You’re only as valuable to the community as the last thing you did for it.
That might or might not be a plagiarised quote from someone notable or, more likely, something I just made up after two (large) glasses of wine, but I’ve put it in fancy italics so the point stands.
This is the story of a group. No, actually, not a group, a community. Thrown together by birth, work, or sometimes just passing through; a community of humans who came together under limited expectations, only to save something far greater.
The Birth of a Community
When it comes to community the good deeds you make only go so far. It’s harsh but true. Unlike the good old days, people come and people move on.
The movement of people was one of the reasons I initially established Swindon 18-30 Professionals. People were coming into the town (mostly for work) and then rapidly fleeing as soon as they’d decided it wasn’t a place for them. Not enough to do, not enough of a scene for young people. And I couldn’t blame them; I’d relocated to the area and was feeling the cold shoulder of the real world. A world outside education where you can’t make best friends with people simply by shaking hands or offering out birthday chocolates by means of bribery. The real world just simply isn’t like that, in or outside Swindon.
From Strength to Strength
It came as a massive relief to me when I won the support of a local sponsor to cover the essential website maintenance costs. With the free subscription membership blossomed, and with it the strength of having a group that arguably was the biggest apolitical collective of local voices the town had seen in many years, if ever.
Over the months and years that followed, friendships were made and romances solidified. Multiple engagements, weddings and even babies have been created as a direct impact of the conversations struck up in pubs or over bowling lane rivalries. I was humbled, that feeling that the group was now self sufficient, it didn’t need me to babysit it 24/7 anymore.
Anything But Normal
And then Coronavirus happened.
Our version of normal was now ‘old’ and everything else was now to be referred to as the new version (whatever that was). Social gatherings were illegal, mental health, financial security, a secondary concern compared to the threat of a killer virus. We watched it all slip away, like sand through our fingers.
My steadfast sponsor, like everything else, was forced to close. As their income disappeared overnight, so did the lifeline of Swindon 18-30. I sat on my bed one night, barely able to sleep. Years of hard work, of creating and building, ended before people had even the chance give it a decent send off. I was left hollow, wounded but without the blood to show for it.
“Sh*t Happens, Get Over It”
I proposed to the leadership team setting up a fundraising page. A last-ditch hope that we could scrape together enough to cover the next six months of fees (around £100).
I did some research, compared the options eventually went for GoGetFunding which was one of the few which let fundraisers withdraw money, even if they don’t make the target set on the page. This in mind, I went for a over optimistic £260 which would cover costs for a year, plus the fundraising page fees. I hit submit, the page went live.
I sent a frank and blunt email to all the members with a link to donate money and walked away. A watched pot never boils and I couldn’t bear to spend a wasted evening watching a page that got no engagement. In five years I’d never asked anything of my members, new and old, so to be begging for money now? I was adamant that they’d see me as being unrealistic.
The Kind of Thing That Only Happens in Movies
I retuned to my laptop and was taken with the number of emails in my inbox. “Probably spam,” I thought, but I was wrong. Very wrong. Because instead of the junk mail I was expecting, all the emails were notifications from the fundraising website.
Donations came in thick and fast and at values that almost made me want to cry. I probably would have if not for the personalised messages getting to me first.
There I’d been, working my socks off and building up a strong leadership team and thinking no one had noticed. That no one had particularly cared for all the effort we put in. The words I was reading now, they proved me wrong.
“Every penny well deserved!”
“An amazing organisation, I hope it carries on long into the future.”
“This group helped me take control of my social anxiety and build my confidence.”
“I owe so much to Swindon 18-30. So many incredible people I wouldn’t have even crossed paths with if it were not for the events put on.”
“Well done Alice! Keep up the good work and long live the mermaids!”
In just over 24 hours we hit my target for funding, but yet the money kept pouring in, it seemed everyone wanted to show their support and ensure the group stayed alive. And this wasn’t just current members, people who’d long left Swindon donated, keen to ensure its legacy for new batches of young professionals.
For the second time that week I found myself unable to sleep, although this time it was out of happiness and relief. The group had validated its existence, it had an army of young people prepared to fight tooth and nail to keep it running.
Stop the Press!
The local press release was published the following week with a number of last minute updates. The original purpose, framed to act as a plea for help was now repurposed as an awareness piece, to reach out to those who felt alone and isolated. That at the end of all this there would be a place to safe place to meet and engage with other people.
Like everything that happens in my life, there had to be a catch to all this positivity. For me, this came when the webpage was bombarded with fraudulent donations. The alarm bells came when the donations were coming in tiny denominations (usually £1) and from people I didn’t recognise. Later it transpired that these payments were likely stolen cards being tested out prior to the thief either selling them on or using them for bigger transactions. Wanting to do the right thing (and wanting to avoid severe penalties), I promptly returned the money back to the payment card, only to then be charged a handling fee for doing so!
I spoke with both customer services on GoGetFunding and then PayPal, voicing frustrations. They both pointed fingers at the other, both refused to acknowledge the faults in their system, both saw no reason to refund me for doing the right thing. I enchanced secrity controls, as per PayPal’s recommendation, which made things worse. The next morning I had ten transactions to refund. It was at that point, stressed and deeply angry, that I was sadly forced to close the funding page ahead of time.
If there is one top tip I can place in all of this it is to not use GoGetFunding. The commission is less but damn, you pay more in blocking fraudulent payments in the long run!
However, all said and done the final figure at the point of close spoke for itself. The group had done it, we had enough to keep going throughout the tough months to come.
The Future is Bright…
On the far side of all this (whenever that might be) it’s confirmed, that there will be a group and place for people to call their social home. A place to buy a pint or two and give toast to everything that’s made us who we are today.
Here’s to the silent supporters and the ‘this one’s on me’ drink buyers. Long live the donators of good causes, the ones who have the vision to see beyond the news headlines and the weeks on a calendar. From my heart to yours, thank you. Thank you so much.
Just a quick reminder that I’m still here, earning tumbleweed from my writing (well, actually, tumbleweed would at least be something…)
A big, big thank you to those who have donated so far (you lovely people know who you are). For those less aware, I have an active donation page called Buy Me A Coffee, a platform which helps creatives get money doing what they love and keep producing content for their fans.
If not for me and my coffee spilling antics, it’s worth checking out to discover some hidden gems from people across the world.
I’m always reviewing the page and just recently added two funky new extras you can buy as a one-off. Check out the website to find out more.
Thank you in advance!
This isn’t a sponsored post. Support an unpaid writer like me by donating to my funding page: Buy Me A Coffee
I had been living in Swindon a couple of months, having relocated in the Summer to begin my first job after graduating from Southampton University with a BA (hons) degree in History. I was living in a HMO (House of Multiple Occupancy) with four others; a hospitality worker, an engineer who only utilised the room on occasion when work required him to be in Swindon, a journalist for the local paper and a woman who worked in security. The lady in security also had a unique hobby, in her spare time she liked to dress up as a mermaid.
I was shopping that one night in the local supermarket when I stopped by the toilet roll isle to buy its namesake. I was debating which type and brand to purchase when an idea came to mind. Why don’t I start writing a blog?
The moment resembled something like this:
From that minute, through to the walk back to the house in the drizzle and dark with the heavy shopping the seed of an idea rapidly grew. By the time I’d made it to my bedroom I decided on a name. I’d title the blog after the opener I used when I wanted to make a quick impression on people.
My Housemate’s a Mermaid was set up that very night and I wrote my first ever blog post in eager haste.
I was still living in the same house and working the same job. Both came as a surprise, my original contract of employment had been a nine month maternity cover, so I fully expected to have been given the heave ho after that time and been working/living elsewhere. Not that I wanted to leave or that my old boss wanted me to go, I was such a hardworking and loved member of the team he’d go on to extend my contact length multiple times to keep me on, even when my colleague returned from leave.
The extensions played on my mind, it was flattering that I was wanted but not reassuring that someone along the chain wasn’t prepared to make me a permanent fixture in the team. My mind started wondering to where my future lay in this role…
Meanwhile, outside of work, desperation to meet people and loneliness in a house where people didn’t talk had forced me to try new things to get me out and about. In January I started attending evening classes in pottery at the local college. Although my skills with clay left a lot to be desired (I made more things explode than create)…
…it was a fun activity that got me out the house and chatting to people.
After discovering the society building platform ‘MeetUp’ and being frustrated at the lack of societies for young people in Swindon, in January my Dad offered me the cash to set up a MeetUp group in Swindon. The agreement was that if I made back the £30 I’d pay him back the money he’d stumped up. I accepted the offer but didn’t see how it could possibly come to much.
I founded Swindon 18-30 Professionals on 2nd February 2015, and asked new members to pay a £3 fee to cover the administration costs. Then I set up the first event and nervously waited at what was then a club called Baker Street to see who would turn up. I sat there by myself with a drink, adamant that no one was going to come, but then suddenly people started arriving and things went upwards from there.
By the summer the monthly ‘drinks night’ had been rebranded to ‘First Wednesday Drinks’ and were now starting to draw a sizeable crowd. I’d long since paid off my Dad, the fees for the next six months of operation and was in the middle of negotiating with Baker Street a sponsorship deal that would carry into the present day. I removed the new joiner fee, taking away the last barrier and making Swindon 18-30 truly accessible to all young people in the area.
In November I was in the middle of organising the group’s first Christmas meal at Pizza Express. I was chuffed when I persuaded the venue to offer up multiple bottles wine free of charge in support of the young professional network of Swindon.
As my visiting friend from London said “you’ve really achieved something in a short space of time, don’t shrug it off!” But I still couldn’t help myself, I downplayed the whole thing.
The year wasn’t without calamity though; in the Summer I sustained face, head and leg injuries when I tripped on a paving slab outside a pub (the Gluepot) whilst walking back from a lunch break. Holding a loaf of bread and food shopping, I failed to utilise my hands to break the fall meaning that my right knee and head took the brunt on the impact. I shambled back to the office completely unaware of how bad a state I was in and, when the 111 service finally stopped asking me if the injury was a result of heavy drinking, I was told to head over accident and emergency. A work colleague sat with me for over an hour waiting and checking I didn’t drop off from concussion. She was an absolute saint.
I came away from the medical centre covered in bandage tape and pumped with drugs but luckily escaped the whole ordeal with only a slight scar to my knee which remains to this day. A reminder that while looking forward is important, you’re only as successful as the last step you take.
Blogging kept me sane throughout the year, even if sometimes the content was anything but.
I was still living in the same house as the mermaid, but by now the gripes of living in an increasingly shabby property were starting to grate.
The tenants had moved on and I started becoming aware of how little sway I had in who I lived with. When an older gentleman viewing the property started making me feel uncomfortable, that was when I knew how little input I had in decision-making.
The housemate in the room next to me started seeing a girl who was particularly ‘vocal’ when she stayed over, which was when I realised how fed up I was of being single. From late Spring I started narrowing down my outlook from meeting new people to meeting potential romantic matches. The results were mixed but through it I learnt a lot about myself and Swindon’s dating scene.
I met my first long term partner at a speed dating event in the October of 2016 and things went from there. Naturally I put my foot in it by texting him at the same time as he was texting my friend (who’d he’d also matched with) and then went on a date with his ‘then’ best mate the night after ours, unaware of their connection! He found my horror-stricken face incredibly funny, he laughed it off said no more of the mess-up.
At the grand age of 23 he was my first boyfriend, the first man who had ever taken an interest in me, let alone buy me flowers or take me out for meals or look after me when I was sick. I was completely smitten.
He was smart, considerate and incredibly patient. He never once made me feel the need to rush our relationship.
In March I had moved roles within the same company to a permanent position in a different department. For the time being I was content, moving onto an identical salary didn’t fill me with the same level of keenness compared to when I moved to Swindon originally but a permanent job meant more security.
Throughout the Spring and into the Summer I flogged myself to death organising Swindon 18-30’s first Summer ball in the grounds of Lydiard Park, the town’s fancy country house. I learnt a lot about event planning and it served as good preparation for what would come if I ever got married; organising catering, DJ, venue, photographer etc. all single handed, it pretty much felt like I was planning my own reception!
The event was a massive success and was attended by 60 individuals, a real celebration of the young professional population from around Swindon and the local area.
It even got a feature in local press.
In Autumn I started writing for a local publication called the Swindonian to help build my writing portfolio and in November I took part in National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo), where bloggers around the world attempt to write a post a day. Writing a post a day whilst managing Swindon 18-30 and a fledgling relationship was very hard, but I was proud to say I achieved it.
I had not only moved out of the house with the mermaid but actually bought my own property one door down. The mermaid was no longer my housemate, she was my neighbour!
I carted out as much of the stuff from my bedroom as I could, the massive items of collated furniture sitting at my parent’s home in wait for the destined day.
In March 2017 I officially moved into my house with the help of a Luton van, my parents and my boyfriend. At 6″ 8 and a hobbyist in mixed martial arts, my boyfriend came in a great deal of use when it came to lifting heavy items of furniture up staircases. It was the first time my parents had met him and they were happy enough to have him about, even if it was noticed that we barely said a word to each other.
In hindsight I should have ended my relationship with my first boyfriend six months in, but to my dying day I will not judge the person I was then for holding out hope. Because when you have nothing to compare to how can you make a balanced choice? I’d watch the TV shows, listen to the songs, hear the colleague chit-chat, the theme was all the same. “Men are all useless, men will lie and cheat on you!” Well, my guy wasn’t any of that. He was kind, he cooked food for me, he loved spending time with me. So why wasn’t I happy? Why wasn’t I grateful? Why didn’t I love him? What was wrong with me?
This spiral got worse and worse. In August we went to Prague, during which time I snapped and ended up spending a good deal of time wondering around the city by myself. I went to a classical music concert one evening and cried my eyes out. Those next to me must have thought I was crying because of the music, in fact I was crying because I knew then my relationship was dead.
I swore to myself then that I would leave this man before Christmas. I returned the the UK colder and more distant than I’d ever been in my entire life. Time spent with him felt like a chore, it seems laughable now that we never kissed when we returned from Prague. He was not a bad man, but I was not a good woman for bottling up my emotions, I accept that.
We would stay together for another five months. Even when he forgot my birthday and shoved the bent card and a half price necklace through the letter box (receipt left in the damaged paper bag), when I sat on the stairs with my head in my hands in hollow disbelief. Despite that I stayed; a broken woman, a woman I didn’t recognise.
In September I started a new job for a organisation I’d never dreamt I’d be working for. I couldn’t believe my luck and made damn sure my managers knew I was grateful by the time I invested into learning the role. But every day I spent in my new job only made me feel more weighed down by someone who was on a completely different wave length to me. Was this the same man I’d fallen for? Was I the same woman?
Meanwhile, I started doing a few pieces of writing for The National Student. When the editor of the Swindonian found out he blocked me from publishing my work to his website, effectively kicking me off the team. Given the Swindonian was “Swindon’s third biggest news outlet” (editor’s words) I decided to cut my loses as opposed to grovelling for forgiveness. I was done with producing popular content for their site free of charge.
My family, my friends and my writing, they were the lights that kept me going. My boyfriend never read my blog so through MHAM I had a sense of independence.
I was living in London (Wapping, E1W), had been since May.
I’d broken up with my boyfriend in late January. It had been as awkward as you could imagine, he went from telling me I was the best thing he’d ever had, to begging me to change my mind, to informing me he’d go home to his whiskey and start dating women again that very night. I wasn’t phased, I returned home to find my lovely housemates having bought me wine and pizza only to be more surprised by my casualness over the whole affair.
The next day I went into work and felt nothing for the night before. When I told my manager she suggested I go home if I needed time, but I declined. This was a man I hadn’t kissed in months (and he hadn’t seemingly hadn’t had issue with!!) The relationship had died long before that night. I was able to carry on my life.
I moved to London as part of an internal transfer in May to do a eight month stint working from their Threadneedle Street office in The City. Due to work and rental challenges it would end up becoming a whole year. In that time I was blessed with a Swindon house that required little attention to support itself and Swindon 18-30 having, by now, a leadership team that could organise events while I wasn’t around to be as hands on.
London was a roller coaster to say the least. I loved how all the men around The City wore suits and dressed smart, I loved how romantic dates involved going to art exhibitions and theatre performances. I loved how I my morning walking commute took me past Tower Bridge every morning…
…or how I could hop on the tube and thirty minutes later be in a completely different part of the capital. It was a world away from the encounters I’d had in Wiltshire. Within my family (well, to my Mum), I’d created a name for myself when I made it to the dizzying heights of the BBC News at Ten.
The bars of Threadneedle Street are the only place in the world where a minority controls the majority. When it came to the financial heart of London I quickly clocked on that it was the women who held the real power over men, if they knew how to use it. I took on a certain style, a certain walk, I dyed my hair a different shade, I adopted things to make people see me differently, to stand out from everyone else. It’s a bullish world where to just be feminine isn’t enough, to be treated seriously you have to think like a man, ‘group think’ if you will. So I starting convincing myself I was the best bloody thing to walk into any room, I was a peacock on show and you were going to know it, whether you liked it or not. And you know what? It worked. I started to see myself in a completely different light, just as they did too.
‘Fox’ I branded myself, because that’s how I felt and that’s what I wanted others to feel too. I was young, single and could charm just about anyone into my line of thinking. Sometimes it was an act, but acting got you free drinks, acting got you connections, acting got you a name in writing circles.
A year in London and I learnt that where my power lay was in not being them. Bankers and investors do the same job, day in, day out. Highly paid but highly stressed roles with a high inflation of their self importance. Me on the other hand, I was just a woman with a blog. A comedy blog that was as far removed from their lives as could be imagined and yet somehow touching on relatable. They came to me like moths to a light, the draw of escapism too much to resist.
I was in a cafe in Wapping when I first heard Billy Preston’s song Nothing from Nothing. From that point on it became my anthem of London. You coming along with big ideas? Sure, but you gotta have a spring in your step and something to back it up. Ain’t nothing free in this town and ain’t no one gonna be taken for a ride.
It was also in London that I discovered one of my main weaknesses stemmed from coming across those rare individuals that took a disliking to me. The flatmate who engaged in incredibly noisy ‘activities’ multiple times a night and turned aggressive when I delicately brought it up in conversation. The same flatmate who consumed a lot of alcohol one night which was then projected all over the one toilet five of us shared. This person refused to clean it up, leaving the job for two of us to handle at 3am. She never apologised or showed remorse for her actions, that was the worst bit of all.
When my flatmates ignored the aggressive letters demanding unpaid council tax (a detail which was meant to be paid by the landlord), it was left to me to handle the bailiffs. Bailiffs are scary, especially when you’re silently hiding upstairs while they bang on the door. But the attitude of my flatmates that problems would be fixed by someone else or simply go away by themselves, it screamed a lack of maturity. I ended up sitting for hours in Citizen’s Advice and, when the letting agents ignored my calls, emailing the council myself with countless documents to prove we weren’t liable. The mould in my room, the frequent migraines that suddenly vanished when I wasn’t breathing in air pollution, I could list for hours the issues I merrily overlooked.
These were the unpleasant experiences of London that stick out in my mind, what you have to deal with living at the bottom end of the professional ladder. I got on (and still get on) well with most of my former flatmates on a personable level, but I wouldn’t rush back to a HMO any time soon as a result of my experiences.
London is a city of extremes, whether I spent the evening in a Leicester Square casino or writing in a pub where mice ran across the floor was complete chance. But it was an incredible experience all the same. Waking up to this view every morning reminded me how lucky I was to have such an opportunity, to sleep in the shadow of the Shard.
Ultimately I think this hijacked road works sign in West London sums up my time in the capital perfectly:
I was in Cambridge on my birthday when I heard The Trials of Cato, a three-piece folk group, busking in the city centre. These Are the Things is an anti-Brexit song although you wouldn’t necessarily think it on first listen. In contrast to the big smoke of central London I enjoyed spending time in the quainter spots of the South East I’d never before visited.
In November there was my first solo holiday. Bruges was an incredible city break for so many reasons and I fully intend to visit there again at least once, if not multiple times in my life. Aside from being a beautiful city, it made me realise how strong I was and how I didn’t need to force myself into a relationship to have amazing experiences.
One day during that holiday I was in a large church. I was about to leave when a local man came in and started playing the organ. I was completely stunned. I sat in the empty pews for at least 45 minutes just listening to the beautiful music being played for an audience of one. And then I started to cry, and when I realised I was crying I cried some more. Because in that moment I was so overcome with emotion, reflecting how far I’d come since the little girl who’d sobbed in Prague. I was in a new job, I was living in London, I was on holiday by myself. Above all else, I was happy.
Having donated a sizeable amount into the empty box, I left the church with a different pledge compared to that which I’d set myself a year before. I will never let anyone stop me being me.
By late October I was writing freelance pieces for the Swindon Advertiser and other places here and there, picking up fans from the most unlikely of articles. To name drop a few – the CEO of Royal Society of Arts, Matthew Taylor, Deputy Governor for the Bank of England, Nemat Shafik, and artist and TV personality Grayson Perry. While I was incredibly flattered by their letters and emails, I didn’t let it impact on my writing.
(YouTube search “Bruges Wish You Were Here?” To watch the video)
11th November 2019, where I am today…
The London grind carried as per 2018, I had my second wisdom tooth removed in January and in March I took again to travel, this time to Amsterdam. ‘Why?’ My friend asked. ‘Because I can.’ I replied.
I moved back to Swindon fully in May, full of the cultural confusion one would expect having undergone a year living in the capital. I felt more connected with the work I was paid to do, but it took me longer to reconnect with the local area. Gone were the fancy bars and influential people, nowhere to be seen were the towering buildings and the bold cultural mix that came with the crowds.
In central London being single was completely normal, but returning to Swindon I felt like an outsider in my own town. While I’d been experimenting with vegan cookery classes near King’s Cross and tackling marshmallow challenges in Waterloo pubs, many of my Swindon friends had shackled up or even got engaged. It felt weird, almost as weird as going back on the dating apps to find that I’d cleared through the search parameters in minutes. In London I never touched the sides! When I tried reaching out to guys a little bit further out, cities such as Bath and Bristol, I never got a response. When I told my friend that in London people would travel 45 minutes to for a date she said ‘but Alice, that was London,’ as if it were a valid excuse.
I needed the distraction from reality. In May that I had the best time when a friend invited me to spend a week in her villa in Granada. I’d never met the others she’d invited to join the party, but knowing her personality I put my faith in her judgement. It was trust well placed; I had an amazing time in Spain and made four great new friends out of the process, including photographer Tom who made me see that perhaps one of my biggest assets had been behind me all along.
I started a writing course in June to work on a novel and so far my tutor is loving it. While I started the course fully expecting to get critical feedback, I’m chuffed that the first draft is getting praise from well-established authors. Because of the nature of the course there’s a lot of two steps forward in draft, one step back to amend based on feedback but I’m working at great pace all the same.
26th June – enrolled on novel writing course (0 words)
1st October – 13,500 words
20th October – 28,000 words
11th November – 41,090 words
While there’s no hard and fast rule, general publishing consensus is that anything over 40,000 words could be published as an adult novel. While there’s still a long way to go, this isn’t the last you’ve heard of my novel. Keep watching this space!
In July I started volunteering with the local Samaritans branch and through it learning a deeper understanding around the challenges of mental health, as well as practical skills such as line management (being accountable for retail operations which provides 50% of the centre’s income). The leadership team have welcomed me with open arms and, in the case of the Pride match, with a lot of branded material and face paint!
Swindon 18-30 Professionals
At the time of writing Swindon 18-30 is 912 members strong, a number that would have made a younger version of myself well-up in pride and disbelief.
The hard work goes on, and I’d have struggled if it not for those who have championed the group through sponsorship, organising events, telling their friends or letting me put up posters in their offices/community spaces.
Looking forward toward the rest of this year (and the next five after that) I’d love to see myself doing something which allows me to keep being who I am whilst continuing to add value to the everyday. I want to make sure that no one ever feels that they can’t be awesome or that they have to stay in a box because someone says so.
On 31st October I sat on a Brexit panel for local radio, I came away from the experience proud that I’d been able to voice my views in a balanced way and give a fresh perspective to ongoing debates. In the words of my Mum, “you never would have spoken like that two years ago. You should be proud of yourself.” She was right, I wouldn’t have dared put myself forward for anything so exposing a few years ago.
I want to make money from what I love doing most, writing, even if it’s just enough to cover the cost of some of the many coffees I consume whilst I type or scribble away. The feedback I get each and every day from people gives me the strength to keep working towards that goal. I want to get my first book published and then write some more, and more. My old Secondary School English teacher used to call me her ‘little-novelist’, I want to do my nick-namesake proud.
I’d like to find a partner, but I don’t want to settle and I don’t want to seek it out of desperation. I’m surrounded by friends and family who provide the love to survive, at my fingertips an internet bursting with information on which to thrive. I want a partner, but I need to know if it’s right for me.
Two snapshots, July 2014 and September 2019.
Maybe in another five years I’ll take a completely different opinion on how things have panned out. But honestly? In the past half decade I’ve learnt the most about myself and others through the leaps of faith and the knock backs, more than through the smooth rides. My life has changed so much since I moved to Swindon in 2014, the path to get me where I am today has been twisted and anything but conventional. No doubt it’ll shift about some more in the years and decades to come but I’m more than ready for it. Bring it on!
Below is one of my favourite songs which I discovered just before I went to Bruges. It sums up how I’d want people to embrace me; it’s fun, upbeat and a bit different from the usual (in content and language – it’s sung by French artist Zaz). In essence it’s about the singer asking a prospective partner to embrace who she is above all else.
“Je Veux d’l’amour, d’la joie, de la bonne humeur,
Ce n’est pas votre argent qui f’ra mon bonheur,
Moi j’veux crever la main sur le cœur papalapapapala, Allons ensemble découvrir ma liberté, oubliez donc tous vos clichés,
Bienvenue dans ma réalité!”
I want love, joy and cheerfulness, Your money won’t buy me happiness, I just want to die with a hand on my chest, Let’s go together discover my freedom, let you forget all your stereotypes, Welcome into my reality!
Here’s to the wonderful unpredictability of the events that we call life.
On 11th November I published this post, Five Years Ago Today…
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On 31st October I was fortunate enough to be invited by radio station BBC Wiltshire to sit on a panel to talk all things Brexit in the light of the failed October exit day and the announcement of 12th December election.
It was all very last minute, I got invited in at 16:30, an hour later I was in the radio studio! However, having since listened to the entire recording I happen to think it’s turned out better than expected. An example of when not having the time to overthink a situation can be a good thing!
Below is the edited audio featuring all my interview segments, an extended clip with everyone’s hopes for the future of the UK and a delightful secondary discussion around pizza. Enjoy.
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For my second of two articles I had to produce for the internal monthly newsletter I decided to do an interview with a senior bod in the organisation. However this is me and while I’m still clinging onto the famous ‘graduate’ gold pass (I’m not a graduate, but there has to be some perks to people forever calling me that), well, it seemed perfectly reasonable to take a different stance on the traditional dry corporate interview the Executive Committee usually answer via email. Even though you won’t know the guy directly I hope you get what I was trying to do here, I certainly got the feeling he did.
Jeremy Paxman got nothing on me.
Closed Conversations with JS, Head of Digital
JS: So why are we doing this?
AB: I thought it would jazz up the newsletter interview if we got to know the man behind the face. Don’t get me wrong, I love Digital strategy…
AB: …but we don’t really get to know you. Shouldn’t take long but before we start I should say you’re allowed to decline questions or terminate the interview should you feel uncomfortable
JS: What are you going to ask me?!
AB: I’m just covering my back J
JS: *Chuckles* okay, go on.
AB: What’s your favourite chocolate bar?
AB: Biggest strength?
AB: Football or Rugby?
AB: Favourite team?
JS: Bath Spa
AB: Playground nickname?
AB: Would you rather be a giant hamster or a tiny rhino?
JS: Tiny rhino
AB: Bath Spa or Swindon?
JS: As in the city?
AB: Well, yeah, I wouldn’t make you compare Swindon to basic hygiene.
JS: *Laughs* fair enough, Bath Spa
AB: What’s your Zodiac sign?
AB: Morning lark or night owl?
JS: Morning lark
AB: Tea or coffee?
AB: Would you rather meet an alien visitor of travel into space?
JS: *Pause* travel into space
JS: Anything before 1998
AB: What happened after 1998?
JS: It all went downhill
Describe yourself in one word.
JS: *Long pause*
AB: Just anything
JS: It’s a tough one
AB: Have you never had to answer that at an interview?
JS: I haven’t been interviewed in ten years! *long pause* Determined
AB: Digital or analogue?
JS: Analogue…joking! Of course it’s Digital.
AB: God, you had me worried there for your job. As if an analogue fan could head up digital, I’d have to get you escorted of the building out on principle!
The below was written as part of an internal communication piece showcasing employees who have chosen to relocate for their work. My piece focused on moving to London but with a classic Alice twist.
I wake each morning and stare at an isolated patch of peeling paint. I don’t how it came to be or why I look blankly at it every morning, but it has become a weird habit I’ve developed since relocating. Everyone has habits here, some people get through their commute with a super-skinny-muchos-frappy-bean café deluxe, others smoke like the bellowing car exhausts on Tower Bridge, for me staring at length at a flaky patch is mine. And I wonder why my Mum worries for me.
The most over repeated piece of advice on Development schemes is to make your own opportunities and I suppose for me London represented this to the extreme. If I could survive in the big smoke I could thrive anywhere. Combined with an exciting placement proposition I could hear Threadneedle calling in May 2018.
Upon arrival I told myself that I wouldn’t become another digit on London’s loneliness statistics which is why I have made every effort to try new things outside of work. “Speed-friending” events are all the rage in central London, up there with humanitarian clubs and vegan veg-outs. Regardless of my outlook I’ve attended all manner of get-togethers and learnt so much of wider society. I’ve even learnt to embrace my inner hipster, sitting crossed legged at acoustic sets and hanging out in independent coffee shops in berets and neck scarves (and getting subsequently mistaken for being French. “Je suis…Anglais”, the end result of five years of the British education system).
From the moment I leave my flat each morning I’m reminded of how far removed I am from Swindon. The smell of soot in the air, angry cyclists cursing at pedestrians, the wrapper of a tourist poncho blowing down the street, admittedly my battered copy of Lonely Planet didn’t prepare me well for daily life in the capital. But through perseverance I’ve forged my own lifestyle and friendship groups and that’s what I’m proudest of. The experiences I encounter, good and bad, are shaping me into a stronger person, the person I never thought I could be.
My advice to anyone considering placement relocation comes as no surprise. Do it! In the protective bubble of development schemes there’s a lot to gain from taking a plunge. Just don’t get in the way of my morning commute, yeah?
From July to October 2018 a small team of us from my organisation worked with Booth House, Salvation Army Centre in Swindon (Wiltshire, UK) to help increase revenue and awareness of one of their social enterprises called The Sandwich People. As part of our activities I spent time volunteering with the charity and even wrote an article off the back of my experiences.
Below is a video summarising what Booth House do, specifically the two enterprises Recycles and The Sandwich People:
Three months after we delivered our final report and presentation to staff and volunteers, myself and the team are so pleased to see how the social enterprise has implemented some of our recommendations and come on leaps and bounds in such a short space of time. Three things in particular which stand out for me:
The Sandwich People have set up an Instagram account and are more effectively using social media to get their message across.
As per our suggestions, the management have refined the menu based on the cost of production versus sales.
Starting this week, the centre manager has informed me that The Round (the daily sandwich delivery around offices) now have the equipment to take contactless payment. This is a big deal as before sales were entirely dependant on office workers carrying cash (which often they didn’t).
The social enterprise is also seeking collaborative groups and communities to help spread the word and foster a supportive environment for a number of local charities. I was recently asked to help contribute towards a case study article, the results of which you can find on the Swindon Social Enterprises website
It was great working with the guys at Booth House, as stakeholders they were infinitely helpful and useful, as human beings trying to make a difference they were complete saints. The residents and volunteers certainly taught me a thing or two (including how to make a chicken salad wrap) and it was an experience I will not forget in a hurry.
Recently myself and a small team have been working closely with a local charity in Swindon (Wiltshire, UK). The Sandwich People (headed by The Salvation Army) are a small catering enterprise that help those experiencing hardship retrain and get themselves back on track.
Having recently spent time volunteering with these guys (hence the classic local paper pose) I can vouch that everyone from the management to those producing and selling really do put their all into what they do.
The below piece was something I recently did for my organisation’s internal newsletter. At the time it got a lot of praise and a few chuckles so I thought I’d share it with my lovely readers as well (be it with a few tweaks to make it understandable to an external audience). Enjoy!
I’m Ruddy Awesome
Recently myself and a group of work colleagues undertook a two-day Mindset and Attitude course. Now, while all those in attendance will completely understand the term ‘lollipop moment’, say that to the rest of the world and you only get concern over my company’s funding policies (especially when you talk about the whole ‘tied up with rope, blindfolded and groping about “game”’ and dancing around to ABBA). With my Excel course I got given manuals to leave about my desk (‘look at me, I’m so smart. I have manuals!’) but Mindset, well, it’s harder to explain.
‘Annie, right now are you in the box or out the box?’
‘…I’m at my desk?’
At Mindset we discussed our values and career aspirations and learnt ways to communicate better amongst other valuable exercises. On paper it was a jolly outing interjected with TED talks and Psychology lessons, nothing that you’d think would make much difference. However, in the weeks and months since I’ve started to form a new perspective.
The thing is when it comes to the day-to-day I’m pretty modest. I know how to talk to people and how to construct a fabulous bit of writing, but when someone tells me I’m awesome I’ve never been good at taking it onboard. I throw my head to one side and my hand goes all limp, finished with an ‘oh you’ as I quite literally bat away the feedback. Mindset and Attitude helped me acknowledge this and, when I struggled to praise myself, Richard Thorpe (the man leading the sessions) got the group to fill in. Being unable to run away from the positive comments of my peers turned me beetroot red, but five minutes was all it took for me to realise my own strengths and qualities.
A couple of weeks later I was in an art gallery in Bath (as you do) when the room steward grabbed me mid-exit. Much to my surprise, the lady proceeded to shower me with praise. She’d been fascinated by how I’d taken in the art on display (because apparently there’s a right and wrong way to view art) and didn’t want me to leave without saying something. Aside from thinking ‘how do I get “art viewing” on my CV?’ I also found myself smiling, eyes locked and hand firmly at my side.
I left the gallery feeling great. An actual lollipop moment! I also realised that in my quest to be a classy, empowered lady maybe I had been one all along. Perhaps I’d been my own blocker, taking in only the bad comments and pushing away the good.
Take aways from Mindset and Attitude include making time for people (a cheeky Facebook like at 7am does not count) and an end to copious coffee drinking at 10pm. Going forward I’m going to hold my head that bit higher and tell myself I’m the best thing to happen to every meeting. Why? Because I’m ruddy awesome.
More information on the Mindset Coaching offered by Richard Thorpe can be found on his company website: https://www.wiseheart.co.uk/ or contact Richard direct at firstname.lastname@example.org
The below article (titled “Dear Joe”) was written for a work newsletter which is produced on a rotational basis by those on my finance development program. It’s a light hearted take on when I did something very crazy; telling the CEO of a top ten finance institution to improve his presentation skills.
‘You criticised the CEO? Are you crazy?!’
You know how in the movies the protagonist always has a life affirming moment on top of a mountain or in the pouring rain? Well mine took place in the West Swindon branch of Dominoes.
‘I didn’t criticise him, I just told him his presentation needed improvement.’
And that’s when it hit me.
It had all started so well-meaning. Joe Garner had delivered a presentation to the 2017 Emerging Talent cohort back in November. All eyes in the room were on Joe as he tested his microphone on stage, it felt like I was at some kind of corporate Ed Sheeran concert. And yet, by the time it was finished I felt mildly disappointed.
Because no digital communication in the history of mankind has ever been misinterpreted, I decided to email Joe my feedback. ‘Dear Joe,’ I started, ‘thanks for taking the time to present on Friday. At the risk of sounding critical…’
Fast forward eight hours and there I was in Dominoes having the above conversation with my housemate.
‘I’m stuffed, aren’t I?’
I received a prompt reply from Joe the next day. Thankfully he’d seen the well-meaning in my email and thanked me for the feedback, whilst also responding to one of my points. ‘How can we expect people to magically buy houses when we don’t educate on finance?’ I ever so delicately put. Well, Joe says, funnily enough it was a topic currently being looked into by ExCo and something that I might want to be more informed on if I so wished.
Next thing I know, I’m outside the office Graeme Hughes, Relationships and Distribution Lead and ExCo member. He and Hannah Faulkner, Joe’s Executive Assistant, sat with me for almost an hour discussing past, present and future ideas for finance education. Graeme explained the different approaches Nationwide had taken in the past and why they hadn’t been as successful as hoped. I took a powerful sip on my strong coffee and gave my response to these comments. Graeme’s eyebrow lifted as he leaned back in his chair.
‘Ok, so what do you propose?’
I came away from the meeting with a splitting headache but feeling as pumped as David Cameron. The firm handshake and broad smile of Graeme said what Hannah readily exclaimed. ‘I am so glad to have met you! We must meet again!’
All said and done I really need to stop emailing Joe Garner.