A Northamptonshire woman who spent a decade caring for her very sick daughter and elderly parents has revealed how a new career gave her some kind of respite.
Ten years ago, Ellen Bletsoe had it all. Two gorgeous young children, a loving husband, fledgling online fashion business and stunning six-bedroom home in the pretty market town of Thrapston in east Northamptonshire.
Then, almost overnight, Ellen and her family’s life was turned upside down when her six-year-old daughter, Laura, lost her sight and began developing symptoms of what - three years later - would be diagnosed as the life-limiting condition of Juvenile Batten’s Disease.
Now 16, Laura now has very little speech and her mobility is severely limited, and Ellen, her chartered surveyor husband, David, and their eldest son, Thomas, 18, have to face the knowledge that the next few years aren’t going to get any easier.
“It is absolutely awful having your child go through something like this; it is very wearing,” says Ellen, 47. “And the reality is, the next few years are going to be very difficult to watch.”
On top of caring for Laura, who now attends a special school in Wimbledon from Mondays to Fridays, Ellen has also spent the last decade looking after her ailing parents.
Eventually, Ellen decided she needed to do something which would allow her to be herself again and rekindle her talents.
So the woman once awarded a trophy for being the best dressed woman at the Press Club Awards 2011, has established herself as an image consultant and advises men, women and teenagers how to find the right colours and cuts of clothes to suit their complexions and body shapes.
“It stemmed from the end of last year when I was starting to feel very down in the dumps about things,” admits Ellen. “Most of the last 10 years has been dealing with Laura’s situation and our parents, who have health problems.
“I have no regrets; it was absolutely right for me to provide care for my parents and daughter. But I was just sad and not enjoying my life, which made me start thinking, ‘well, who am I? What am I good at? How do I want to spend the rest of my life?’”
Ellen had studied textile design at Leeds University and worked in retail management, then at silk weaving mills producing men’s ties for many European designers.
“I left there to have my children and then, when Laura started school, I set up an online retail business selling ties but it didn’t last very long because shortly afterwards, everything went wrong.”
Last year though, Ellen felt the time was right to start thinking about her career again.
“That’s when I decided to take things back to my roots, where I love being with people and being creative. Becoming an image consultant ticked all the boxes for me, so I decided to set up independently.”
Luckily, she had the perfect premises right on her own doorstep in the form of old stabling and outbuildings in the grounds of her former farmhouse home in Huntingdon Road.
“When we moved here 16 years ago, this was in a delapidated state so we had to rebuild it then, so luckily that allowed me to be able to do it up without spending too much money,” she explains.
Ellen used her creative talents to transform the building into a chic studio, complete with mini kitchen, lounge area and curtained-off changing area where clients can be styled in style.
“Now I am back doing something that energises me and even when I am having a busy day, the hours just vanish. I just don’t get tired doing it whereas before I felt lacklustre and sad.
“When you are doing things you don’t enjoy much, it shows. Now I am so much happier doing something I love.”