INSPIRING LIFE MAGAZINE
Four years ago Jo Hampson and Georgina Perkins were fast-track
senior Police Officers headed for the top of their profession.
Then they gave it all up and downshifted to the country.
Inspiring Life finds out how life has changed for them.
From their Cumbria retreat, at the top of Crosby Ravensworth
Fell, Jo Hampson and Georgina Perkins ponder upon life as they
gaze out to wonderful views overlooking the Lakeland Fells
and the Pennines. In 2001, they gave up successful careers
in the Police to run their own small business smoking food
and making chocolates with The Old Smokehouse and Truffles.
Following the success of this venture, they have drawn upon
their skills and experience to launch ‘Stepping Off’ to
provide coaching, training and consultancy services for people
wanting to change their lives for the better.
Escape to the Country
Jo started her working life as a primary school teacher in
a run-down inner city area. Walking in the vicinity with the
local bobby, they had a fridge thrown at them from a balcony
high up in a tower block; Jo was so taken aback by what was
happening in society to allow such a thing to occur that she
applied to join the Metropolitan Police the next day. She soared
rapidly to the rank of Chief Superintendent, having worked
within National Police Training, the New South Wales Police
in Australia and finally as Area Commander in Thames Valley
where she was in charge of 500 staff, and an annual budget
Georgina was an Inspector with only seven years service,
then spent another seven years in that rank operationally,
then working directly to the Chief Constable as his Staff Officer
in Thames Valley, and finally as Detective Inspector on the
Major Crime Unit, investigating murders and armed robberies.
With a further 15 years service ahead of them and promotions
anticipated, they decided to leave policing. They both enjoyed
their work, but felt that there was more to life. They had
frequently tried to commit themselves to working fewer hours,
but never succeeded. A planned relaxing holiday was interrupted
by work calls, pager messages, and reading papers for future
meetings. It had taken to midnight for Jo to clear her desk
the night before the holiday, and on her return there was two
weeks worth of work in her ‘in tray’. Neither wanted
to continue in an environment in which working ridiculously
long hours was something to brag about.
They heard on the grapevine that a small artisan food producing
business was for sale near Penrith - - near where Jo’s
family had lived for many years - and so quite by chance, in
2001 the two senior police officers found themselves smoking
salmon, chicken and cheese! Within three years they had increased
the turnover 300%, built the business up into one of the best
known smokehouses, won 16 National Food Awards, gained clients
like Fortnum and Mason and Harvey Nichols, and were smoking
privately for members of the Royal family. As in all business,
the more successful you are the more people want to buy you
out and in 2004 they were made an offer they couldn’t
refuse! It was then the ideal opportunity to start ‘Stepping
Off’, a life change consultancy geared to helping other
people downshift or embark upon a life change.
Learning How to Step Off the Treadmill
“The mission of Stepping Off is to help those wanting
to escape the rat race to make sure that they do not leap from
the frying pan into the fire. There are complex motivators
that steer people towards any major life change, and we have
developed some simple tools to establish what the real priorities
in this process are.
“We offer relaxing day and weekend courses in a beautiful
converted Westmorland barn where people can come and escape
the pressures of everyday living and sort out their future.
We specialise in helping people work out what they really want
out of life, where they want to be and how to get there. We
help with every aspect of changing your life, from simple time
management to complete downshifting.
“Clients of Stepping Off can be confident that when
they make the move that is right for them, they know why they
are doing it, they know what they want to change and what they
want to stay the same, and they have a clear path to achieving
their downshifting dream.
“One of our company sayings is — ‘ you
hold on to your dream, while we help you live through the reality.’
And Jo and Georgina certainly know about the dream and the
reality. Escaping the rat-race doesn’t come easy when
you have a rewarding, successful career, but they were able
to see the bigger picture.
“We both enjoyed the Police Service; it was stimulating,
rewarding and it paid well. We worked hard and were on call
24 hours a day. By definition of the service we were always
responding to ‘incidents’ that had occurred and
of course when there is an emergency you just go in and deal
with it. We felt that we were not really in control of our
lives, but controlled by the job we were doing. We were living
to work, not working to live.
“However much you enjoy a job and however well you
get paid to do it, being
a police officer (nurse, stockbroker secretary etc) is just
not enough. Not when there is a life out there to be lived.
We had little time for friends and family and doing things
that were equally as important to us as our careers.
Escaping the rat race was quite easy. Jo said: “I had
just undergone a 4-day assessment for promotion. I came home
and went out for dinner with Georgina to tell her all about
it. During the conversation she simply said, “Do you
want to buy the Smokehouse?” I looked at her and without
any real thought about it just said “Yes”. That
was it. We spent the next two months thinking and planning
it and then left. We left our careers behind, left the pensions
behind(!) and started a new life. We decided that we wanted
to go and do something different so we just up and did it!”
Jo and Georgina found that there wasn’t much specific
advice available to help them achieve their ambitions:
“Most people seemed to think we were mad, although
a huge number were really envious of what we were doing. We
spoke to our financial advisor who was much more concerned
about our huge drop in salary than we were! We then spoke to
a lawyer and an accountant about running a business. That was
This whole issue of advice is the entire raison d’etre
for Stepping Off. We started the business because so many people
were contacting us about what we did, what worked, what didn’t
work, what we would do differently if we did it again. If we
had gone on a course like Stepping Off, we’re sure we
would have done some fundamental things differently.
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. We were lucky.
Doesn’t it make sense to give yourself the best chance
and at least learn a few useful hints from those who have successfully
achieved what you are trying to do?”
Now is the Best Time!
When taking a huge step in a new direction, doubts can creep
in. Jo reflects on this: “I don’t think we ever
really considered that we might have failed in what we were
trying to achieve. I don’t think we thought much beyond
getting the business going and then trying to expand it a bit.
It would be fair to say neither of us thought we would have
built the business to be quite so successful so quickly.
What I suppose was always at the back of my mind was that
if it hadn’t all turned out OK at least we could have
said that we had tried. That is what it’s all about.
My philosophy is that when I am 85 and sitting in my rocking
chair on the porch thinking back on my life
- I don’t mind if there are lots of ‘what ifs’ because
there will always be imponderables - but what I don’t
want is any ‘if onlys’, because those are regrets.
There is no room in life for regrets. I would always have regretted
not taking the plunge, just so I know what it felt like. Life
is certainly a richer place for having downshifted.”
Georgina adds: “Now is the best time there will ever
be to enjoy today.”
Life has changed enormously since the decision to move to
Cumbria and this has changed everything. “We look at
life completely differently now and are no longer motivated
by the things that used to motivate us. We lead a much simpler
life and take pleasure in doing things that we never had time
for before - walking in an evening, home cooking, entertaining
friends, going to the theatre and cinema, being involved in
the community. We fit so much more into our lives now that
we are working for ourselves, even though we still work hard.
When we were at the Smokehouse we worked 7 days a week in the
summer but we were in control.
Your attitude to life has to change if
you are to succeed. Downshifting is about a new life, a simpler
life. It is not about being the same person in a different
place. Moving house or to a different job won’t be different
unless you learn to look at life differently. You can’t
downshift, reduce your income and simplify your life and still
be motivated by having the latest fast car or the newest bit
of technology in your sitting room. This is one of the main
reasons why people fail in their move to downshift. They change
on the outside but not on the inside.”
A Personal Growth Experience!
“In terms of personal growth and wellbeing, we
have time to laugh a lot more! Although we can be evangelical
about downshifting we also know how hard it can be particularly
once the novelty has worn off. Personal growth is a good way
to describe it. It has been enormously beneficial in those
terms. I suppose when you step off the treadmill you begin
to have time to think about things for the first time. There
is time for reflection and to think about who you are.
We have learnt a lot about ourselves and the way we handle
situations and circumstances. Having lived a fairly hectic
life in the South East we now have something completely different
to compare it to. When you are in that situation you can examine
your behaviour in a comparative way.
In terms of well being, we now live life at a much slower
pace with less stress, less panic, less time in meetings or
in the car and we control our own lives. We are living life
to the full whereas before we were just working and motivated
by material things - which we had - but they didn’t necessarily
make life any better or happier.
Our time management is now much better. We still work hard
but we try to work smarter. This is such a big issue that we
offer courses just on this subject to help people who may not
want to completely downshift but want to start enjoying their
life and their work more.”
Finally, have Jo and Georgina any words of advice for anyone
else wanting to escape?
“Go for it! Be brave. Look on it as a wonderful opportunity
to have a chance of leading a completely different style of
life. Life is too short not to have a go - what ever you do,
and however it turns out, it will be an enriching experience.
But - Minimise the risks -
• Read the books but more importantly talk to people
who have done it. Find out the pros and cons from as many people
as you can.
• Work out BEFORE you do it what your reasons are for
• Sort out BEFORE you do it what you want to get out
• Be prepared to change who you are inwardly as well
as who you are outwardly i.e. your perspective on life.
• Be brave!
• Speak to us at Stepping Off we will be able to help
you with all of the above, answer your questions and help you
make the right decisions!”
For further details, visit the Stepping Off website at www.steppingoff.co.uk
More tips from Jo and Georgina for creating the life YOU
• You need to love life and care about what you achieve
in your lifetime.
• You need to be a risk taker but one that does everything
to minimise the risks.
• You need to be flexible and adaptable.
• Maybe you also need to be a little bit off the wall!
• You have to be able to accept that when a decision
is balanced finely, 51% always wins, and however hard
it is to give up the 49%, you have to go for it.