About Belinda Ashton
I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes before my 4th birthday, so I have few memories of a time when it wasn’t part of my daily life. It was definitely more difficult for my parents than me to begin with. They had the trauma of having to give daily injections to a daughter who didn’t want to sit still to receive them. I soon learnt that it was less stressful and painful for everyone if I just sat still!
My parents were quick to join The British Diabetic Association, which is now Diabetes UK, and we received invaluable support and advice in my childhood, teenage years and during my pregnancies. They even gave me a medal 50 years after my initial diagnosis. I want to support the research they fund and the help they give to anyone affected by diabetes, so that all diabetics are able to live a full and healthy life.
Turnpike Farm has been our home since 1998. It sits beside the A11 in South Norfolk, a few miles from Norwich. The road outside our gate was the country’s second toll road, improved a few years after our house was built in 1620. There is a monument by our gate to commemorate the philanthropy that funded the road.
When my husband and I purchased it the farm house had been empty and derelict for more than 10 years and was on the ‘at risk’ register. We lived in a caravan for ten months whilst it was restored. In the seventeenth century, it was home to a family of weavers. I like to think I’m taking the farm back to its craft roots.
We converted the barn behind the farmhouse into our home. It was built in around 1800, when the Napoleonic War promoted a boom in wheat prices. The then owner invested his profits in a new barn, for which we thank him. The farmhouse has been converted into offices and my husband uses it to incubate start-up enterprises, many with a strong social purpose.
We have two and a half acres of land, which my husband controls with his 1964 Fordson tractor. My workshop is in what was once a loose box for calving cows. My window looks out at the old farm pond, home to a few ducks and many frogs!
I really loved dressing up as a child, I loved colourful clothes and always had to match colours. I especially remember a Japanese kimono and stiff Spanish petticoat that my Grandmother put in my dressing up box. My Grandmother gave me a Millefiori glass bead necklace when I was 13 and when it broke I repaired it and found matching beads to make earrings. That was the start of what over the years became my passion. This is the necklace; I love wearing it and the connection it gives me with my now long dead grandmother.
I grew up on a coastal Suffolk farm, married in 1982 and moved to Norfolk. In quick succession we then moved to Lincolnshire, North Yorkshire and back to Norfolk in 1986. We had two children along the way, both settled in their own lives and surprisingly tolerant of my fixation with beads and jewellery.
In September 1994 I stumbled across the Janet Coles Beads catalogue. I spent many happy hours dreaming about the variety of beads available and buying just a few (well over time, quite a few) to make jewellery for myself.
As my collection grew I realised that people I worked with commented more and more on my necklaces. They asked if I’d make some for them too. Soon I was taking a stall at fundraising events.
In December 2016, after 25 years working in school administration and finance I left my job to concentrate on what I love - beads.
I am supported by my husband of 35 years. He has a sales and marketing background, has supported many business start-ups and social enterprises. He is now a full time writer and publisher.
Since 1963 I have lived with Type 1 Diabetes. It is now far easier to manage than it was then, but still means I have to plan my life more carefully than most. I also have to give myself five injections every day! Diabetes UK fund research into Diabetes and encourage a positive image for long term diabetics. I’ll be giving some of my profits to support the brilliant work they do.
My husband trades as ‘the barefoot entrepreneur.’ His logo was created one summer afternoon with plain paper, paint and his left foot. He has written almost 20 books on small business, entrepreneurship and social enterprise. In 2016 he launched the Turnpike Press, an ethical publisher that gives voice to those who would otherwise remain unheard.
As well as writing, publishing and speaking, he usually has one or two social projects on the go. He focuses on those that support people too often excluded from opportunity by prejudice, stigma and ignorance. Particular interests of his include mental health, learning disability and young people who are gifted in some ways but challenged in others.
Robert’s office is next door to my workshop so I can keep an eye on him!