Humans of Clevedon – Becky Milnor.

Becky and I struck up a conversation on the day that Red Planet Pictures were filming Sanditon on the seafront. I was really interested in what she had to say, especially about her artwork and wondered if she would like to feature in ‘Humans of Clevedon’. She agreed and I’m so glad she did because she is one very inspirational lady whose story I am very happy to tell.

Becky’s story is very moving. She grew up on a very isolated farm in Challacombe on Exmoor. Her parents divorced when she was four and she went to live with her mother and older brother Daryl in Bratton Fleming a few miles away.

Her brother who she was very close to had spina bifida and was physically disabled, so the medical world, in particular physiotherapy, was very much a feature of Becky’s childhood. Although walking was difficult, with the support of the physiotherapist and the specialist exercises, Daryl did manage to walk, until later in life when he had a fall which sadly led to a subdural hematoma and resulted in him needing to use a wheelchair .

Throughout his childhood, Daryl had to go Stanmore Orthopedic Hospital in London every three months and had a number of major surgeries. At these times when her mother was in London, Becky would stay with her grandparents. It was these childhood experiences that inspired Becky to follow her career path of paediatric physiotherapy. Daryl sadly died in 2002 when he was twenty nine and Becky was twenty seven.

At school, Becky loved art and described her art and her school work as a form of escapism from what was a very challenging childhood. She recalled the stress of her parents at the time of their break-up and the difficulties that her Mum experienced as a single working parent, with two children, one with a disability. Working shifts, her mother who was a nurse would not be there when Becky returned from school and it was she who had the responsibility for cooking and cleaning. There is a lot of support for young carers today although arguably not enough, but for Becky there was no break from her responsibilities, no emotional or practical support and no key worker to help her balance her caring responsibilities with just being a child and growing up.

Becky describes her mother as being very driven and a great believer in education, seeing the latter as a way of escaping poverty. At one stage, at a time when inclusion was not a focus in education, she was holding down three jobs in order to be able to pay for Daryl to go to private school rather than attending a separate physical unit.

Becky’s mum always impressed upon her that she could rise above any of life’s challenges and accomplish anything she set her mind to; a sentiment that was echoed by one of her teachers. Becky clearly remembers the impact this teacher’s words had on her and how empowered she felt hearing that her teacher believed in her and believed that someone who was not from a privileged background could be successful.

As keen as Becky was to pursue her art, her mum was keen for her to follow what she saw as a more academic pathway. Becky has a vivid memory of her mum  saying:

‘If you do Art A level, you’re not living in this house!’

Harsh, but being a single mother where money was short, Becky’s mum was concerned that her daughter should realise her full potential and should have a secure financial future. It was a comment borne of love and ambition for her daughter.

Not wanting to rock the boat, Becky went on to do Pure Maths, Biology and Chemistry because at the time these were subjects that were needed to get into the very competitive field of physiotherapy. Becky knew she wanted to work in one of the caring professions and she did look at speech and language therapy but influenced by her brother’s experience and having a huge love of sport she chose physiotherapy. She remembers going to the school library and looking up entry requirements at the age of fourteen.

On completion of her A levels, Becky took a year out and signed up with Camp America in New York where she worked as a ‘family companion’ which is similar to the role of au pair; a far cry from life in the heart of rural Devon.  

Her plan after that was to go to Kings or UCL in London but unfortunately, she didn’t get the grade she wanted in Pure Maths and having given it her all, she really didn’t feel as though she could improve upon it. When it came to reapplying, Glasgow came up and getting away to a completely different milieu was very appealing.

Becky’s first job was in Nottingham but after splitting up with her boyfriend she decided to move to London and worked as a locum for a couple of years prior to travelling.

Becky’s travels took her first to the Middle East along the Cairo to Istanbul route visiting Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Turkey. Accompanied by an Australian friend, she went on to explore Africa on an overland trucking venture ending up in South Africa. Throughout this time Becky kept diaries and sketched and painted as she had always done.

Having obtained a working visa for Australia Becky planned to spend a year out there but after a very short time, she had an overwhelming feeling of the need to go home. Her friend persuaded her to stay for a little while longer but she continued to feel uneasy and felt drawn back.

The day Becky arrived home Daryl was taken into hospital and died a few days later. Following Daryl’s death, Becky returned to Nottingham where she lived with a physio friend and did some locum work. It was in Nottingham that she met her husband Dan and did her Art A level at Patchings Farm, where she specialised in acrylic painting which is what she paints with now. Funnily enough, she obtained her highest grade in Art.

Becky and her husband then moved to Leeds where she worked as a physio although she did start painting more seriously and created some large abstract paintings on big canvas’ which she displayed on the website that she had at the time.

Aching for the sea and the south-west Becky was soon very keen to move back and chose Somerset to settle. In order to pursue her passion, she dropped her hours so she was doing four long days of physio for the NHS and had a whole day of painting. She was still selling a little bit but it was very much a hobby and remained so while her children were small. 

Félix is now twelve and Sophia is ten which means Becky has a lot more time and having more physical space in her home has meant that she can now focus more on her art. Added to this, the death of her mother three years ago and having lost her brother at such a young age led Becky to much contemplation about what she wanted to do with her life which she decided was to pursue her passion for art.

Becky loves doing abstract landscapes and big flora as well as sunsets and sunrises although her style has changed over the last year as she tries to find a niche for herself.

She loves the style of  art deco, which focuses on using only two or three colours in a painting and looking at the patterns and lines created in an image.

Becky has painted a couple of Clevedon Pier in this style and has enjoyed creating the image of the pier in a bold and simplistic art deco style. 

She also loves the work of David Hockney, his vibrant use of colour and boldness in style had an impact on her earlier paintings. Contemporary artist, Grayson Perry has also inspired Becky’s work and she has recently created some figurative sculptures in wire and plaster of paris which were influenced by Perry. Her ‘Woman in Grief’ is one such work.

Becky has also painted a few commissions, mainly large scale acrylic on canvas.  She has just completed a commission for a property developer in Yorkshire who wanted a painting of Locke Park in Barnsley.  Becky would like to further develop her commission work in the future.

In terms of her physiotherapy, Becky practises privately in the community, on the whole with children who have cerebral palsy. Bristol is one of the few centres in the UK  that carries out operations to improve the walking of some of these children and she works with them post operatively to maximise their walking potential. Most of the children are preschool or school age and Becky works closely with the education team to try and get their rehabilitation done during their school day.

Becky is also branching out into Case Management which means her working with a child or an adult who has sustained an injury which has then resulted in legal proceedings. Her job as the Case Manager would be to assess the individuals and then plan, implement and monitor their health care needs.

I wondered whether given the choice, Becky would like to make art her main focus or continue with the physiotherapy or remain doing both but increasing the balance towards the art? Not having had the opportunity to study art she felt she might benefit from an art foundation course which would give her the chance to explore different medium. At the moment she would be very happy if she could afford to dedicate half of her time to it, but long term she would favour the art.

The reality is that Becky could continue to pursue either, probably to the highest level. I looked up the skills and qualities needed to be a pediatric physiotherapist and she has them all in abundance: emotional strength and resilience, communication and interpersonal skills, motivational skills and stress management.

She also loves her job and the fact that it allows her to make such a difference in people’s lives.  The profound joy of helping children to walk, even run, and supporting their families in the process is beyond compare.

Art on the other hand has been her dream since childhood, and one she has not fully explored – it’s unique, she’s using a different part of her brain and it’s her escape to a peaceful, happy place.

The impact of Becky’s childhood relationships and experiences have led her to where she is today – a very talented, very reflective individual armed with a vast array of skills and personal qualities.

Have something to say? Leave a Reply...