How flexible learning and working changed a life

aat comment

AAT has allowed Impact Award runner-up Karen Feltham to advance her career while she also provides full-time care.

Karen Feltham MAAT was runner-up for the Triumph Award at AAT’s recent Impact Awards, which she says was a very proud moment for her, although totally unexpected. 

The 44-year-old notes she has always been involved in accounting in one way or another, but it was a move to France and the birth of her daughter Maggie that started Feltham’s gradual transition to self-employment in the sector. Her daughter was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition that requires full-time care, which had a huge impact on the way Feltham was able to study and work.

Difficult circumstances

“My daughter was born very soon after we moved to France and until she was born, we had no idea that there were any problems with her,” Feltham says. “We also had language difficulties, because we didn’t speak more than textbook French at the start.

“I had always wanted to carry on working – I wanted to be a mum and work. It was quite a challenge to start with, as there were lots of hospital appointments because we didn’t know what we were dealing with. It took seven years to get her properly diagnosed. It was a lot of illness and a lot of hospital appointments, and you’re trying to do that in a different language as well. We were on our own effectively.

“It became very clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to go back to being an employee – I’d need to work for myself. At the time I was a freelance tutor as well as a nutritionist, but it just didn’t light me up the way accounting did. So that’s when I decided to go back to accounting.” 

Restricted prospects

Feltham had initially started out in the accounting industry via an NVQ and apprenticeship through different accounting roles in large corporations. 

“That’s all I wanted to do when I left school,” Feltham explains. “I’ve just always enjoyed working with numbers, although I was terrible at maths. Back in the day, if you weren’t an A-grade student, your choices were very limited. 

“In every organisation that I worked for, the promotions always went to the men. It was quite a male-dominated industry at the time. There weren’t the same opportunities for women. That’s just the way it was. That impacted my career initially, because there weren’t the same opportunities to get the same qualifications as the men, if any at all. So that meant rather than a steady career progression, I would stagnate in each of my roles”. 

Feltham later decided to retrain as a nutritionist and soon started her own consultancy practice. However, she never lost her love for accounting and continued to do bookkeeping work for friends and family. 

Return to accounting 

“With Maggie, I knew I had to go into some kind of self-employment. Accounting was the only way for me, but I needed to get a relevant qualification to go alongside all my years of accounting experience.” 

Feltham decided to study again and, after some research, she came across AAT and began distance learning. 

I want to be in a position to be able to train AAT apprentices – of any age, not necessarily school leavers – anybody who wants to study AAT.

Karen Feltham MAAT

“I was self-employed, so I self-funded my studies,” she says. “I took on cleaning jobs and property management to make ends meet. With AAT being distance learning, I was able to somehow negotiate studying with these different jobs and raising my children.” 

Juggling work and family, Feltham admits that studying again was a challenge, especially with her learning differences. 

“I always found studying really difficult, as I find that I just don’t fit into that academic structure. It took quite a long time to find out that I learn differently. There’s a lot more support now than there was when I was at school. Around 12 to 18 months ago I was diagnosed with ADHD, which has made me understand why all this time I’ve been battling with studying.” 

While she was in the middle of her AAT Level 2 qualification, Feltham and her family moved back to the UK. She says she had some bad experiences with other training providers before finding First Intuition and going on to complete her Level 3 and 4 qualifications with them. “They really motivated me to keep going,” she says. 

Soon Feltham achieved her MAAT status, which she notes was a particularly proud moment for her. 

“That showed me that I had gone from a point of struggling – and not just mentally, but financially – and being really lost in life, to ‘you’ve finally done it’. It was one hurdle after another, but I got there. 

“We’ve all got challenges and we’ve all got different things that we have to battle through, but for me personally it was a moment of sheer relief. I thought about all the moments that I could have given up, but I didn’t – I just kept going.” 

Further success 

Feltham set up her bookkeeping practice, Aligned Accounting, in 2020, and now provides a full range of accounting services to small businesses and sole traders. 

“After all the self-doubt and the ‘I can’t do this’ moments, setting up my business made me really proud. I’m still going and I’m taking on new clients all the time. I had to have the freedom – and wanted to have the freedom, because I’ve always enjoyed working for myself – to be able to work, provide financially and be available for my family. And I have been able to do it.

“My goal is to have a bigger practice and a bigger office space, and to grow my client base to support this. I want to be in a position to be able to train AAT apprentices – of any age, not necessarily school leavers – anybody who wants to study AAT. I hope to provide that safe learning environment and employment opportunity.” 

Originally from Bristol, Feltham currently lives on the Isle of Wight with her husband and four children.   

AAT Comment offers news and opinion on the world of business and finance from the Association of Accounting Technicians.

Related articles