The Story of Natalie Fowler

Growing up, we often find ourselves in the storybooks read to us and by us. Getting lost in a story and seeing parts of ourselves in the fantastical characters can provide both comfort and inspiration; a brave knight, a magical wizard, a girl who tumbles into a wonderland. For Natalie Fowler, the ‘Story of Tracy Beaker’ was the one that spoke most to the heart.

Natalie, by her own admission, had a tough start in life. Between being adopted at 18 months old by her grandparents and leaving home at 16, she had some difficult and character-building times.

‘The Story of Tracy Beaker’ along with ’Suitcase Kid’ both had a significant impact on my childhood. They were books I could relate to about not having a permanent home or parents like most other children.

Soon after leaving home, Natalie had her first child and had to turn down a place at art school to support herself and her new baby.

It was tough, I had no family to support me and just had to do what was right for me and my daughter.

Undeterred, Natalie remained focused and worked hard; starting by volunteering in schools, getting experience, and becoming a full-time teaching assistant.

I loved being creative and lead art classes with the kids after school.

As she had more children, the work in school really suited Natalie, having holidays off to cover childcare and being able to spend time with her young family. After having her fifth and final child, Bobby, in 2015, she returned to work but soon realised that things weren’t quite right. Natalie noticed that Bobby was having difficulties and wasn’t progressing as her other children did.

Bobby was non-verbal and was very delayed compared to other children his age, he wasn’t able to communicate and he struggled an awful lot. When he was two, I decided to leave work and stay at home with him to care for him.

Natalie saw Bobby improve once he started school and got the educational support he needed, and decided it was time for her to do something for herself again.

Art school had always been the dream, but it was just impossible because of my homelife at the time. After working as a teaching assistant for 14 years, I didn’t think I would be qualified for anything else, but then I found Hugh Baird.

After doing some research, Natalie originally applied for the Level 3 Art and Design course at Hugh Baird College, believing her lack of qualifications and experience wouldn’t entitle her to a place at the Hugh Baird University Centre. How wrong she was.

After the interview, she was told that the year zero course at the University Centre would be much more suitable for her.

I would get to have a chance to learn about lots of different creative areas, but initially photography interested me. The thought of being able to capture a memory and have it forever intrigued me.

In 2018, aged 35, Natalie enrolled on the year zero course and has never looked back. Completing that first year with distinctions and accolades across the course and subject areas. By the end of the year, she had decided that Graphic Design was the course for her and enrolled on the Foundation entry course.

Natalie said:

Although I enjoyed taking photographs, I found manipulating and editing on the computer digitally better suited me, it allowed me to be more creative with that one image and do many things with it; whether that was creating posters, editorial designs or social media posts.

Once again, Natalie excelled. She won best in show at the end of year degree show which she admitted had been a longed-for dream.

I couldn’t believe it. I had worked so hard, given 110%. After starting the course with no prior knowledge or qualifications and going on to win was a real highlight.

When asked about her learning throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Natalie said:

The tutors were excellent, any support or guidance I needed throughout, they were always there. Unfortunately, when the global pandemic hit in 2020 and put a strain on our learning with it being such a hands-on creative course, the difficulties of online learning became very apparent. However, the motivation of the tutors and staff wasn’t reduced and thankfully, they continued to provide as much support during Covid-19 as they did previous to the pandemic.

Natalie once again faced some dark times throughout 2020/21, with her mental health becoming strained and the illness of one of her other children putting extra pressure on how she could cope with home-life and studying combined.

Hugh Baird were amazing at this time. They got me access to a counselling service I couldn’t get from my GP. They supported me and understood.

After the summer, Natalie started the new year much more positively; believing for the first time that graphic design was something she could excel at.

I worked harder than ever before. I wanted to make my family proud. After getting a distinction in my Foundation Degree, I want to continue to prove myself in my BA year.

This year has been a really challenging year for me ­— in a really good way — it has pushed me to my limits and, although hard, pushed me enough to reach my full potential. As a child, I had always dreamed of writing my own children’s book and illustrating it, just like Jacqueline Wilson with ‘The Story of Tracy Beaker’.

This year, at the Hugh Baird University Degree Show, she showcased her first book: ‘Bobby’s World’, written, illustrated and designed by Natalie herself.

‘Bobby’s World’ is a book about her son's struggles over the years due to his learning difficulties and his journey into fitting in a world he sometimes finds loud and overwhelming. Natalie said that the research she did as part of her final project put many things in perspective for her, “the power of books is so special, books can change the world.”

This year, with her partner and five — very proud — children in attendance, Natalie won best in show; a full circle moment if ever there was one.

An emotional Natalie added:

Without the opportunities, teaching, guidance and support from Hugh Baird University Centre, I would never have achieved any of this, nor would I have ever believed I could. The past four years have completely changed my life and opened up so many doors and opportunities for me. For that, I will be forever grateful.

We think that if Ms. Wilson is looking for her next plotline, Natalie’s would be perfect. A tale of adversity, strength, tenacity, talent and belief.

“The Story of Natalie Fowler”: A best-seller in the making.

Inspired by Natalie’s story and want to start your own story here with us at the Hugh Baird University Centre? Apply here:

To view more of Natalie's work, visit her Instagram:

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