Andrea Bartlett served in the Royal Army Medical Corps for 12 years until she developed a degenerative optic nerve disease that runs in her family. After being medically discharged, the 37-year-old, from Oakham in Rutland, was supported by The Poppy Factory twice – enabling her to work first in schools as a classroom instructor, and later to set up as a home-based wildlife artist following the birth of her son.
Andrea said: “When I came out of school in 1999 at the age of 16, I really wanted to pursue art but I didn’t know how to go about it. There was no social media and it was harder to get your name out there. I felt that the option wasn’t open to me so I decided to follow another route into the Army.
“While I was serving I discovered I have a degenerative optic nerve disease, which runs in my family. My sister and nephew have had it since they were young, but mine developed gradually. It means it can be difficult for me to focus and my reaction time is very much slower than the average person. I had to give my driving licence back and I wasn’t allowed to go on tour with the Army any more. I was medically discharged in 2011. It was upsetting, but having close family members who have been living with the same condition helped me get through it.
“In the military, you feel quite stable because you always have a roof over your head and there’s a good support network. It’s very different in the civilian world and it was a challenge when I got out.
“I first came to The Poppy Factory in 2012 and they were really supportive in helping me get a job with the education charity SkillForce Development, working as a classroom instructor in London schools. I enjoyed the work, but we moved back to the East Midlands in 2014 when my husband, Ian, was medically discharged from the Royal Logistics Corps after 23 years.
He also had support from The Poppy Factory, who helped him shape his CV and made sure he was going down the right route to becoming a secondary school teacher. Then we had our son and I became a stay at home mum.
“It was my son who started me drawing and painting again. I was just messing around with some cartoons and when he realised I could draw animals, there was no going back. I entered a competition to design a Christmas card for Help for Heroes and although I didn’t win, it got noticed by someone in their marketing team. My painting of a lion, Lost Pride, was chosen for their Heroes Creative Force Exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London, which gave me a massive confidence boost.
“In August 2018 I started my own art business, Bart & Eddie Design Studio. Keiron at The Poppy Factory was really helpful, encouraging me to take my time and do things step by step instead of rushing in and trying to do too much.
“Keiron visited me several times to discuss possible opportunities and he sent over lots of information about all the things I need to do to set up. He was also continually on the other end of the phone or on email offering support, and he still is.
“Keiron visited me several times to discuss possible opportunities and he sent over lots of information about all the things I need to do to set up. He was also continually on the other end of the phone or an email offering support, and he still is.
“Now I sell my prints online and the original paintings through a local gallery. It’s going really well and I’m pursuing my goal of becoming a professional wildlife artist.
“I come into contact with a lot of veterans online and on social media and I often tell them to take a look at The Poppy Factory. If you have an injury or there’s something difficult that you’re going through and you want to get back into work, The Poppy Factory can really help.”
See Andrea’s artwork online on the Bart & Eddie Design Studio Facebook page.
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