Becoming a teenage mum at 16 was a frightening experience for Lancashire woman Jo Boulton.
But even at a young age, she showed a determination which has seen her finally achieve her dreams of becoming a photographer with her own studio.
At an age when many girls are discovering fashion and make-up and chatting about the latest boy bands, Jo Boulton felt a sense of terror when she discovered she was pregnant at just 15.
Jo, now 36, who was a pupil at Carr Hill High School, in Kirkham, near Preston, recalls: “I was 15 and in the fourth year of school when I found out I was pregnant and I was very scared.
“When you’re so young and only a child yourself, it is very frightening to discover you’re going to have a baby.
“But right from the start, I was stubborn and adamant that I was going to have my baby.”
Jo, who lives in Kirkham, did not go back to school after finding out she was pregnant, but instead was home schooled and did her GCSEs.
Although she passed five GCSEs at grade C and above, Jo describes herself as not doing too well and after her son Reece was born, she devoted herself to looking after him.
Thinking back to what it was like to be a mother at such a young age, Jo says: “I did not know any different, so I just got on with it.
“I lived at home until I was 19 and my mum helped me a lot.
“I was lucky as I had a strong network of people helping me and a supportive family.
“I did odd jobs here and there and then I went to Blackpool and Fylde College where I studied photography.
“I have loved photography for as long as I can remember. I was always quite arty and enjoyed painting and drawing.
“I learnt photography on film and enjoyed the old techniques of having a dark room.
“I even set up my own dark room at home, spending hours developing and processing film.
“But then because photography is so expensive, I had to put it on the back burner and get a job to support my son as he was my priority.
“I have done practically every job you can imagine over the years. But I still carried on with my photography as a hobby.”
Jo worked in a bank and then went to another company where she became a trainer helping single parents to get back into work.
Jo then began working for the National Careers Service as an adviser in schools. However, she still longed to follow her dream of becoming a photographer full-time.
At first, Jo took photographs for friends in her spare time and she says her photography first took off around seven years ago because of the power of Facebook.
She explains: “People on Facebook saw the photos I had done and asked my friends who had done them and word just spread from there and my photography started building up momentum.”
Following her urge to become a photographer full-time, Jo paid £500 to train with Natalie Leech, a photographer in Glossop who specialises in newborn photography.
Natalie, who herself trained with some of the best newborn photographers in the world, has gone on to teach other newborn photographers her techniques and Jo loved learning new skills from her and longed to set up her own studio.
It was a friend who first told Jo about Boost Business Lancashire which helps people achieve their business aims.
Boost is the name for the Lancashire Business Growth Hub. It is led by the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership and Lancashire County Council and is supported by funding from the European Regional Development Fund.
The role of Boost is to help growth-hungry Lancashire businesses realise their potential by providing simple access to a range of funded programmes delivered by specialists with a track record of growing established and innovative start-up businesses.
Boost also helps businesses access specialist private sector business support as well as other nationally funded programmes.
Jo says: “At the time, I was still working for the National Careers Service. Boost matched me up with a mentor and we met up and discussed my vision for my photography business.
“My mentor Paul talked me through how to promote and grow my business and he put me in touch with Lancashire Community Finance.
“They help people who want to go to the next level in their business without having to go to the bank for a loan.
“After going through my incomings and outgoings, they gave me the loan I needed and helped to try and find me a studio and provided me with a mentor for a year.
“This was last September and my idea then was to open my own studio in 2017.
“But thanks to the support and help I received from these organisations, everything came together a lot earlier.”
Jo’s studio Jo Boulton Newborn and Art Photography is on Paley Road, Preston and Jo does wedding, family and newborn photography.
Jo describes herself as a newborn photographer with an art edge. She says: “My work is a bit different to normal newborn photography and I use a lot more creative techniques.
“My style is more natural and I take pictures of babies like they have been found in the woods and I use a lot of wood and hessian in my props.
“For me, newborn photography is the next step after a wedding and it is nice as you capture these babies when they are so tiny.
“Many people then book you for repeat photos so you get to follow them through and take first birthday pictures and family shots and get to see them growing up.
“I love it as I get to work with babies and children and create lots of nice memories for their parents.
“It is such a special time and it gives me the chance to be really creative and develop my techniques.
“It is like a challenge. It is not the easiest job, but it is so satisfying.
“Newborn sessions can take up to two hours or sometimes longer including feeding and settling time.
“For this reason, I only book one session a day so we can capture the best images possible.”
Laughing, Jo recalls how she used to love taking lots of photos of her son Reece when she was a young mum and now she feels she has come full circle by taking photos of newborns.
Jo says: “My son Reece is now 20 and he is at university in Edinburgh doing a degree in sociology.
“Reece is a good son and I am very proud of him.
“He is my inspiration as everything I have done is for him as I wanted him to have someone to look up to and to show him that nothing is unachievable.
“Although I don’t want to advocate having a baby at 16, I want to show others in that position that they can still achieve their dreams.
“You are more determined to prove you can do it and it is about getting out and finding out what support is available.
“Nothing is a silly idea and you have to believe in yourself.
“If you don’t have a go, you will never know if it will work.
“I just threw caution to the wind and decided to have a try.
“My dream was always to work for myself and have my own studio.
“It sounds corny, but when you have a job you love, it doesn’t feel like you’re working.
“Even when I work long days, I don’t feel like it is a slog because I enjoy it and it is something for me.
“It has taken me a long time to get here, but I have achieve my dream and am now the happiest I have ever been in my working career.”
l To find out more about Jo and her work, visit her website: www.joboultonphotography.com