Career change in France: from police officer to gardener

Amanda Freeman explains how she swapped law and order for a more creative vocation in the French countryside

Former police officer, Amanda, 52, is now much happier

Back in the UK, both my husband Paul and I were police officers. Life was hectic, and with our young son, Andrew, to take care of we really did not feel we were living.

It was the early 2000s and programmes like A Place in the Sun were all the rage – lots of people were talking about moving abroad for a different life. Paul’s a keen cyclist and there would often be ads for French properties in one of the magazines he favoured – we decided to take a leap of faith, sell up and move over for a better quality and pace of life.

At the time, I’d been working as a police officer for 11 years, but as Paul’s a bit older than me, he’d clocked up almost 26 years of service and was only four years away from being able to take retirement from the force. We decided that it made sense for him to continue working while I set up a home for us in our new French location.

Moving here was a massive culture shock – from living in a town and working for a huge establishment, to have freedom and solitude took some getting used to. It was lovely, but I did feel like a fish out of water at times.

When Paul came over to live in 2006, he got a job with Cycling for Softies where he would meet and greet cyclists on holiday, provide bikes and make sure their vacation went smoothly. Then, because of a shortage, he was recalled to the UK police force for five more years. With Andrew now settled at school, I took over his role with the cycling company for a few years. 

Making connections

At the same time, I began to make connections in the local community and in January 2010, someone mentioned a great art class that took place locally. I’d been into my art at school and have a natural talent for watercolour, so after attending for a while and working on my craft, I started a Facebook page called Amanda Freeman Brush Strokes where I could share my various projects. I also started doing some paintings for charity.

In 2018, I decided to paint a picture of Angel Strawbridge – star of Escape to the Chateau. She lived quite near us and I thought she might be in a good position to use it to raise some money for charity. I got in touch and she was very friendly – offered to meet me and absolutely loved the painting. 

She invited me to take part in a fun and festivities day in summer 2018 at the chateau, where I was asked to paint pictures of couples as a memento of their day. There were 25 couples in all, so it was a bit of a blur, but I enjoyed myself immensely. I ended up doing six of these days.

The Strawbridges were so pleased with my work that they asked me to be a resident artist and help them out with various projects at the chateau. I also ended up working in the garden, cultivating and organising their walled garden to create a beautiful, functional space.

Read more: Career change – Africa safari guide to recycled art in France

Gardening business

When my time there came to an end after four years, I felt I had more purpose and more of an idea about what I wanted to do. I registered as a micro-entrepreneur in September 2019 and set up my own gardening business. 

I now have 16 regular clients I work for fortnightly, many of them vulnerable, or with sick partners. I’ve tackled overgrown gardens, created and maintained functional outside spaces and I treat each garden like it’s my own.

Looking back at our life in the UK, there really is no comparison. Everything in the police service was stressful and full-on. Life in France is more relaxing and while I work hard, I set my own hours and stress is a thing of the past.

I’ve also learned guitar and regularly sing and play at a pub – Le Famous Knight at Couptrain – with my good friend Denni.

Work is physical and I’m finding as I get a little older I have to pace myself more, but I enjoy what I do immensely.