2018 to Present
While being limited by numerous medical conditions, and working within the confines of the benefit system, the following is an account of my achievements despite my restrictions.
A lot of things were in motion throughout 2018, I’d been added to the waiting list for Neuropsychology in December 2017 so was expecting that appointment at some point, I’d weaned myself off anti-convulsant and anti-depressant medications from December 2017 to March 2018 and was taking a number of supplements and herbal remedies with a focus on natural nootropics and mood stabilisation in their place. I’d discussed all of this in depth with my GP in July of 2018 and she was in full agreement with my reasoning and fully supportive of my exploration of a more holistic approach going forward. I had given up smoking and was changing my dietary habits, I started growing my own food and had started following the nutritional and biomedical science works of Dr Rhonda Patrick as well as the works of Mycologist Paul Stamets. I’ve had holistic and herbal books in my library for years and was now adding to them with my new found interest in mycology.
When I was first placed on ESA in 2014, I was entirely naïve of the benefit process, reassessment had never been something that had been brought to my attention until 2016, at which point I was taken off ESA and put onto JSA causing fluctuations in my benefit rate, this was something I was able to appeal, this process took 3 months and a lot of anguish and I was due my second reassessment in June 2018.
With the expected date in the forefront of my mind, I began to explore more marketable materials for my work other than plastic Q-tip tubes in a bid to either approach galleries or shops to see if they would take my work, and ways I could work from home. During my appeal process in 2016, the job centre was advising me to look for catering jobs as per my CV despite having a sicknote advising against it, so I was fully expecting all of this to happen again in June 2018, which it did.
I was placed back onto JSA in July 2018 and a new appeal process was begun. In a stroke of good timing, I’d discovered an affordable material in jewellery findings to experiment with, 2018 was the year plastic Q-tips were banned for sale and went to paper, they were an affordable practice material because you could get a pack of 200 for 35p in Aldi, meaning £5 would garner nearly 3000 vertices.
A pack of 50 metal spacer beads for jewellery making in 2018 was anything from £1 to £5 depending on suppliers, I had ordered 10 packs a few weeks before my benefit rate changed and was able to construct some miniature pieces to bring with me to the job centre. I presented my work as a possibility of self-employment working predominately from home, at the time I was exploring avenues of online sale such as Etsy as well as the Makers Markets, Craft Fairs and Mind Body & Spirit events. With this I was transferred from JSA onto the New Enterprise Allowance scheme, which afforded me business mentorship while awaiting my appeal.
In September 2018 I was told my appeal was going to tribunal, I was transferred back onto ESA but at the assessment rate of £73.10 per week while awaiting the tribunal decision. it stayed at the assessment rate until June 2019 after my hearing date when the appeal was granted.
From September 2018 I began receiving help from Great Places, my housing association, and was awarded £147 from a support fund toward materials which all went to jewellery findings and fishing wire, after which I was also awarded £550 from a resident’s fund, this enabled me further materials as well as the infrastructure for a market stall, and covered the cost of 2 market bookings.
On Sunday December 16th 2018 I attended my first Makers Market.
With the money from my first sales coupled with money received from my parents for Yule, I was able to book onto my first Mind Body & Spirit event in February 2019 and another market had already been booked thanks to my previous funding. My mother had been able to drop me off and collect me from my first 3 bookings, but sadly, after a fall early in 2019 that lead to further deteriorations in her own health, she was no longer able to support me in this way. Undetered, I continued booking markets throughout 2019 thanks to the initial impetus of sales from my first 3 events, which I would attend via busses, trams, and trains, devising a system of packing where I was able to fit all my market set up within a single large suitcase and carry it with me on public transport.
With each market and show I was able to further progress, improving displays and stands, incorporating crystal pendants into my stock as an accompaniment to my own work, also incorporating crystals within the negative spaces of some pieces. All proceeds of sales were going into further development and expansion and I started booking shows outside of Manchester.
Since September of 2018, and for the first 6 months of 2019, I was still on the ESA assessment rate of £73.10 per week for living expenses while awaiting tribunal. I was able to maintain local market bookings and stock with my sales, but it was with the help of a friend that I was able to book larger shows outside Manchester, she would loan me the cost of the bookings and travel expenses, I would then pay her back after the show with money from sales.
I was not on social media platforms at this time so attending markets and shows was my only means of self-promotion, however I was starting to gain a small following of repeat customers across locations through word of mouth. In March 2019 I answered an ad on Gumtree offering a free website build to the value of £500 in exchange for using the site for inhouse promotional materials, the only cost being the cover of the webhosting for a year at £79. This gave people a place to find me online in lieu of social media.
On June 18th 2019 my appeal at tribunal was granted, with all the emotions of the day and the stresses that came along with the whole process itself, I had a seizure while out shopping at ASDA that evening. While recovering in the coming weeks, my first N.E.A.D. therapy with neuropsychology was scheduled and my ESA was reinstated at its full rate. I also received a back payment of £1500 from the initial appeal date. I paid back all loans and booked markets and shows for the remainder of the year, I bought materials and stock items previously outside my budget, and with the money left over I was able to go to Amsterdam for 3 days. My trip to Amsterdam was an early 40th birthday gift to myself, as well as a self-styled psychedelic retreat do decompress after recent stresses. There are several retreat venues available throughout Europe and farther afield worldwide, but these were all far outside my price range. I stayed 30 minutes outside the city in a quiet bohemian caravan park by a lake. On the first day I went into the city to get food and supplies, I also went into a few shops with some samples in a bid for them to stock my work. While at the caravan park I also worked on a large Sierpinski Triangle which I left as a gift for the venue. On the last night I went on a boat tour of the lake and on return took I high dose of psychedelic truffles.
I’d timed my trip to Amsterdam to fall between the fortnightly appointments with my N.E.A.D. therapy, having had 3 appointments already. I’d told my therapist my intention with the truffles and she was interested to see the results. It was my aim to declutter my mind of any unnecessary feelings toward past misdiagnosis while also gaining clarity for the next steps needed to achieve my current goals. The psychedelic experience helped me assure myself that the steps I had taken and continued to, were exactly the right course, my intuition had always been correct with my seizures and I had a diagnosis that wasn’t a presumption, the supplements I was taking in place of previous medications were continuing to benefit me, and the new direction I was taking with my life working predominately from home was the most conducive with my medical needs. I discussed all of this with my therapist on returning and she concurred. We were able to incorporate the insights gained with the truffles into my therapy and I finally felt I had a proper handle on my seizures, or at least how best to handle them in the future.
My psychedelic experience coupled with the therapy gave me renewed confidence in my plans. Reality Woven was always supposed to evolve into something bigger and that evolution was beginning to take shape. Although I was still being seen by multiple departments across 3 hospitals, I continued with markets and shows throughout the remainder of 2019 and had my first two Mind Body & Spirit events booked for February and March of 2020 by the end of the year.
Then in March 2020, as was the case with the rest of the world, all plans were put on hold and Covid lockdowns began. The hosting for my website was coming due, but because my progress thus far had relied on sales from attended events, I was unable to renew the contract and so lost my website. As timing would have it, my computer also broke. I was able to apply for funding for a refurbished computer with George House Trust, so I was still able to get online. I also had an old mobile phone, so my technical availability was severely lacking. My father was able to provide me with £100 a month throughout lockdowns so I was still able to amass materials for stock while waiting for restrictions to lift. When restrictions went into the tier system, the MBS shows had been postponed until full restrictions were lifted and the makers markets were encouraging against cash payments, advising people to take digital payments wherever possible, which was something I was unable to accommodate, so I had to look for venues that were still allowing cash, luckily, I found such a venue in the Middleton Food & Craft Fair, so I had one event per month I could attend at least.
I suffered an emotional blow in December 2020 after my mother was taken to hospital due to complications with painkillers she had been prescribed for a knee injury, upon being treated in the hospital, three cancers were discovered. A week later I also got news that my father had prostate cancer. Covid restrictions meant I was unable to see either of them at that time, my mother lives in Manchester, but the only person allowed into the ward was my sister as only one visitor could be allocated, and my father was in Scotland, given there were no vaccines at that time, cross country travel was out of the question.
My father increased the money he was sending me to £200 a month as he felt it was the last thing he could do for me and Reality Woven given his diagnosis, the prognosis of which was not good. I was in the category of vulnerable people to get the vaccine first, I was reticent about the vaccine, I would have rather not taken it, but given the prospect of not seeing my father again, I accepted my appointment when it was offered for February 25th. In April I got the call from my aunt that my father didn’t have long and was in palliative care. What followed was 2 months of me going back and forth from Manchester to Dundee in between booked events to help with arrangements, my father wanting to be in his own home, so adjustments needed to be made, however short term, to insure his comfort and safety in his own flat. My father passed away in the company of my uncle and cousin on May 9th 2021 while I was delayed enroute due to rail strikes and cancellations. I got to spend a couple of days with family and friends before having to return to Manchester for my second vaccine on May 13th, before returning for his funeral, and again later for the scattering of his ashes. The loss of my father continues to affect me to this day as he was my biggest cheerleader and supporter.
My mother continues to fight on with 1 of her cancers, the other two having been treated, but the cancer looms like a dark cloud in my mind of the promise of another funeral yet to come.
During my back and forth from Manchester to Dundee, I had been receiving small loans from a cousin to cover travel costs, after my fathers will was settled, he had left me £4750 with which I was able to repay the loans as well as cover the upcoming costs of travel and a hotel for the scattering of his ashes, historically I had always stayed with my father when visiting Dundee, but that was no longer an option. The remaining money I split two ways, with one half I put it all back into Reality Woven, with the other half I fully stocked my supplements for the next year. I’d always wanted to print my own t-shirts, so I bought a “business in a box” on amazon for £1500 which had everything needed, including a computer, printer and heat presses, I also bought a stock of t-shirts and other supplies separately. The “business in a box” purchase fell through with no explanation, I received a full refund but was unable to recreate the items from the box as individual purchases, so I spent the bulk of the money on a new computer given that I was still using the refurbished laptop.
I no longer had the financial support my father was giving, so I went through a period of readjustment with my finances and rounded out the remainder of 2021 looking for avenues of funding. Again, my housing association was able to provide a “barrier busting” fund, this afforded me an up-to-date phone, with the inbuilt camera I was able to produce “web quality” images for the first time and created a Twitter account in place of my lost website. I continued building toward my goal for t-shirt printing, but in the interim had a stock of t-shirts, and so I bought some dyes and incorporated tie-dye t-shirts into my stock. After the full lifting of Covid restrictions, I was able to attend makers markets again from September 2021.
A further funding opportunity arose with my housing association in 2022 finally affording me a suitable printer for sublimation printing and heating matts and pads. I still need to learn a lot of new technical skills however to realise t-shirt printing goal. Due to changes in necessary criteria, I was able to apply for PIP for the first time in May 2022 and have been in receipt of this since September 2022. With this I also received a back payment from my initial application date of £2151. Again with this money the bulk of it went into Reality Woven, I was able to book markets in advance for the entire Christmas period, I also booked the first MBS show of 2023, as well as supplies for stock.
With the money I had left over I was able to visit family in Dundee for Halloween and book ahead for Hogmanay too, sadly due to train strikes, I had to cancel my second visit and haven’t been back to Dundee since November 2022.
The cost-of-living crisis was in full swing by the time of Christmas markets, and sadly this also affected peoples spending habits, I found that people were less inclined to part with money if purchases weren’t practical or edible, causing my own sales to suffer. I had to cancel my last two markets in December 2022 due to severe weather resulting in an overall loss financially.
2023 has been a year of reassessing and adapting plans. I’d been pursuing markets and shows in order to establish Reality Woven as a brand in the minds of potential customers, but given that the construction of my work takes time itself, other areas of my life were suffering, namely my house and garden, I had started major works in my garden and began decorating the house before my first ESA reassessment in 2016, something I will be turning my attention back to for the remainder of the year. I’ve been building my credit score over the last year with the intention of getting a business account for Reality Woven, I’m about 50 points away in my credit score for this and will hopefully have it achieved by the end of the year. I had been trying to build my own website, something I still lack the necessary skills for, but was able to achieve a basic site with the help received from Great Places. With a combination from sales made at shows throughout the year coupled with my PIP payments, I was able to afford to have a new website built from scratch for £1500 by my webhosting providers hostinguk.net, so I can’t take credit for the structure of this site, only it’s contents.
I’m currently coming to the end of a bout of therapy with Neuropsychology, something I had requested after the loss of my father but sadly had to wait two years to receive. NHS waiting lists are no longer conducive with my medical needs, so in the future I will be seeking private care for talking therapies as well as whatever may be available within the NHS. Between changes in weather, my own health, and the cost-of-living crisis, I can no longer do outdoor events, I’ll be looking for indoor events only in 2024. Over the years, whenever an influx of money came through, be it from back payments of benefits or from the money left by my father, I’ve been collecting machinery with the evolution of Reality Woven in mind. Now I’m in the midst of seeking tutors that can teach me how to use them, as well as tutors for general tech proficiency as my tech knowledge is still severely lacking. This is proving more difficult than imagined given that I need face to face one to one tutelage, I’ve never worked well in class rooms and since my brain damage find it increasingly difficult in group learning environments, I have problems following online technical tutorials also, alas I still persist in my search for specialist tutors for adults with complex needs.
For the remainder of 2023 I will be concentrating on getting my home in order, I have the whole house to decorate, and come next spring will be turning my attention back to my garden, these are two areas that have seen precious little attention in recent years, so they currently require my complete attention, which means a brief hiatus from markets and shows over the autumn/winter period. I’ve been slowly accumulating new materials throughout 2023 so have an array of possible materials for any prospective commissions. The shop on this site will begin with a few miniature and small items, but I will be adding all current stock as well as a few online exclusives toward the end of 2023.
As for 2024, I currently have one MBS show booked with Rosemary Douglas Events at the Stockport Masonic Guild Hall on February 3rd & 4th 2024.
I will also be spending much of the coming year figuring out the logistics of relocating from Manchester to Dundee for the sake of my own health. The small geographical size and population both suit my medical needs, and the cost of living is much more affordable than in England. Reality woven was always designed with portability in mind, I will still be able to attend MBS shows nationwide, trains permitting, but my ultimate chief goal is to have a shop of my own in Dundee. My father supported me the most in this goal, so it’s in his honour that continue to pursue this final outcome. In the interim, I have a lot of learning to do and skills to amass. I have the memory of my father and his enthusiasm in me as the impetus for my drive.