Deaf Life28th September 2014

Against all odds

How Yorkshire couple, Angie and Richard Aspinall overcame public sector job cuts and sudden deafness to start their own photography and journalism business

by Angie Aspinall

How Yorkshire couple, Angie and Richard Aspinall overcame public sector job cuts and sudden deafness to start their own photography and journalism business

Today, Angie and Richard Aspinall run Aspinall Ink, a photography and journalism partnership, from their beautifully restored Victorian home in the West Yorkshire village of Almondbury, a village which is also the home of Joanna Harris, the author of ‘Chocolat’.  The couple work together on travel assignments and also work separately on other interesting projects which range from food reviews to underwater baby photography or even diving with sharks.  But, it hasn’t always been that way.

Not too long ago, both Richard and Angie worked in local government but, in January 2011, as a result of the cutbacks, Richard was made redundant from his job managing the heritage garden and country park at Cannon Hall.  At that time, Angie was also facing the prospect of similar restructuring and potential job loss at Kirklees Council.  The resourceful pair decided that they needed to take matters into their own hands and create a business so that Richard – and if need be, Angie too – could work for themselves.  But what type of business could that business be?

With her background in training and facilitation, Angie suggested an ‘away day’ to brainstorm business ideas.  Many sheets of flip chart paper later, they had created two business ideas: one built on their shared skills and passions – photography, writing, food, travel and nature; the other focusing on Richard’s passion for diving and talent for underwater photography.  And so, at the end of the day, Aspinall Ink Photography & Journalism and Triggerfish Photography were born.

For UltraMarine

Around the same time, Richard was approached to become the Editor of UltraMarine Magazine; a magazine to which he regularly contributed.  He was delighted and quickly took up the part-time position, whilst simultaneously writing for marine-related magazines and websites in America and Australia. 

Richard used his background in horticulture, conservation and biodiversity to also write for other publications on topics such as wild food foraging and countryside management.  For a while he had a column in the Yorkshire Post and he is now a contributor to the famous Yorkshire magazine The Dalesman.

A few weeks after Richard’s contract with the council ended, tragedy struck the couple: Angie suddenly became profoundly deaf in one ear – a devastating blow for someone already suffering from severe deafness in her other ear. 

“I felt a bit ill when I woke up and thought everything ‘sounded funny’.  I had a pounding headache but I still went to work,” Angie explains.  “But then later, I couldn’t hear the person on the phone properly; their voice was just fading away.  I realised I was losing my hearing very rapidly.  By the time Richard got me to A&E, I had virtually no hearing left in my left ear and the last bit disappeared while I was in the waiting room.  It was like my worst nightmare come true.”  It turned out there was nothing the doctors could do.

They say ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ and Angie definitely thought so as Richard’s redundancy meant that he was at home and could care for her while she suffered from severe vertigo and sickness which accompanied the deafness (the latter turned out to be permanent and it was months before Angie was supplied with the hearing aids which now help her with communication). 

Underwater baby photographyRichard admirably juggled his new position as Carer with those as Editor and businessman and, despite everything, he managed to secure his first underwater baby photo shoot at a local pool which he says went ‘swimmingly’.

As an aquarist and underwater photographer, it’s no surprise Richard’s also photographed some of the top public aquaria in the UK and photographed exhibits from both outside and inside the tanks.  “Diving with the sharks and rays at the Blue Planet aquarium in Cheshire was a real privilege.  I’ve dived with sharks in the wild before but this gave me the opportunity to see the sharks at very close quarters... so close in fact that one bumped into me!” 

It’s a far cry from his work taking underwater baby portraits but he says he’s enjoys both photographic opportunities.  “I’m always on the look-out for new clients and new swimming instructors to work with.  I don’t just take photos in pools in Yorkshire: I work in Lincolnshire too but I’d be happy to travel anywhere really. We have friends with children who told us how much they were charged by the national ‘baby swimming’ clubs and we were shocked: my prices are much more affordable, as clients just pay for my time and then can order the prints they want.”

Angie turned to social media for conversation.  “Twitter kept me sane when I was having a really tough time and I made some real life friends on there and some excellent business contacts too.” 

National Trust holiday cottages at Hardwick Hall, And then came a major photographic commission for Richard from local furniture designer, Anthony Hartley who ­­­wanted pictures of his entire collection and posters for his first exhibition at TENT London.  Richard’s photographs of the iconic ‘Mr Smith’ chair and ‘Edna’ (drawers) have been featured in magazines and on websites all over the world, including features in ‘Elle Decoration’ and ‘Homes & Gardens’

Since enjoying his stint as a product photographer, Richard has now set up a studio at home, ideal for photographing small to medium-sized products such as food and gift items and jewellery.

“Having professional product photography makes such a difference to customers’ first impressions when visiting a website.  I keep my prices affordable so that I can help fellow micro business owners.  We know how tough it is to be starting out,” explains Richard.

At the end of 2011 Angie suffered a further blow to her health: a detached retina.  “When you’ve faced something as devastating as losing one or more of your senses, it makes you think about what is really important in your life.”

The Bernina Express, Switzerland “I thank my lucky stars that my sight was saved.  I now intend to make the most of it by taking as many beautiful photographs as I possibly can in as many interesting locations as possible.”

She goes on to say, “What’s important to me is Richard, and the two of us spending time together doing the things we enjoy such as travelling, dining out and enjoying the countryside.  It became even more important to me to make a go of Aspinall Ink so that we wouldn’t have to go back to 9-5 jobs and hardly seeing one another.”

With that in mind, they decided to focus their attention business-wise more on travel, both abroad and in the UK.  As fans of both Richard’s home county of Yorkshire and Angie’s native Derbyshire, the couple love nothing more than weekends away in places such as Swaledale, Helmsley, Runswick Bay and favourite National Trusts properties such as Hardwick Hall.  And, they have been lucky enough to get commissions in all of those places. 

Sometimes clients want professional interior photographs for their websites and other times they want a travel review,” explains Richard.  “If required, we can provide both of these from just one visit.  And, Angie can provide PR via social media too.  We offer the whole package.  Working for The National Trust was a dream come true for us.”

Angie’s time on Twitter was so successful that with her Twitter friend (and now real-life friend), businesswoman Helen Massey, she co-founded the social media phenomenon ‘#Yorkshirehour’. 

Angie and Helen set up #Yorkshirehour to provide businesses with a platform for free advertising and networking and to encourage businesses, charities and social enterprises to support one another.  It was an immediate success and soon regularly trended as the most talked about topic on Twitter in the UK and it once trended as the number one topic in the world. #Yorkshirehour was the first of what are now known as the ‘local hours’ on Twitter and it takes place every Wednesday between 8 and 9pm.

Pet portraitsAngie now offers training on the use of social media to businesses in West Yorkshire and help with social media strategies, alongside her copywriting service.

Angie’s lucky break as a travel writer came when a friend offered her a place at a roadshow event in Leeds.  “It gave me the opportunity to meet with representatives from Hills Balfour, the leading travel PR company in the UK.  This event opened doors for us in terms of press trips, which gave us more interesting experiences to write about, which in turn led to more travel editors wanting to work with us,” says Angie. 

Between them, Angie and Richard now write for an impressive range of travel websites and magazines including Diver magazine, A Luxury Travel Blog, On:Yorkshire and Dog Friendly magazine.  The couple also provide a copywriting service and are available for commissions for guest blogs on a range of topics.

Richard’s commissions for Diver magazine have taken him to Grenada and Croatia and the couple’s next trip is to Florence for TRVL – the iPad travel app which boast over 250,000 downloads.

After a spell working with a charity, Angie has recently joined Richard with 100% self-employment and on her first day, she was rewarded with an award from former BBC Dragon’s Den star, Theo Paphitis.

During ‘Small Business Sunday’, Angie Aspinall co-owner of Aspinall Ink, tweeted Theo about the business she runs with husband, Richard.

Theo chose Angie’s message as a winning tweet and he re‚Äźtweeted it to his 444,000 followers the following day.  As a result, they had 58% more visits to their website in the first week of winning and they are also now profiled on Theo’s website, which is exclusive to Small Business Sunday winners.

Pet portraitsAngie says, “Since launching Aspinall Ink, we’ve enjoyed a cruise around the Yasawa Islands in Fiji and feasted with a village Chief, travelled to Mauritius, seen five of the rarest bird species in the world, met wild Giant Tortoises, had a guided tour of River Cottage HQ, met an octopus, enjoyed a sleigh ride in Switzerland and photographed an international cricket tournament, all as part of a day’s work.”

Richard adds, “If you would have told me that a few years ago when we were both working in local government, I would never have believed you!  Our next venture is pet portraiture, which we’ve just added to our list of photographic services.”

Angie shares the couple’s success stories as a speaker at networking events such as the #Yorkshirehourlive events she organises and also, recently alongside Kate Hardcastle at an event for Network She. 

Angie will be speaking together with Christa Ackroyd at the Yorkshire Ladies Link event in Harrogate on 5th March 2015, talking about how she turned to social media to combat isolation after her sudden deafness; how she now uses it for her business interests and now delivers one-to-one training on using Twitter for business and provides support to small businesses to develop social media and marketing strategies.

Article by Angie Aspinall

posted in Community / Deaf Life

28th September 2014