One little job, one BIG opportunity…

Lessons I learned from by putting my expectations aside in my career…

Three years ago everything was super calm. My house was beautiful, I had enough money to get by, was at home with my children, and life was pretty chilled. But suddenly my landlady decided to develop the house and I was out. Being a single mum I had to find a privately rented place with no real income to speak of. It was a stomach dropping moment.

I had to get a job to pass the credit check. I was starting to do small branding jobs in order to build up my first solo design portfolio, and I must admit I was really hoping the kick off would be just around the corner. My friend suggested I apply for a Communications Assistant job at the charity she worked for, and raved about. School hours and term time only. But an assistant?

Have you ever experienced ugly job snobbery from within? It was only in the distant past that I had been Director of an up and coming Shoreditch based design agency, where hot young things would bring me tea, and I curated teams of hip cat creatives for our lifestyle magazine, but now I was downgrading to a post I knew I was over qualified for…dammit. However I was also a single mum whose choices had brought massive financial insecurity. Double dammit.

Turns out I shouldn’t have been such a princess about it. Luckily the charity offered me the job, and it’s a moment in life I will forever be grateful for. Here are the lessons I learnt.

Lesson One: Ambition rules.

The first thing that struck me when I started, was the ambition of the Comms department, which at the time solely consisted of my boss Ann-Marie Fisher. The charity had a quarterly external and internal newsletter, and Ann-Marie informed me her plans were to build an articles section for the website, generate more social media content, launch a parenting forum, and three-month long exhibition of the charities 148 year history. This was in the first couple of weeks. Amazing. This kind of ambition is what I really felt at home with.

Lesson Two: You always have room to learn.

My role included working on the literature to send to print. Now my experience wasn’t that great, my ex-partner was the print whizz, and I was still learning my CYMK from my RGB, bleeds, doc settings so I had to learn and learn quickly. Deadlines are deadlines, and there is nothing more precious than a charities budget when it comes to Communications, no matter how supportive the team are in teaching, get it right or suffer the guilt, you decide.

Lesson Three: Team work makes the dream work.

Working as part of a team (and not just at the kitchen table with a couple of kids and an emotionally needy cat staring at my head) was just what I needed right at this moment. The charity was filled with caring souls and a ton of laughter. It was also the busiest job I have ever had. I once worked at a national newspaper and was shocked by the non-stop, fly by the seat of your pants pace, but this was on another level even to that. Small charity, big goals, with a blue arsed fly mode that was massively addictive.

Lesson Four: It’s not all about you.

Get someone believing in cause and they will leave their ego at the door. When I went for my interview at Fegans the CEO Ian Soars popped in to tell me exactly why he was doing what he did. The children needed Fegans. The case studies and stories of which there were many, of little lives in turmoil, and little lives saved. Welling up in meetings was understood, every single person at that charity knew why they were doing what they were doing. Powerful stuff – and the therapeutic work worked for the children – so we worked harder.

Lesson Five: Opportunity knocks…    

…so when it does, answer. I quickly realised this job was a great opportunity for me, so I rolled up my sleeves and got stuck in, massively inspired by Ann-Marie and the rest of the team. We would work late into the night, on our own time, focused on what we really really wanted, not what we were expected to do. We wanted the charity to shine, raise awareness and ultimately help the children. The real bonus was having so much creative fun doing it. During my two years at Fegans, I was promoted and praised, I got to design a book, write, illustrate, work on events and fundraising. All shiny and new and all experience to be proud of. I worked with enthusiastic teams, and was humbled by their honestly and warmth, and when I handed in my notice I didn’t want to leave. I would have much preferred two jobs, but freelancing was the ultimate dream and it won out. I cried so much for my own loss when I left, knowing that I had really landed on my feet when I got that job, and it’s something that I will always be grateful for.

Lesson Six: The takeaways.

Everything I learned whilst at Fegans I have used since. Apart from hoovering up their inspiring parenting advice (which is like gold dust) I have a complete understanding of a busy Communications department, and what is needed and expected of a freelance designer. I have learnt how to put together marketing materials from scratch, considering the audience, tone and methods, as well as the design. And I got paid and made fantastic friends. What a job, and what an opportunity…

To find out more about Fegans Charity visit

Elizabeth Barrett


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