‘I’ve built up a photography library worth up to £300,000’ | Money

Name: Ashley la Grange
Age: 66
Income: £31,000
Occupation: Teacher
My guiding principle is to work hard and live within my means. My father died when I was seven and my mother’s inheritance was embezzled, so she had to work on night duty as a nurse to look after my brother and me. We never felt deprived, but we acquired a sound work and spending ethic.

I grew up in Zimbabwe and on graduating with a degree in PE and philosophy I ran a swimming school to pay my way through a teaching diploma and a BFA and MFA in South Africa. Through the summer I’d work seven days a week to pay off the previous year’s fees. I’ve juggled two jobs for most of my life.

When my wife and I moved from South Africa to the UK in the late 1980s it took nearly 100 applications before I got a job as a swimming pool supervisor which allowed us to rent a council flat. After a year, a part-time photography teacher post came up at a local secondary school. To accept the post meant losing the council flat, which I could not afford to do. Fortunately, the then head offered to let me hire the school pool. The first lot of payments for lessons covered the deposit for a £66,000 house in Hertfordshire and later I swapped two sets of swimming lessons for a Renault 5.

My part-time school job eventually became full time and the swimming school grew about 10-fold from about 60 pupils. At its peak I would work every weekday at the school and every evening at the pool. My wife, who manages the finances and timetabling, also believes in living prudently, so all essentials were covered before we spent on anything else and as we earned more, we saved more.

Our two children had to share a bedroom through their childhood. Twenty years ago, before they were teenagers, we sold the house and bought a five-bedroom semi for £140,000. We’ve since extended the mortgage to buy a flat in London which my daughter rents. Our mortgage payments plus utilities and council tax cost £1,025 a month.

When I started teaching at the school we had a standard array of textbooks, but not nearly enough visual material. Since then, I’ve built up a teaching library of more than 8,000 books and periodicals, covering all aspects of photography, as well a substantial collection of artefacts. It has been valued at between £150,000 and £300,000.

My income dropped significantly when the school pool was no longer available for my swimming school and we relocated it, where I teach for five evenings a week. I still spend about £150 per month on books just to keep the collection up to date.

The library has grown too big for the department, so it has become a bit of a millstone. It would be great if a philanthropist wanted to buy it to donate to an institution so that it could continue to live as an educational tool. I can’t afford to be that philanthropist because, due to a misunderstanding, I only started paying into a pension in my 40s, so I only have about 20 years of payments to fall back on when I retire. The library could be my retirement fund.

I return to South Africa every year to visit my elderly mother which costs about £1,500 each per trip and that’s my “holiday”. Otherwise my wife and I occasionally take a tent to music festivals.

I have a Fiat 500 but I only use it two or three times a month. My chief form of transport is my bicycle, even for grocery shopping, on which we spend about £300 a month.

I go around all year in rugby shorts. I have to wear trousers and a shirt to school which I buy from sales, but I don’t own a suit and my tie is my old school tie. I run so must spend money on decent running shoes.

My idea of an indulgence is to do the Marathon des Sables across the Sahara which costs £2,000-£3,000. I completed it once and it was hell, so I really want to do it again and enjoy it.

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