“Tell us about your first job. Did you love it or was it horrendous?”
I was pretty late to the whole getting a job thing. Most of my friends got jobs in their mid teens, but it wasn’t until I was on summer holiday from Uni that I did. Luckily for me an Aunt of mine worked then as a PA at the Wedgwood Factory, back up at home in Stoke, and she got me an interview with the Wedgwood Room (shop!) Manager. (She had also swung my work experience there when I was a few years younger, and I got to work in their amazing round design studio in the grounds there!)
I was probably pretty cocky going into that interview. I’d already had interviews to get into secondary school and then Uni, and because it was a summer job I suppose I didn’t think of it as a big thing. My interviewers though were really efficient and professional, and so it swiftly brought me back down to earth and thinking it was quite a big deal after all!
I got the job and started work as a casual sales assistant right away. I was given uniform and a list of things I was and wasn’t allowed to wear. It didn’t seem at all strict to me because my school was quite strict in that way, and my Mum had always worked in quite formal places (one employer of hers for years didn’t even let the women wear trousers!!!).
It was all pretty formal in terms of the work too. We would each sign up for a lunch break slot when we arrived in the morning, which was strictly adhered to, and we used a code name to let each other know when we were going to the loo so that we didn’t have to say ‘loo’ in front of customers! I would be given set tasks for the day, like re-stocking an area, putting together wedding list orders, or helping with displays. I relished all this though and just presumed that was the way it always was!
I loved that job. I was given just enough responsibility to relish it, but not so much that I felt put out. I learned to use a till, place orders and take care of stock control….all great skills I guess. I even learned a little Japanese as we used to get a lot of Japanese tourists visit, and I would help them fill in their tax-free forms!
But the bits I really loved were the creative bits (no surprises!)….I would often get to gift wrap which was ace (I was known as the one who was really good at it!) and even wrapping huge dinner services up in tissue paper was a delight and a great skill learned….I also learned about window display and visual merchandising, and once they knew I was a creative type I’d often get to help out their Visual Merchandiser when she was setting up new displays.
The shop was at the main factory and visitor centre for Wedgwood, and because I come from the Potteries it was great to work for one of its most famous companies. I soon began to take real pride in the products (well, they were amazing!) and found that made me care about my job even more. It was just a short drive from my home, through the pretty countryside just outside the ‘burbs where I lived, and I’d relish that drive in the warm summer.
Towards the end of my last year of Uni I decided I had enough time to get a job, and wanting to stay in London for the summer I applied to the various Wedgwood Rooms in the London department stores. I was quickly approached by the Selfridges concession and took a casual job on there. And whilst it was awesome to work in that store, I soon realised that the well-oiled machine that was the shop I was used to, was not how it was everywhere! I longed for my super-professional manager back up in Stoke, and quickly got to feeling like no-one in my new place really respected the product like I did. So, it didn’t last for all that long, but I’m glad I had the wake up call that jobs weren’t always going to be as great as my first one!
The Wedgwood Factory and Visitor Centre has now of course gone, and whilst the brand still lives on, I do find it terribly sad. There were so many incredibly skilled workers there, and those skills are potentially all now nearly lost. Still, I have my memories, my ability to speed-wrap delicates, a talent for carrying ridiculous numbers of china plates, and my stash of staff-discounted products to remind me of my wonderful first job!