Gill makes an art attack on redundancy

An illustration from 'Mollycoddled'
An illustration from 'Mollycoddled'

When Gill Bolton took redundancy from her job she was panic stricken, but her love of art helped her find a new role and the idea for a possible new business. She told Fiona Finch how art first calmed her then inspired her to create a new future.

Gill Bolton never imagined she would find herself redundant from her job as a teaching assistant.

Gill pictured with her border terrier Ciara

Gill pictured with her border terrier Ciara

But that’s the situation the 57-year-old found herself in earlier this year.

Even though she volunteered for redundancy it triggered a roller coaster of emotion and stress.

But she has fought back using an unexpected weapon - art. First painting and drawing provided a therapy, enabling her to focus on something completely different. Then she realised she has a talent she could share.

Now Gill is about to start an after-school art club, has written and illustrated two children’s books and is creating a painted jar range of children’s Christmas night lights as well as painting pictures.

An illustration from 'Mollycoddled'

An illustration from 'Mollycoddled'

She had worked at the same Lancashire primary school for 17 years and said: “I decide to take voluntary redundancy. They wanted to cut 16.5 hours and I worked 16.5 hours. I did that and then started suffering from panic attacks which were horrendous. I didn’t know what was wrong with me.”

Gill was then signed off work suffering from anxiety. It was a difficult time, as she recalled: “I wasn’t eating. I lost half a stone ... and I had palpitations.”
When it came to the thought of looking for new work there was further anxiety.

She said: “I was completely out of my comfort zone because every job has moved so far with technology which I’ve not been trained to do. Children and educating is what I’ve known nearly all my life.”

Gill, who grew up in Southport, had worked as a nursery nurse for social services and then spent a happy three years working as a child counsellor on cruise ships.It was her way of combining seeing the world and doing a job she loved.

Gill at work in her kitchen

Gill at work in her kitchen

She said: “I was there to run children’s programmes, arts and crafts, pool parties, children’s entertainments.”

She left that post to have daughter Isabella and when Isabella, now 22, started school she resumed her career working at a local nursery and then got a job at St Wilfrid’s Primary School in Ribchester, near Longridge.

While there she completed a Foundation Degree in teaching and learning support at St Martin’s College at Lancaster on day release with the backing of the then head teacher and qualified as a Higher Level Teaching Assistant.

She had initially planned to train as teacher but says she realised it would conflict with family life and she was advised that, with her existing experience and qualifications she would be more expensive to employ than a younger newly qualified teacher.

Gill Bolton with her two new children's books

Gill Bolton with her two new children's books

She said: “When teachers were doing their PPA (planning and Preparation) I took the class and delivered art sessions and Italian classes which the children absolutely loved.”

While working at the school she also set up and ran art and cookery clubs. She knew she was going to miss the children and her work.

She said: “I coped with anxiety by painting and writing. It just kept me focused. I always found painting very therapeutic anyway, hence the art cupboard.”

She points to a cupboard packed with art and craft materials: “I found it very calming and it just focused me away from worrying about being unemployed. It gave me a chance to focus on my art. When teaching and delivering art work for children you have to do everything in a set time.”

She continued: “I think when you’ve been a mum you can’t sit there quite happily and do nothing. I’m constantly doing something – I always have been. I can’t just sit there and do nothing.”

It was a suggestion from the mother of her daughter’s boyfriend which got her writing to: .“She said, ‘Why don’t you write a book about Molly?’ I thought ‘I might as well. I’ve got the time. I’ll have a go’.”

Molly was the family’s much loved rescue dog and 'Mollycoddled' by Gilly B was the result. She taught herself how to lay it out and the book can now be bought on Amazon for £9.

She said: “I started painting the pictures and sticking them in (a book). I then had to format it on a Word document. There are quite child-like drawings (in the book). I was just thinking of the books children like at school. They like rhyme and rhythm, it helps them to read.”

Her second book, also available on Amazon, entitled' Look At Big Nige!' by Gill Bolton is described as “the story of a little feral cat who became an enormous pampered pet”.

Gill, whose home is in Ribchester, said: “Nigel is the feral cat that adopted me at nursery. He tried to follow me home.”

Initially another staff member took the cat home, but her existing cat was terrified and Gill said: “We came back from our holidays and I took him.”

Gill is also looking forward to a new role as a freelance session learners’ leader at Preston’s Harris Museum and Art Gallery when she will deliver activities for visiting groups of children.
She also has ambitions to lead art in community sessions for residents of homes for the elderly. She said: “I think art is vitally important for anyone’s mental health – it saved my mental health.”

Gill’s next step is to get advice on setting up her own business.

Her work and pictures will be priced from £10 for the painted jar night lights and painted bottles and from £5 to £40 for paintings. Her work can be seen in Longridge at The Potting Shed and The Furniture Tailor.

She has not ruled out returning to work in a school but said: “At the moment I’m concentrating on art and creativity.”

Her advice for others made or opting for redundancy is, she says: "Focus on what you enjoy, live in the present and be positive. I’ve lost a couple of friends to cancer last year and I think every day is precious."