Berkhamsted man shares his story of starting a new business during lockdown

Damsels produce individually hand crafted, fly tied brooches

Tuesday, 20th April 2021, 3:02 pm

A man from Berkhamsted has shared his story of how he overcame trials and tribulations to start a new craft business during lockdown.

Andy Jacobs was forced into early retirement during the coronavirus pandemic, and decided to use his time to create Damsels Brooches.

The 61-year-old wanted to share his experience and help inspire others who may be going through a difficult time.

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Andy Jacobs

Andy was a professional guitarist who worked in West End musicals and toured with shows around the UK and Europe in the 1980s, before a car accident damaged his neck which affected the nerves down his arms to his hands - leaving him unable to play.

In 1997, he retrained as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities for Hertfordshire County Council Adult Care Services and he was managing his own supporting housing unit by 2014.

Andy said: "In 2016, 21 years after the car accident, the severity of the damage caused to my neck was clearly evident when, after years of crippling pain, trapped nerves and cramps I

found myself in the consultation room of a genius who was to become my consultant orthopaedic neurosurgeon.

One of the brooches Andy made

"I was in real danger of instant paralysis from the neck down. I needed extensive, very complicated and dangerous neck surgery so in October 2016 I was booked into The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital for a procedure called a cervicle decompression and fixation.

"In 2017 Vanessa, my wife, had a breast cancer diagnosis which really knocked us for six. To be honest we were both feeling like a couple of punch bags but Vanessa fought bravely through it, had the tumour removed, had radiotherapy and got the all clear."

During the pandemic Andy was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a very rare and serious condition that affects the nerves, it mainly affects the feet, hands and limbs, causing problems such as numbness, weakness and pain. Andy has since retired from his job at the council.

He said: "I woke up on Easter Sunday and my feet and hands were totally numb but painful and l knew something was very wrong.

One of the brooches Andy made

"I went straight to the ICU where after numerous scans, lumber punctures and neurological tests l was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome.

"A condition which is caused when a virus or infection causes your immune system to attack your nerves. It’s an incredibly rare disease affecting only 600 people per year in the UK and it has a high mortality rate of around 7%.

"I nearly died in the ICU, it was a very dark and horrific time for me but after a month l was transferred to the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in Queens Square London for rehab where l stayed for a further four months.

"When I was discharged I felt so happy to be home, I hadn’t had any visits for nearly five months until I was well enough to leave the hospital for an hour or two in the last two weeks so Vanessa could come and see me as well as some dear friends.

"But the pain and fatigue were still unbearable, I was having falls as my balance and mobility were very poor.

"I lost two dear friends suddenly to cancer and learnt that another had just had a terminal diagnosis and my oldest brother was succumbing to a long term illness.

"I was becoming increasingly depressed about the future and I started to drink too much. All these things put an enormous strain on my marriage, my depression worsened and I ended up attempting to take my own life.

"The outpouring of love and support I received after this was very humbling and overwhelming. It helped me back onto the road to recovery immensely, and little by little my mobility started to improve and the dexterity in my hands and fingers started to return and the pain eased slightly."

Andy's passion for fly fishing and fly tying has been combined with a craft business producing his completely unique brooches.

He said: "I’m a passionate fly fisherman and fly tier. I hadn’t been fishing since the opening day of the trout season on March 2, 2020 and missed it very much, so it was then in late January 2021 that I got my fly tying vice, tools and materials out again to see how I got on.

"I was starting to tie some really nice flies but I knew I would never be able to tie enough of them, quickly enough to make any semblance of an income and I really needed to find an income stream from somewhere to bolster my pension.

"What I needed was a way to add value to the flies I tied and mounting them onto brooch/hat pins and turn them into jewellery seemed the obvious solution.

"I experimented on the tying vice and came up with a Damselfly pattern that was very attractive, could be tied in various colours, had a broad appeal to both fly fishermen and women, would make an attractive fashion accessory for anyone and looked good on country/fishing attire, smart casual and evening wear.

"I have now added a Daddy Longlegs, Grasshopper, Mayfly and Minnow pattern to the range.

There was then a busy few weeks of research and development, sourcing materials, brooch pins, hooks, packaging, designing logos, labels and setting up online shops.

"Local businesses have been approached and to date I have two outlets that are selling Damsels brooches.

"I will be having a stand at various craft fairs where I will be tying live, have products to sell on the day and taking orders.

"I am constantly on social media promoting Damsels and have a mentor who has been an invaluable source of support and information about getting your brand out there in the big wide internet shop world.

"Friends have been an amazing support network who have given me professional advice around pricing and marketing and Vanessa has been so supportive and incredibly patient with me, especially around my lack of IT skills!

"I am very glad to say that this whole process has brought Vanessa and I closer together and we are both thrilled at what has been achieved so far and excited about Damsels future.

"All I can add is that I feel that an opportunity has come my way to start my own business, not in the way I would have preferred it must be said, but one which has given me a new lease of life and a real sense of excitement about what’s to come.

"In many cultures Damselflies signify the need to embrace change, love, growth, new development and adaptability. I think they’re right."