Enough procrastination, and on to the first phase of my career change project. I quickly realised that voluntary work was going to be a way to sharpen up any ‘real world’ skills I might have, to have fun and to widen my network. What I didn’t realise was that working for free is a very competitive marketplace and I would be the oldest intern in town! My CV was so dull that I was forced to delete the phrase ‘transferable skills’ as it slowly dawned on me that these seemed a little sparse. I knew it was important to feel inspired by the project or cause if I was going to be a useful volunteer, and after a few weeks of trawling through Escape The City, Enternships, and CharityJob I found the ideal project: The Mince Pie Project 2013.
This annual fundraiser was conceived mid-workout by Peter Butler, an entrepreneurial young guy who wants to put The Mince Pie Project firmly in the annual calendar for everyone. I was particularly keen to do my bit as the two charities being supported this year included Kids Company which is a long-admired favourite of mine. The other charity, Food Cycle was new to me, but is a much needed charity bringing people together to eat well. I love food and I love to cook (especially making my annual mountain of mince pies!). I gave it my best shot and applied, but failed to secure the role I wanted. I was still very keen to be involved so I tried again and eventually I was in.
HQ is in a freezing cold office space 3 floors above Oxford Street and when I join everyone is huddled around one electric heater to stay warm. The task is to get 100 top chefs to produce their own variations of a Mince Pie**. Then sell them online and ship them around the UK in time for Christmas.
At first I assumed that everyone was like me, unemployed, a bit directionless. But no, I have spent the last few weeks alongside some of the most talented and hard-working people I have crossed paths with in a long time. I have seen some amazing PR and Marketing people in action, spent days doing menial tasks with some warm and funny people (folding 200 cardboard boxes anyone?), and been project-managed with intelligence and consideration by our team leader. It gives me a chink of hope that there might be paid work out there that could be equally as enjoyable.
What did I learn?
- Just because you are prepared to work for nothing it doesn’t mean you will get the job. A lot of talented people are working for free for lots of different reasons.
- Sometimes a day marching around the West End collecting beautifully crafted mince pies from top chefs is more fun and a better workout that a trip to the gym.
- Google Drive has changed the shape of team work. When your team is scattered all over London, folding boxes, arranging TV interviews and running mince pie masterclasses then you need to be able to share.
- Young people are fearless. Don’t like your job? Jack it in, do some good and go see the world. Not so easy when you are a mother of three, but hopefully something I can teach my own children to adopt.
**(For non-Brits a fund-raiser based on selling Mince Pies might seem a bit odd, but the British are slightly obsessed by them, especially in December. The perfect recipe is the cause of much debate!)
photo by Liam McPherson