Posts Tagged ‘media’

The Times Article Monday 9th May 2011 – downshifting

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Nicola Gill’s article about downshifting duly appeared in The Times last week, with a great picture of Jo taken by Phil Tragen.  The article’s attention was perhaps a little on the potential for difficulties following a major life swap – but we are here to remind you that there a many thousands of people who have downshifted to a happier, more fulfilled and satisfying way of life.  Some of them have spent time with us on a Stepping Off weekend to maximise their chances of avoiding the pitfalls!  If you want to read about some of the joys of downshifting, Saturday’s Guardian featured Kim Stoddart “I swapped a £60,000 lifestyle for £16,000 – amd I’m  happier.”

Below is the text from Nicola Gill’s article:

THE TIMES I Monday May 9 2011

Jo Hampson from the Times, picture taken by Phil Tragen

Jo Hampson from the Times, picture taken by Phil Tragen


Rat race or chicken run?

Many of us dream of a simpler

life — especially after a holiday.

But downshifting isn’t always

a good move, says Nicola Gill

Life changer:

Jo Hampson runs

courses to help people

to decide whether

downshifting is

right for them

In the rat race, lots of us rats have

the occasional downshifting

fantasy. How wonderful it would

be to say goodbye to commuting,

crazy hours and irascible bosses.

To never eat another reheat. We

may not be sure exactly what we’d

do, but surely it would be better

than the pressure ofthe daily grind.

Latest results from the national

Labour Force Survey indicate that an

estimated 435,000 people in Great

Britain suffer from stress caused, or

made worse, by work. In 2009-10, an

estimated 9.8 million working days were

lost through work-related stress, so

perhaps it’s not surprising that we crave

the good life, especially after a long Bank

Holiday break. But is everyone who

downshifts really living in a stress-free

nirvana? Jo Hampson, herself a

downshifter, has written the book Life

Swap and runs Stepping Off, which

offers advice and courses to help people

to decide whether downshifting is right

for them. She says: “Embarking on this

sort of life change is momentous, yet

people do it without really thinking it

through. For every happy story of people

successfully downshifting, there is a

sorrier tale of those who get it wrong.”

Tom Green was one downshifter who

found the dream and the reality very far

apart. When he was made redundant

from his job in marketing, he knew

exactly what he wanted to do. “l guess

everyone who enjoys photography as a ··

hobby must have fantasised about doing

it for a living. So, armed with my

redundancy cheque, I marched into a

camera shop and came out with an

expensive camera, two lenses, studio

lighting, reflectors, flashes and memory

cards.” He decided to specialise in

wedding photography and childrens

portraits. “I’d heard that photographers

can charge upwards of £2,000 per

wedding. Two grand for a day’s work – I

wouldn’t even need to suffer for my art.”

However, he soon realised that it

wasn’t quite like that. There was loads of

work and expense before a wedding –

marketing and advertising, sussing out

wedding venues, meetings with couples,

expensive sample albums. Then there

was the editing, uploading of proofs to

web galleries and creating albums. His

hourly income was roughly the

minimum wage. “And it was such hard

work. I would get through three shirts

per wedding – each soaked through

with sweat in minutes lugging heavy

camera gear around after drunken

guests. “This tale comes as no surprise to

Hampson. “Do not be under any

illusions,” she says. “You will work .

harder when you work for yourself than

you have ever worked for anyone else.”

Green agrees. “Most of the time it was

just bloody stressful. What if my car

broke down on the way to the wedding?

What if l was ill? I was one faulty memory

card away from blowing everything. You

can’t ask the bride to walk up the aisle

again because you missed it.”

Green decided to concentrate on

family portrait photography. He had a

thousand postcards printed up and

waited for the phone to ring. He got two

calls, one of which he suspects was from

a rival photographer keen to get a

handle on his pricing. There wasn’t a

single booking. “That hurt. l was from a

marketing background, remember?

He got work eventually; friends to

start with, then word of mouth. But he

has grown to hate it. “Surly children who

don’t want to be photographed. Parents

who look down their noses at me.

Sometimes I want to scream, ‘l used to

have a better job than you’. But what’s

the point? The obvious response would

be, ‘Why are you doing this then?’ l don’t

have an answer for that any more.”

Even downshifters who are less

disappointed wouldn’t suggest that it’s

easy. Ali Mitchell, who used to run

pubs and restaurants, and is now a

kinesiologist, says: “lt was a massive leap

of faith. I had a mortgage and bills but no

regular income. I’m not sure I could

have done this if I’d had dependants. It’s

been scary enough with it just being me.”

A loss of status is a problem for many.

As John Hawkes, who ran a software

business before becoming a full-time

dad, puts it: “A colossal amount of

identity is wrapped up in what you

do. It’s one ofthe first things people

ask when they meet you, and they

respond to you totally differently

according to the answer.”

Tania Collins, who also became a

full-time parent after giving up an

executive position at Atlantic Records,

echoes this sentiment. “You don’t feel as

valuable as you used to. And not just in

financial terms but social ones, too.”

For others, the day-to-day reality

of running your own business is a

problem. Charles Meynell was a foreign

affairs journalist who frequently

worked in war zones. Hee’s now a tree

surgeon and forester.

“I’d started the business because

I’m passionate about trees,” he says.

“They’d been a hobby of mine since I

was a child. What I hadn’t taken into

account is that I have almost zero

appetite for running a business. I’m not

interested in the conventional mantras

– growth and bottom line. I found

things such as personnel problems and

admin tiresome and dealing with

banks and trying to get funding was a

real hassle.”

Many couples dream of running a

business together but this has its

own pitfalls. Hampson warns:

“You need a strong relationship to

withstand the stresses and strains.”

Lots of people who work from home

will empathise with the grumbles of

Sarah Campbell, a freelance art director.

“I miss the support staff you get working

in an office – the IT guy to help when

the printer is playing up. Also the

company. Sometimes I’ll go to the park

and stroke a dog, just as a ruse to talk to

the owner.”

Carol Deacon left a high-flying career

in advertising to start a cake-making

business. Her sense of isolation was

exacerbated by having moved to the

country. Hampson says: “The lure of the

country idyll may be strong —the idea

often comes to people when they’re on

holiday. But country life can be really

tough. Nothing is round the corner,

public transport may be scarce and

everybody knows your business. The

‘natives’ can be hostile.”

Deacon also discovered that not

everyone she came across in the world

of cakes was sugary sweet. “Some of my

customers were just as much trouble

as corporate clients had been in my

advertising days. One guy got quite

annoyed when I refused to put an illegal

substance in a cake. He thought it would

be ‘great fun to see granny off her face’.

Then there were the stressed-out

Bridezillas who would constantly be on

the phone with ideas and amendments.

They’d arrive to view the cake with a

whole load of people who all had

different opinions.”

Pricing was another thorny area.

“Someone would come in with a design.

l’d give them a price. And they’d say, ‘But

Tesco does cakes for £5’. It’s not often in

today’s world you have something

hand-crafted. lt’s impossible to charge

realistically. If you charged a decent

hourly rate, some cakes would cost a

ridiculous amount.”

Then there were the health and safety

inspections and all the admin. “l was

working very long hours for a pitiful

hourly rate.” Luckily, her business has

been a success and she has a new book

out this month called Fabulous Party

Cakes and Cupcakes (Tuttle). But even

now it’s not all plain sailing.”I recently

made a cake for a couple ·— Pete and

Christine – with large ornate icing

initials ‘P’ and ‘C’ on top. I arrived with

the cake and nearly dropped it with

shock. A huge banner over the door

proclaimed, ‘Congratulations Pete and

Laura’. It turned out that Pete and

Laura had been married at the venue

the day before and the banner hadn’t

been taken down.”

I ask her if she’s less stressed now

than she was in her advertising days.

“You just have to accept that stress is

part of day-to-day life. The grass is not

always greener. It’s just a different

shade of green,” she says.

Downshifting in The Times, Monday 9th May

Thursday, May 5th, 2011
Phil Tragen photographing Jo Hampson for The Times

Phil Tragen photographing Jo Hampson for The Times

There is (we understand!) an article in The Times on Monday about downshifting, with Stepping Off and Jo Hampson getting a mention, and even our book – Life Swap: The Essential Guide to Downshifting.  But you never know with newspapers!  Certainly they have taken the trouble to send a photographer up from Manchester!