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Hannah Postgate has set up her own business which she runs while caring for her autistic daughter Rosy.
Hannah Postgate has had to battle to get her daughter Rosy's autism recognised. Now she is rising to another challenge as one of the growing number of female entrepreneurs.
Hannah was working in corporate communications for a local council when she had her first child. She returned to work, but when her daughter Rosy was just over one she realised something was not right. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she was not developing like other children around her.
Hannah then got pregnant again and tried to return to work after her son’s birth, but says her boss was not supportive and would not let her work a couple of hours from home a week. She says: “He presented me with a 14-page assessment form and declared that as I did not have an adjustable office chair at home it would breach health and safety.”
Without that crucial support and facing a constant battle to get Rosy diagnosed – she had to be assessed 14 times to get just 16 hours of early intervention – she gave up. After the 16 hours, Rosy got no further support because she was either too young, too old or was in nursery so didn’t need any more help, according to the authorities.
Hannah says: “One of the very lowest points for me was when Rosy was three. I was told by a special needs teacher: ’Face facts, Rosy is probably not going to live independently. She'll be lucky if she can manage to get on a bus, she may just about be able to stack shelves in Tesco's.’ Being told by a professional teacher that my daughter would never amount to anything, and that nothing I could do as her mother was going to make any difference, was devastating. I started having counselling and am still taking anti-depressants.”
She realised that the only way to get help for Rosy was to do it herself so, with the support of Rosy’s nursery, Hannah and her family started an early intervention education programme with play-based teaching at home and social skills at nursery. The nursery Rosy was at welcomed the programme and the tutors Hannah had located so the arrangement could be seamless across both home and nursery.
Rosy was finally diagnosed with autism and complex learning disabilities at the age of six. The previous years had been hard financially on the family as Hannah had to give up her job to care for Rosy.
She has missed work, but says she does not feel she could work in a normal job due to all the appointments and other issues she has to attend to as Rosy’s full-time carer and because of her long career break. So she has turned to self employment. She says her fight for Rosy inspired her to take up a new challenge. Last year she set up her own website, joining forces with two friends and founding RosyandBo.com, an online marketplace of gifts, innovative products and useful tips for special needs families which uniquely selects products from mainstream and special needs sellers. .
Hannah admits working around her children’s needs is hard. She says: “I work funny hours of the day and night – I call it “burst working” – two hours here, an hour there – you get very good at snatching time and being very focused. It is not the most efficient way of working, but it is the only way I have – I do 15 drop-offs and pick-ups a week because Rosy comes home at lunch time and my son at the normal time of 3.20pm.”
Despite the difficulties, Hannah says the process of setting up her own business has allowed her to regain her identity. She says: “I'm not only a mother and full-time carer, I'm an independent, working woman.”
She says being a full-time carer has affected her sense of identity despite the fact that it has made her an expert in many fields from education to law to social care and occupational therapy.
She adds: “I became resentful and very low when I couldn't return to a career type of work – my own dreams just dissolved into a brutal treadmill of caring, appointments and battles for her needs. I certainly lost my own identity in all this – I still have a sense that I am carer first, then a mother, then me… There seems to be a perception that as the mother of a child with special needs, you cease to have any needs of your own and are defined by your child and their problems.”
Hannah is aware that it is only because she has support from her colleagues, grandparents and her husband that she can manage caring and running a business.
She says the main challenges of running a business if you have caring responsibilities like she has are access to specialist childcare that should be as affordable as it is for children without disabilities; a right to flexible working so you can attend appointments etc; and career counselling and a retraining grant if you have taken a career break.
Being a carer has given her vital skills which are useful in the workplace, however. She says: “Caring for a child with disabilities teaches you perspective, priorities and patience like nothing else. We are resilient, resourceful, adaptable, great negotiators, formidable advocates and extremely hard workers.”
However, for all too many carers self employment is the only choice available due to lack of supportive employers. She says: “Starting a business is not the easy option. But we do it because working for someone else who doesn't understand is even tougher than going out there on your own. At least with RosyandBo.com I work from home at all sorts of odd hours of the day and night – snatched where I can so it fits around my children and I can also call on the support of two colleagues when I’m in a tight squeeze.”