken arm and several giant bears!

Some lessons from the first week - 

*Philomena's Boutique launched with only 27 lines and lots of them sold out in less than 2 days, by the middle of this week I should go over 100.

*Due to the number of giant boxes, you can only come to my house to make huge fort villages (may break lockdown rules so best not to).

*You can do anything with enough resilience and determination.

*It turns out that the things I like, lots of other people do too.

*I am dreadful at one-handed gift wrapping.

*I am also awful at judging what sizes packing boxes are, 3rd order of them arriving today.

*it's weird but wonderful to be working several hours a day again.

*Trying to make the world a better, lovelier place is at the heart of all of my business ideas.

*I do actually do a happy dance every time I get an order but I try to be restrained because I"ve already got one broken arm and I'm quite honestly a liability.

*You can't start a retail business with no money and it will take years for it to make a profit because it takes constant reinvestment and restocking but I was ready for that and thanks to Starling's bounceback loan and their belief in me, it's enabled me to do this, something I've wanted to do for years.

*The time for bricks and mortar retail is over, no matter how tempting it would be to have a real-life boutique.

*The way we shop has without a doubt changed due to Coronavirus and part of that change is that we are shopping more online and more locally which for me is a definite positive.

My theory about starting Philomena's Boutique is that no matter how bad life gets, we will always want small treats to make us, our families and our friends feel better, it's one of the reasons that Hershey's were successful when they launched in the great depression and it's a business lesson that has always been in my mind.  Photography is a luxury product and I still don't know what's going to happen with Mandy Charlton Photography but I do know that I'm not reopening until September.  That is, of course, more to do with breaking my arm than anything else.  It will give me the next 3 months to establish the boutique, spend some time with my girls over the summer and decide what happens in the future, I'm not giving up photography but I also can't return to living in the constant state of anxiety I felt for years, I was so anxious that I didn't even notice it until I wasn't anxious anymore if that makes sense?!

One of the biggest lessons to learn from lockdown is how much I lived my whole life just working, not going out, not being social and turning down all kinds of fun and dates with friends because I had to be so hyperfocused on my work.  Hopefully, that won't happen with the boutique as I have an office now, I can literally shut the door and walk away, there's a definite lesson in there about separating spaces in your home and if you can't do that, get some kind of space, even if it's only a co-working space.

If you have started a business during the lockdown, I want to wish you all of the love and luck in the world, it may feel like you've just got on a rollercoaster and believe me when I say, that's self employment all wrapped up in an allegory, so hang on tight, take care in the dips and raise your arms in the air, screaming if you want to go faster.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

A break in progress

It's Wednesday morning, and I'm sitting at my MacBook dictating this blog post. I badly wanted to write it but I haven't got enough movement in my right wrist. To catch you up just in case you missed it, last Thursday I randomly tripped and fell, I broke my radius bone in my right arm in half and needed to have 3 1/2 hours of surgery on Friday afternoon. I spent most of the weekend in the hospital and to date, my right arm is swollen, it has a steel plate fitted in and it's painful, I have very limited movement in the rotation of my right wrist.

Mandycharlton's garden a break in progress, Mandy Charlton Photography Blog, coronavirus they are getting angry email

Here's the thing though it could've been so much worse, I actually sprained my left wrist and there but for the grace of God I might have broken that one too. Similarly, it could've been my head, I smashed my glasses and my large nose took most of the fall,  had my head of hit the ground who knows if I would've even been here right now.

I'm really thankful that this happened now and not during a really busy wedding season when I almost certainly would've ended up missing weddings. At least at the moment there is no social photography and I have the time to heal, my next planned wedding isn't actually until September now and with any luck, I should be okay in around six weeks time.

What has happened though is that unfortunately, I've had to put both of my new businesses on hold until I'm in a better place where I can take photos and type properly again.  It also means that unfortunately, I am not going to be able to go back to portrait photography until at least mid-July although, to be honest with coronavirus it's likely that my restart has only really been delayed by about two weeks. I think frustratingly the things that have bothered me are the small things, I cried because I couldn't put a bobble in my hair the other day and I also cried because I couldn't actually sit and type this blog post, my right hand won't sit on the keyboard properly without it being excruciatingly painful and anyone who has tried to use the dictate settings on a MacBook will know that It doesn't always understand exactly what you're trying to say so proofreading is definitely essential! Usually, I just write in the moment which isn't currently possible.

I will recover though and this isn't forever, it is just a mere second of my life. 2020 has without a doubt being probably one of the most challenging years I have ever faced and I can only hope that this is a small blip and that the future is a lot brighter afterwards.

So let's look forward to what's to come, the launch of my online gift boutique, Philomena's Boutique, The continuation and expansion of Planty Mandy's Gardening gang and most importantly the resumption of Mandy Charlton Photography! There might be a little bit of unknown left about the world at present but with every bone (No pun intended) in my body, I will make sure that these three important things still happen!


Monday, May 04, 2020

New Business Nerves

Planty Mandy's Gardening Gang, New Business Nerves, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger, gardening with kids, gardeners seed kits

Planty Mandy's Gardening gang was launched officially on Friday evening and like every small business, I definitely have new business nerves.  Since 2007, I've run a range of businesses but this is the very first product-based business and only I would choose to launch a business in the middle of a global pandemic and resulting lockdown!!  Nothing ventured nothing gained though and for me, it was the right time.

Lockdown is the first time in over a decade when I've had the chance to sit and had space to think, it was the first time for 2 years when I didn't have to worry about the success of over ten thousand women, for all of the good that happened and the lessons I learnt, it also made me really poorly and I stopped giving the things I needed to, to those who are so important.  I was not present because I carried around the weight of an entire community on my shoulders but if anything, the lockdown has been a lesson that I needed to change my life.

Now I should say that Mandy Charlton Photography isn't going anywhere, it's not a great time for social photographers right now. I will always be a photographer but the market is so much bigger now, the industry is more cutthroat and I want to work to live, not live to work.  There's so much that I still want from my life and given that I'm around halfway through it, I have so many ambitions still to fulfil and passions I truly want to explore, now is the time when I must think of me and my family.

Planty Mandy's Gardening Gang, New Business Nerves, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger, gardening with kids, gardeners seed kits

Planty Mandy's gardening gang is not meant to be business of the year, a huge organisation or a world-conquering project, it's a tiny business I'm running from The Planty Garden with my gardening gang, Holly Bobbins, Iris and Mister Wednesday (please note, Iris and Mister Wednesday won't be doing the post office run).  It's borne from my love of being in my small garden, of building a garden myself which would be my haven from the world.  I wanted to create that haven not just for me but for wildlife, and for the bees.  It's worked too, I have so many varieties of fuzzy bumblebees in my garden, they're all completely adorable too, I feed them if they get tired, I accommodate them if they're tired and I provide safe water spaces they can fly into without the fear of drowning.
Planty Mandy's Gardening Gang, New Business Nerves, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger, gardening with kids, gardeners seed kits

It's not just about the gardening though, I've worked with kids now for over a decade and without a doubt, it's my favourite part of my job, you know where you are with a 3-year-old.  I think if we can teach our children about gardening we will provide a path to better mental health, we will bring up a nation who nurture and care and we will have small ones who aren't so scared of our friends, the bees and who will truly cherish their presence and in some small way, that means we play our part in saving the world.
Planty Mandy's Gardening Gang, New Business Nerves, Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger, gardening with kids, gardeners seed kits

Growing your own flowers and vegetables is an adventure, there's nothing more exciting than the propagation of seeds, seeing your plenty babies emerge from their shells knowing they could grow to be giant sunflowers, that's the best thing ever.  Not only that but growing your own vegetables and fruits leads to a more sustainable life, more mindful life and a greener and more eco-friendly life.  Quite simply, love your garden and it will love you back tenfold.

The very first seed kits went on sale on Friday evening, my target for the first week was to sell 10 kits and I'd sold 8 in the first weekend so I feel it's definitely viable and my hope, when I have figured it all out is to have a shop selling gardening things for kids and adults and also to have a monthly seed kit subscription which is aimed at but not solely for children.

In one week, I designed a logo, I built a website, I started a Facebook page and got my first 200 likes and I sold 8 kits, I feel pretty accomplished.  To put this into perspective, if I can sell 12 kits, it equates to half an hour of photography, that may sound like a hard path to take but I know in my heart, this business is about something bigger than me, it's about the future of the world.

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Monday, April 27, 2020

The 8 positives of Lockdown

Planty Mandy's Gardening Gand, the 8 positives of lockdown, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

It may sound weird to say that there have been some positives to lockdown but aside from missing people, the financial worries and rising anxiety which comes and goes, I have to say that there are definite positives.

  1. I've rescued some relationships I thought were gone forever and I'm so thankful for that.
  2. I've had time to start teaching kids the wonder of creative photography.
  3. I've started a brand new business, Planty Mandy's Gardening Gang, something I wanted to do last year but just never had the time.
  4. I've spent so much time tending to my garden, sowing seeds, planting things and watching the plants grow.
  5. I've sat in the sunshine every day and felt the warmth on my face and every day I do that, I feel less anxious and better about life.
  6. I've embraced cooking and baking like never before, you can tell that from my ever-extending waistline.
  7. I've wandered with Holly Bobbins not worrying about the time it takes (she's very slow) and enjoyed our gentle walks observing nature and the wonder of spring.
  8. I've reacquainted myself with the enjoyment of a glass of good wine, I couldn't drink alcohol from around 2011, I was completely intolerant and it turned out when they took me off bendroflumethiazide that it was that medication which made me intolerant.  Hurrah for wine and gin and an Aperol spritz in the sunshine. 
Now please don't think I'm being glib or that I'm not empathetic to the pains of lockdown, I've had anxiety at least once or twice a day and some days the lockdown malaise is so bad that I simply don't have the energy to do anything.  The thing is though, I'm a perpetual optimist, I live on the bright side of things.  For instance, some of my favourite restaurants are now doing great organic grocery deliveries, bakers are doing treat boxes and you can get most things delivered straight to your door, which is handy, if like me, you're in the increased risk category.

There's so much talk about ending lockdown, about saving the economy and it just doesn't sit well with me, even though I'm out of work I'd always favour saving lives over saving the economy.  For me, I want lockdown to end, when it's safe to end, even if that means setting free our young people whilst I languish in lockdown for just that little bit longer, better to do that than die and that's pretty much our choices at present.  I won't feel safe until the day I can access an antibody test that confirms that yes I've had Coronavirus and yes I have antibodies.  It seems for the latter part though, we still don't know just how much immunity the antibodies will gift us and that's anxiety-inducing too.

Last year I had an idea to start a subscription gardening club for children, I wanted to teach them how cool it is to grow your own plants and flowers whilst also learning about just how amazing wildlife and nature is, the bees are like the rockstars of the insect world and I will wax lyrical about that as often as I can.  Would I have launched Planty Mandy's Gardening Gang if we hadn't had lockdown?  Maybe, but I was always too busy.  Having no business to worry about has certainly been a boon at times.  In less than a week I have broadcast my first episode, I have set up a Facebook page and I have ordered all of the elements for the very first gardening gang boxes, including the boxes, thankfully it's all tax-deductible and good use of what little savings I had.  The gardening gang won't replace photography because I'll always be a photographer and really, having good photography skills is very helpful for such a business.

Quite simply I'm putting all of my passions together and starting something wonderful, it's unlikely to make a million but if it enthuses small children to save the bees and care about the wildlife then saving the world is much bigger than anything that financial gain could provide.  It does also help that I ran a membership site for the last couple of years so I've gained a lot of skills in that area.

I feel quite confident about the future, about my future and the future for us all, it might be bumpy but it can still be truly wonderful, as many have said, this too shall pass.

If you have enjoyed this article, I would love your support in buying me a virtual coffee for every person who supports me before May 7th I am entering them into a draw to win a 12x8 print of beautiful Newcastle, I have over 25 prints to give away so you have a really high chance of getting one of your walls.  Thank you!


Monday, April 20, 2020

Week Zero - When the money ran out

Mandy Charlton, Photographer, writer, blogger, week zero, when the money ran out, business, coronavirus, economics

This week for many British companies and self-employed people, is week zero, the week when the money runs out, the cash reserves are empty and for normal working people who are just about to be paid, a large proportion will see their first official furlough pay with only 80% of their usual wage packets.  I think economically this week will be particularly bad as a nation, we will see many companies go under and our use of foodbanks will sadly increase once more.

From my own personal perspective, last week was week zero for me, it didn't help that I don't really work during winter and Easter is my rebound into the world, this was a really bad time for this to happen.  (although granted, there would never have been a good time).

Of course, I don't think we should forget that anyone who's actively working now is probably a keyworker who's actively risking their lives every day to keep the country running, to save the lives of our citizens, to teach our children and let's not forget all of those who are having to work around the clock to process all of the new Universal Credit payments.

I have, at this point, taken payment holidays where possible so, yay, for absolutely piles of debt on the other side, some expenses I can't take holidays from like business insurance, pet insurances, gas, electricity, rent, food and getting working tax credits of approximately £149 a week, well I'll let you do the maths.

Am I scared?  Yes, lots, it's such a long time until June when I should get at least something from the treasury, I know it won't be much because I had a dreadful 18/19 but it will be better than nothing like some of my friends who are newly self-employed or who are company directors.

Last week I managed to do a zoom session with local marketing and influencer agency, Revibe Marketing, I showed them how to use their smartphones to communicate better through video and images, to be able to continue to create engaging and amazing content right from their front rooms.  I have also been teaching children of all ages creative photography in my Facebook group for donations and it's incredibly fulfilling and rewarding, so much so, that I've decided to continue this in real life when the lockdown is a thing of the past.

Yesterday I listed all of my specialist areas on my Ko-Fi page and so you can ask me a question on any of them in exchange for a coffee or two and I'll help you as much as you're helping me.

I don't want to be a charity case and I don't want you to feel sorry for me, this isn't the point of the article, what I do want is for you to employ me so that I can help or add some value to your own business or organisation, it's what I do best and I love to work because it keeps me sane.  There are so many things I can still do from home and with a wealth of business experience plus skills in photography and making a small urban garden, I genuinely hope to have something I can offer which will help both of us.

I can't see how I can come out of this situation completely unscathed, well at least not financially but I will still be here on the other side, I'm a photographer, I'm a small business owner, I am an entrepreneur, always have been, always will be and no one can ever take those skills away from me.

if you have enjoyed this article, i would love your support to help me keep writing, I also have a list of my skills you can take advantage of you and thank you, I can't do this on my own but we can do this together

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Magical Small Garden Ideas

For regular readers or anyone who knows me in real life, you'll know that last year I transformed my outdoor space into a magical small garden. That was just the start though and this year I've been working to make it even better.  Of course, the problem at the moment is the access to garden centres which often provides small pockets of inspiration and Pinterest only goes so far, I am however madly pinning new ideas.  

Magical small garden ideas, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger, gardening, small urban spaces

The first thing I've done this year is to install a pergola or garden arch and I've planted wisteria and a passion flower to grow up it, if I'm really lucky I may even get passionfruit and my goodness, that truly would be wonderful.

I've run out of space in the sunniest part of the garden so I've bought some coloured pots which hang on the fence and I'm planning to pot herbs in them so whenever I'm cooking I can just step outside of the backdoor to grab a handful.

I've also lowered the pond which was super wonky and replaced the pump for the fountain so it's a little more efficient and I can really hear the water babbling as I sit in my arbour.

Magical small garden ideas, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger, gardening, small urban spaces

Magical small garden ideas, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger, gardening, small urban spaces
I haven't decided what to do with the hanging baskets this year, they do have fuchsias in them which are just starting to come back but last year I just found they looked a little messy and I really want those overflowing abundant hanging baskets.  I also have a dark corner next to the compost bin which is much overlooked and I still haven't a clue what I can do with it so suggestions on a postcard please for that one!

One thing that I know is that you can have a truly magical garden even in the smallest space, seeds are available from around 25p a packet, I bought some bright lobelia for exactly that much and it will provide an abundance of blue and purple bedding during the summer months.  I also want you to know that you can still grow fruits and vegetables in tiny gardens, I have rhubarb, potatoes, carrots, beetroot, rocket, salad, strawberries, loganberries and beans which all grow amongst the plants and flowers.  I love just planting everything together and last year it all just seemed to work.  I'm also noticing that since I put the slate down that I haven't seen quite so many slugs and snails so maybe I should have another go with Lupins and Hostas.

One thing I know is, we need our green spaces and yardens, our small gardens and window boxes now more than ever, a comfy chair next to a pot of pretty blousy blooms in a sunny spot can make the difference between a bad and good mental health day and I know all too well just how much of a difference it makes to be able to sit outside every day just watching and listening to nature.

So, go now, make it your mission to grow something, find a pot or a planter or a box you no longer need, throw in some soil and scatter even the cheapest pack of wildflower seeds and you will be rewarded not only with flowers but also with life and insects and fuzzy bumblebees who are so grateful for the pollen they will buzz merrily around providing a relaxing chorus whilst you have a nap in your comfy chair.

If you have enjoyed this article or taken some value I'd love your support so I can keep writing

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

How Lockdown is Helping me Move on With my Life

Coronavirus and Lockdown have changed the world, probably forever, I don't think for one moment that the world will ever go back to the way that it was previously and for all of the bad stuff that's happened, I've personally found that Lockdown has helped me to move on with my life.

How lockdown is helping me move on with my life, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger, mental health, coronavirus

Lockdown gives you a lot of time to think, the emotions we feel are so much stronger and I've been at the point of a mental health meltdown once or twice, those times when having a friend hug you and make you a cup of tea would have eased the pain but with no one there, you're left to your own thoughts and feel yourself slipping further and further into the abyss.  I spoke to a mental health worker fairly early on when I thought I was losing my mind and their reassurance that it wasn't a "me" problem but a whole world problem still carries me forward during the darkest days.

Losing 2 businesses almost overnight was nearly impossible but having had time to think and understand I know now that it was time to walk away from the one which had negatively impacted on my health and overwhelmed my mental health for so long.  When you spend each day trying to look after thousands of people it can be all-consuming so over the last few weeks I've learned to appreciate the joy and freedom that is time and space.  For the first time, I actually got closure with no chance of return and I will admit that I went on a spree blocking on mass not just on social media but also email addresses, newsletters, Facebook pages.  I wanted to be completely free and now, that I am.

The closure of my photography business was harder to stomach but over the last few weeks I have turned my attention to teaching children the joy of creative photography and now I'm going one further and have my first zoom chat with a marketing organisation on Wednesday to teach them how to make better images with their smartphones.  I've also completely redesigned my offerings to training aspiring professional photographers and I really feel the future is bright.  I've decided that I want to offer more photography tuition for kids and adults.  I know I have so much to offer after 13 years running multiple businesses, all of which had great imagery at the heart of them.

Some things have not changed, I have always been and will always be a photographer, I live my life creating images for myself and others, my main subjects may currently be my pets but the principles are much the same and I may only be using my smartphone but I reckon after 13 years I deserve a little holiday from my big camera, anyone who's ever seen my wedding claw the day after I shoot a big wedding would attest to that as would other professional photographers!

I think more than anything the time and space for self-development has never been more optimum, I'm not suggesting you learn a new language or write a book but if anything you can cleanse your life, your inbox, give yourself closure from painful things and difficult situations and more than that, maybe if you get one thing from all of this, it's to learn to be kinder to yourself.

By the time we made it to the weekend, I'd even managed to take a couple of photographs of myself that I didn't filter and I didn't hate and at the tender age of 46,  I didn't even hate my face so much, although, let's not talk about the bushy eyebrows.  The truth is, and this is the message, I've had such a battle with myself for years, I've been angry, I've been anxious, I've stressed myself out because of the bad relationship I've had with myself so if Coronavirus and Lockdown have given me one thing, it's that I love myself a little more and I can't ever see that changing again.

If you have enjoyed this article or had some value from it, I would really appreciate a virtual coffee

Monday, April 06, 2020

How I'm trying to get through lockdown one day at a time

When lockdown began I thought I would be okay because I would just write my way out of it, I would blog every single day and I would regale you with the tales from the voices inside my head, 3 weeks in and I've realised that I can't write every day as I just don't have enough things to talk about without becoming ranty and wisened and honestly, it's enough just to get through the day without punching myself in the face and not having a giant meltdown right now!

The truth is, and I honestly believe this, you just need to do, whatever you need to do, to get through this.  It's an extremely challenging time and berating yourself for not learning a new language or baking banana bread every day just isn't going to help.  I know some will flourish and will come out of this with a whole new skill set but I don't think we should be judging people who are struggling or people who manage to sit on the settee and just watch box sets every day.

Mental health issues are at an all-time high, being caged and trapped at home just isn't good for humans who, like plants, need food, water and sunshine to flourish and I'm truly thankful I get to take Holly Bobbins for a daily stroll, sometimes we head to the park or sometimes we just ramble around our estate whilst I turn it into a giant hide and seek game, I hide and then she runs, if she spots me, she stops so it's great exercise for her and she's doing really well.

One brilliant thing I have done is get a group of talented friends to help me turn my pre-existing Facebook group, Secret Superheroes Club into a place where every day we have a live photography challenge as well as having science, music and even storytime, it's truly a wonderful place with so much love and potential and I think, although I'm biased, it's one of the loveliest Facebook groups for parents and their children to spend their time.

if you are in business and particularly my self-employed friends who run small and micro-businesses just know that I am with you in spirit and I'm empathising with you that we're trapped in the most difficult financial circumstances and to anyone who says that we should have had savings, I had a buffer, it got me through a quiet December, January and February just as I was about to resume my usually busy business in March, this couldn't have happened at a worse time but really, I don't think there was ever going to be a good one.

The truth is, I miss my family, I miss my friends, I miss being around people and I'm just taking things one day at a time to get through this, some days I feel really positive, sometimes I laugh and I drink wine in the evenings, sometimes I bake and I cook every day and then there are the times when I cry, when I get so anxious I feel like I'm having a panic attack, there are the times I worry not only for my own mental health but for every one of us.

Taking things one day at a time is my considered approach to self-care and that comes from such a long time of living with chronic mental health and health problems.  So let's just do what we can, smile when we can and cry if we need to, really there's no shame in this and if there's anything I can say which I think can be of solace, it's that, every day we spend without each other, is a day closer to the time when we'll all see each other again, when we'll hug and laugh and maybe get a little tipsy and we'll remember just how wonderful our friends and family really are.

If you've enjoyed reading this article or had some value or maybe it's even just helped you get through the last 5 minutes, I'd love your support in buying me a virtual coffee so I can continue to write and so that I have a business to go back to when all of this is over.  Thank you so much to all who have supported me so far.


Monday, March 30, 2020

From the bottom of the dark chasm

This weekend, everything hit, the world literally fell apart, the news that it's just me and Iain against the world living at home has broken my heart and the news that the new owners of Inspire chose to announce their arrival at pretty much the same time left me wondering just what the point of life was for a while.


By yesterday evening when talking with Iain I said: "you know, nothing more can happen, we have reached the point where things can't actually get worse than they are now so the only way is up."  It seems my life and inner resilience has been there all along just waiting to get me through things like this.
Newcastle wedding photographer Mandy Charlton's garden, from the bottom of the dark chasm, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

I still can't talk about Inspire, it hurts too much, I took a drastic decision to protect my family and to survive when I was really bloody poorly, well I still am, in many respects, I still have a tumour on my parathyroid that isn't going anywhere and that has a profound effect on my energy levels, on my mental health and how thirsty I constantly feel.  So know that this was something which has happened at breakneck speed but it won't really be over until the summer and maybe then, I'll write that book!

There's also the fact that at some point I'm going to have to apply for Universal Credit and because there are only Iain and I living here, we'll be subject to the bedroom tax.  I can not believe we have come to this place.  I swore when I started my photography business in 2007 that I would never go back on benefits.  Believe me, when I also say that I was thankful that I could claim disability benefits when I was super poorly with my mental health,  we were under a kinder, more socialist type of government then though.

I think like most of us I alternate between moments of utter hysteria to feeling calm because I no longer have to worry about all of my clients and the women I was looking after and nurturing and reassuring every day.  I am still doing that of course, I have a small and wonderful community which I'm building into something new and different which will service the small business community as well as "normal" employed families who are also consumers, it's going to take time and love but I've done it before and I know that I can do it again because...

You can take everything away from a person but you will never replace spirit, love, and most of all authenticity.  You cannot be a fake and last forever, sooner or later you will be called out and whilst I may have my up and down moments and a personality which can be confusing to even myself, I think you all know by now that I only have love in my heart and fire in my belly.

I'm advertising again as a photographer in Newcastle to photograph weddings in 2021/2022 because we have to believe that this will all be over soon, well maybe not soon but I have no doubt that 21/22 will be bumper years for weddings and probably for portraits too as I'm sure many new lives are being created right at this time, new loves are forming and people in extraordinary circumstances are becoming soulmates.

Love always wins, I truly believe that with all of my heart and so I'm supporting decisions which I did not take knowing it's the best action for me, for now, because it makes things hurt less and because deep inside my psyche I still have hope.

If you have read this article I'd love you to buy me a virtual coffee so that I can keep writing until I can resume my life's work as a photographer.  Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

How to survive lockdown - 8 tips from a former agoraphobic

From around 2004 to 2006ish I had a really bad time with agoraphobia, I'd been attacked in Heaton Park and with already having shaky mental health I just stopped going out. If I did go out I had to have someone with me and it was so bad that I ended up on disability living allowance, finally, in 2007 I got better and went from agoraphobic to a professional photographer, writer and blogger, I found my freedom though I'm still a natural hermit and do have flareups when I get anxious and depressed.  In all of that time when I didn't go out I don't want you to think that it was always awful, yes, sometimes it was but I survived and for the most part, I found my happy right from home.
Cat and dog sit together during coronavirus lockdown uk, how to survive lockdown from a former agoraphobic, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger

Lockdown is hard for many of us, it feels so unnatural not to go out, like all of our liberties have been taken away and you might feel like you are losing the plot more than once or twice but I've come up with some tips of things I used to do when I was not the person who I am now.

  1. Reading, I used to consume books and magazines, you'll be surprised how much easier it is to read when you have no other distractions.
  2. Learn a new skill, my entry into photography was born from me being at home, I used my children who were just wee at the time and I practised on them, the cats, things I found around the home and I taught myself all about this art which later became my whole escape, my healing and my entire life.  Now photography is at the heart of everything I do.
  3. Craft - in 2004 I decided to make my own Christmas cards and it lead to me eventually working as a buyer for an online scrapbooking company, it also lead to blogging and I started this blog, my second one, in February 2006.
  4. Writing - Now is a great time to start a blog, write a diary,  or get to grips with that book you always wanted to write,  there's literally never been a better time.
  5. Cooking - Still, to this day I find that if I am particularly stressed out I cook or bake and it makes me feel more relaxed and less anxious
  6. Gardening - the art of gardening, to help to create new life, it's one of the most healing things you will ever do, it doesn't matter how big or small your garden is, creating a space that feels like a haven from the world is more necessary than it's ever been.
  7. Redecorating - have some decorating supplies or a list of DIY jobs that you have never got time to do, now is that time, you can create a whole new world for yourself, order supplies online though, don't go to the shops, even if they're open, the point here is to stay at home.
  8. Planning, there's never been a better time to plan ahead, book that future holiday, schedule your wedding for 2021/2022, make a list of all of the places you want to visit when you can get outdoors, looking to the future is the most positive thing you can do.
cooking and baking are good for surviving the coronavirus lockdown, mandy charlton, photographer, writer,blogger

You'll notice from this list that it's all about creating things or planning things and growing things, they're all positive actions which will help your health, your mental health and directly, how happy and content that you feel about life. I, myself have had a very tumultuous time in work, life and business lately and I'm hanging onto my sanity by my nail ends but I believe my inner resilience will kick in when I do all of these things.  I guess we have to find our groove and we have to get through the part where you kind of go stir crazy, it takes a few weeks but as we get further and further into this, you will find it easier as the human brain adapts to its situations remarkably well.

Also, remember that whilst we are indoors, we are quite literally saving the world and not only that, we're actually healing the world from all of the bad things that have happened to it, maybe we're lessening the effects of climate change as well as actively stopping a virus which is indiscriminate and kills our favourite people.

By staying at home, it is possible to thrive more than survive so hang on in there because your time is coming I promise.

If you've loved this article or got any value from it, I would love you to buy me a virtual coffee 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Small Business Owner? You're Not Dead Yet!

It's been a rough couple of weeks in the small business and entrepreneurial communities and it's only been a couple of weeks, it feels like years and a lot of us are questioning "what the eff just happened?"

Mandy Charlton, Photographer, Writer, Blogger, Small Business owner, you're not dead yet

Many businesses stopped trading almost overnight including my own and the stress was unbearable, it wasn't until I spoke to a mental health worker that I was reassured to know that it's not a me problem, it's a world problem, almost from that point I found my inner resilience and I've had actual times this week with zero anxiety, so much so, that for the first time in a long time, when anxiety does flare up I notice the massive differences.  I'd existed at top state anxiety for so long, I had forgotten what it was like to not feel anxious.

It's weird to be so relaxed given the current business conditions, the chancellors care package won't kick in until June and will amount to a little but not a lot for I've always run businesses for love and not money.

Take heart though, I have earned money this week and as a small business owner you can still do that too, you are not dead, you are merely sleeping.  Here are some ideas for things you can do right now -
  1. Most small businesses sell gift certificates and if you don't, now is your chance to get some E-vouchers designed, you can bring in some valuable funds and your clients who still have jobs and incomes are just waiting to support you.
  2. Set yourself up a Kofi account, mine is and it's a great way to buy a business owner or content creator like me a cup of virtual coffee for just £3, I managed to pay my rent this week from virtual cups of coffee and given that I currently still have to pay full rent it's something I'm massively thankful for.
  3. If you are a blogger or content creator there are still campaigns available, I wrote a sponsored post this week and though I had to negotiate a slightly lower fee due to the world financial crisis it's meant I will have some valuable money coming in, even if I have to wait 30 days.
  4. Almost certainly whilst we are in this weird lockdown period you might be wondering just how you're going to get your products for the new season on, maybe you previously paid a product photographer and now you can't access them or you just can't afford it, well fear not, I've just created a video for that purpose which will help you create everyday lifestyle product photography with just your smartphone so that you can still do business longterm
  5. If you are a photographer and have a Shutterstock account or any other stock photography account, it's a great time to go through your archive and tag and add all of your latest photos, I love and loathe Shutterstock simply because of the time it takes to upload and do all of the descriptions and tagging but right now, time isn't an object.
  6. It's also a great time to start an online business, I had a business idea this week that I'm now starting to action, something I've wanted to do but had no time and something with virtually no setup costs.  At this point I get to grow it slowly instead of doing a mad launch and, well I can't give too much away but watch this space.
Entrepreneurs and small business owners tend to be some of the most adaptable resilient people in our communities and I think we're all getting to that point where we accept what's happened, we find our inner resilience and then we start taking positive action for the future and really, what you do now will define how you fair when we do get back to business.

Just remember, you may be sleeping but you are far from dead, you started with nothing the first time, this time, you're going back into it armed with followings and knowledge and you can still be wonderful and have future success, I really believe that for all of us.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Photographs are Life

(Ad - Sponsored Post) Now more than ever we have realised the value of family, the value of memories and the value of photographs.  We have them on computers, we have them on our phones but now is the time to get them off your digital devices and onto your walls.  I've spoken so many times about having happy memories on your walls .  I particularly love canvas prints and have them all over my living room, most of these are actually available from 

It doesn't matter what's happening in the world, I can look around my living room and smile at the past memories that I've had.  I remember the smiles that Looby and I had on our day out at Holy Island and my infamous best friends trip to Barcelona, I also remember my love of discovering Lincoln, one of the prettiest cities I've ever been to, even if it does have the steepest lanes of anywhere I've ever been.

With this code MANDYCHARLTON you will get up to 5 FREE MIXPIX Photo Tiles from To acquire your free print, go , upload your desired photos and enter the name MANDYCHARLTON  during the checkout. The more you buy the more you get free! 

Life passes by at the speed of light and we never seem to have time to smell the roses but perhaps at this time, we do have the time to slow down, to take stock of what's happening in the world and to just sit and while away the hours thinking about all of the good times.  I know that I can't travel at the moment and that's really hard as I live to travel and to discover new places, new ways of life and different cultures but I do have lots of time to collate all of my memories and to order new wall art, blankets, mugs, memories everywhere that I look, eat, sleep, breathe.

Photographs are life and memories are the joy of life so surrounding yourself is such a positive thing to do for your mental health and your wellbeing.  I know we have the photos on our phone but how many of us take the time to just sit and look through them all, when they are on your walls you have the absolute joy of them always surrounding you, they're more than valuable, they're beautiful, wonderful moments of forever so, whatever your situation is currently, why not order someone a gift to bring some much-needed happiness, I can promise that you will make their day.


Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Coronavirus - A brand new way of life?

I keep sitting with my MacBook open ready for action and just staring, not knowing what I'm supposed to be doing.  I think this may go on for some time to come.  I have to say that today I feel I've had a better day after the worst weekend, the toll on my mental health has been huge but today, I spent a whole day in the garden,  planting, planning, renewing and my goodness, it felt good.

I know it's not just me, I know there are around 5 million self-employed people and for a high proportion who work in the service sector, we're just sitting, waiting and wondering what we should do now?

I think whilst gardening today and enjoying the sunshine I started to finally accept that everything I thought was a fixed point in my life is now transient.  I literally don't know what comes next. I have started to accept things, to be resigned to my own fate and I'm sure over the coming days I'll become more and more resilient.

I know some of the choices I made just a couple of weeks ago I now regret,  that's a future blog post for sure and yes, hunker down because we've got a lot of time to come in this particular space and I know that I need to have an outlet and this is a time for me to have renewed passion for my writing, something which I usually just don't have the time to do.  I have full blog posts I've wanted to write for so long, I may just have the time to wax lyrical about all of the reasons I hate the multilevel marketing huns with their fake happiness taking advantage of those who might have fallen on hard times, it's usually women around my age that they choose to recruit too and then they all.  All MLM's are not alike however and Tropic Skincare is one of the good guys, I love their cleanser and my lovely friend Amber sells it through her beauty business and let me tell you, a hun she is not.

Anyway, trying not to get too distracted as that's a whole other post.  I have a list of things, actually, I don't, I have some thoughts in my head which may end up being some kind of vague list, all of the exciting things like -
  1. Choose new portfolio images
  2. Work on SEO strategy
  3. Work out what an SEO strategy is 
  4. Optimise web images
  5. Work on new marketing
  6. Order new product samples
All utterly boring but necessary stuff, when we do emerge from our Coronavirus social isolation bunkers, I want to be right at the forefront because the world is going to want to get married and I'm going to need to work 37947 hours a week just to try and rebuild my income.  I do however have some other plans - 

  1. Catch up on all of the books on my bookshelf
  2. Watch all of the movies I've been saving for a later date
  3. Exercise Bobbins and I until we are skinny and fit behind blades of grass
  4. redecorate bedroom
  5. grow fruits and vegetables and generally feel more like Felicity Kendall
  6. Work out how to find an other half whilst in social isolation
I mean, I know it's not like solving world peace but hey, I'm working on the deeply philosophical stuff too, it's just too wordy for your average blog post, I got very excited about nihilism once and I think I frightened people away, optimistic nihilist, that's me 😉

And so as we all get on with this slightly (for slightly, read very) weird world at this time of writing, our Prime Minister has just decided to place us all on lockdown for at least the next 3 weeks.  Bejesus, I never thought that Holly Bobbins would become my secret weapon to get out once a day,I hope she knows she's a superhero.


Saturday, March 21, 2020

The weight of the world...

Iris Rainbow, tabby cat, mandy charlton, photographer, writer, blogger, The Weight of the world

I have cried a little every day this week until today when it was harder to stop crying and just try and deal with life.  Everything we knew, lives we had, plans and promises, holidays, businesses, all gone in the blink of an eye.

I rang o2 today, I have about 8 contracts with them for various things for me and the kids, I wanted to tell them that I might not be able to pay all of my bills, they read out a standard statement about legal obligations and credit records and I broke down.  I also explained that if they cut me off,  I would be less likely to restart a business when this is all over.  They couldn't actually do anything to help because I'm up to date and have never missed a payment but they were grateful that I had told them.

Another small loan I have, I've stopped paying that one immediately as it's not a priority, they were understanding but reminded me that it may harm my credit record.  Honestly, when we come out of the other side of this, will any of us have a good credit record?  Can you seriously tell me there are people who're incomes aren't going to be affected by this?

Right now I am angry and overwhelmed, I'm furious that our government is helping the employed, and so they should but they've completely overlooked people like me.  I'm saddened that they could instigate mortgage holidays a few days ago but renters still get nothing, surely if it's local government-owned housing they could just suspend rents immediately.

As someone who is naturally empathic, I feel like I have the weight of the world, heavy on my shoulders and supporting women in my local business community who are in the same position as me, there are millions of us you know, the ones who bring in 330 billion pounds to the economy every year but are now scared about losing everything.

I am, at this point, worried about my mental health which, as you know, it's a difficult proposition at the best of times.  I thought I was a natural hermit but after 10 days of social isolation, I miss my best friend, I miss a little wander to the shops, small things that I will cherish once my isolation period ends next Friday.

I heard tonight, on the news, someone exclaimed "Capitalism has been put on hold" and you know what?  That's certainly something good, maybe people will realise how much we need socialism, we need to look after people when they cannot look after themselves, we need a society which works on the basis of human kindness and philanthropy and I do believe that it's in all of us, somewhere.

Next week, I start the fight back, I have some creative talents and a few good business ones thrown in for good measure so I shall sit and I shall think, what is it that I can do, which could possibly bring in some cash, and also help or cheer people, raise their spirits, educate or entertain, I need to think seriously and then take action.

I hate feeling alone and depressed, I hate feeling so anxious that it's like someone put concrete on my chest, for everything that goes into making me the person I am, at heart, I'm a happy, positive and enthusiastic (some would say excitable) person and so I know, somewhere inside me that it's my time to shine.

In the meantime, I must thank the people who have supported me, kind clients who've bought vouchers for when this is all over, brides who've paid or upgraded just because it would help, so much love and kindness.  If you, dear reader, want to buy a voucher for a photoshoot or you wanted to book me for your 2021/2022 wedding date, I'd be so thankful but also, if you cannot afford it, I also really do understand and I thank you for your kindness that you even thought about me.

We're only just at the beginning of this and I'm fearful for what comes next but by being together online, through kindness and friendship, we have a chance to heal the whole of humanity, maybe not against Coronavirus but with love and the promise of a new socialist planet.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The moment everything changed

For the last couple of mornings I have woken up to spring light pouring through my thin bedroom curtains, I've turned over to shut my eyes again for that extra 5 minutes of cherished sleep and as I've yawned and stretched for the first time every day I've remembered.  Each day there's that wonderful moment before I remember, life has changed, nothing will ever be the same because of Coronavirus.

I'm lucky I guess, I was one of the first to get sick, I experienced my body feeling so hot I thought I would burst into flames, my throat unable to swallow, blocked by shards of hot glass whilst my joints ached so much it made me sleep for 20 hours a day, this virus which invaded my immune system making me so poorly that I went from running a small business community to having a cyst burst and then projectile vomiting my own blood within just a few hours.  When this virus gets into your weak places, it really does it well.  So why am I lucky?  I'm lucky because I survived.

On the 27th of March, I can officially leave the quarantine period, I shall gallop through the park (Miranda style) with a grateful mind that I am one of the lucky ones.  I haven't been into the real world (barring hospital) since last week, Tuesday maybe?  Looby had been ill with a fever before I started to feel off-colour but when I was last out, the world was normal, I was, as I have always been, a freelance and mostly well-employed photographer.  

My previously recession-proof career died almost overnight, life stopped, weddings got postponed or cancelled and I went from a good income to no income, my business doesn't have premises so I won't get a grant and I think I'll be too small to apply for a business interruption loan when they launch next week and even then, when do I pay that money back, when will we switch from a public crisis where people are dying every day to wanting lovely family portraits of us all having fun.

Currently, none of my bills is suspended, I qualify for no help and the only piece of legislation which might help means that I won't be evicted whilst we have this crisis, I literally could lose everything but it could still be worse than that so for now, I am grateful to be here.

I see my job now to be one of the entertainers, I shall put myself out there, no matter how ridiculous I have to be to make people smile, I shall dance every day in my kitchen, I shall plant seeds and potatoes, I shall resume the redecoration of my home, I will bake cakes on Instagram, I will use the platform I love to cheer people up, to make people smile, laugh at me or laugh with me, as long as it makes you smile inside your tummy then it's all good with me.

Social isolation is hard and yet my hermity ways have been preparing for it for years, this is no time to complain or worry about the state of my own life because we are only just at the start so until I am dragged kicking and screaming whilst being evicted, and as long as I have an internet connection and something to broadcast on, that's what I'm going to do and I hope for light relief you will still pop by here and read my words or watch my Instagram and I promise to always be grateful that I am here and for now, whilst there's sunshine, my pets and a garden that I love, life could be so much worse.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

How to prepare for Coronavirus as a small business

Whilst we don't know exactly what's going to happen, it's likely that some of us could end up having to self isolate and that could end up being a large part of the population so if no one is going out, and no events are taking place, it's a good idea to get your ducks in order right now.
  1. Remote broadcasting apps like Zoom - are going to be essential if you want to keep in touch with clients, hold meetings with suppliers and contacts or just generally get yourself out there in the world, the plans for Zoom start with a basic option which is free but it's not an expensive platform.  Also, think about how you can capitalise with things like Skype or Facetime.
  2. If you don't have a postal subscription service, why not start to think about one now, whether it's cake by post or just generally something to brighten the day of people who are self-isolating, keeping cheery is going to be a priority for a lot of people.
  3. Whilst we are looking at maximum disruption in the short term, all of those markets that have cancelled will want to recoup their costs as soon as they can so it's a great time to prepare stock for later.
  4. Do an audit of your own company, what is your online presence like currently, what do you need to do. I can provide a full digital online audit for you for a small fee of just £95 which would lead to a report about how you can maximise your potential. I'm also going to be offering crisis coaching sessions online to try and help as much as I can.
  5. Diversifying what you do is going to become so important, we all need to make income and whilst I hate profiteering, we all need to do our best to survive, especially as self-employed people who may not have a fallback. It's usually recommended to have 3 months of savings to get through things like this, but let's get realistic, who here is in such a privileged position currently?
  6. If you do have an online business, one which is particularly product-based, it's even more imperative that you have attractive lifestyle images which command attention now is the time to really amp up your photography skills, I can teach you "Everyday Photography" with your smartphone in around 2 hours for product-based with another 2 hours for people-based. If you would like to take advantage of that please email me and get in touch.
  7. If we do experience an economic downturn it will probably be temporary and I know that's scary but remember, it doesn't have to mean business disaster, Hershey's launched their business during the great depression and it was successful because even in the hardest times we all seek to make life just a little bit better.
  8. Please do not slash your prices, this may seem like a great idea at the time but once you've gone down the bargain route, it's hard to rebound at a later date and believe me when I say that this is something I've learnt the hard way.
To book a discovery call over Zoom to see if I can help you and your business please email me

Finally, please try and stay positive, I know that it's hard when there are so many uncertainties but positivity makes things a lot easier to deal with, be sensible, be realistic and don't worry if you aren't panic buying, in fact, try not to panic buy. I can't promise but I have to believe that everything is going to be alright.
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