On her 60th birthday, Sue French, from Nottingham, waved goodbye to full-time employment after deciding that she wanted more time to pursue her hobbies and interests. However, she was still keen to work part-time in a role that would allow her to make the most of her skills and have a positive impact on the community. Sue wasn’t sure that such a role even existed – but after discovering a Co-op Member Pioneer Coordinator role on the Rest Less website, things began to look up…
Sue has spent her career working with various communities in a range of rewarding roles. She says, “In the past I have worked with various communities, these included people with disabilities, veterans, my local city council as well as various charities including SAFFA, Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion, all with the aim of supporting the members of those communities to achieve their goals.”
But the majority of Sue’s career was spent making a positive difference by helping people with health conditions and disabilities to find suitable employment.
She explains, “On a daily basis customers would sit in front of me saying, ‘I’ll never find a job, I’m too old and with my disability no one will employ me.’ My challenge was to prove them wrong and support them to find the right career path.”
“The work was both challenging and rewarding, but after a long and fulfilling career, I decided to take early retirement and change the focus of my life.”
Although Sue was keen to explore a life outside of work – and do things that she didn’t have time to do while she was working full-time – she didn’t feel ready to give up work altogether, and decided that a part-time role would help her remain active in the community. Having spent her life making a difference to others, she wanted to carry on doing so, but in a capacity that also gave her some time for herself.
She explains, “I had a plan; I just wasn’t sure what the finer details were. I wanted to take a year out after taking early retirement and then find a part-time role.
“I signed up to Rest Less as I strongly believe in their ethos of supporting the more mature person to expand their horizons and continue to learn and grow. I was also interested to see the types of roles they were advertising.
“I knew I didn’t want just a job, I wanted something that would utilise my skills and allow me to continue to make a difference to the community. I thought this would be impossible and that, as usual, I was looking for something that didn’t exist. This is an ongoing theme in my life, from clothes to houses!”
Exploring the possibilities of what early retirement had to offer, Sue jetted off to Australia on “the trip of a lifetime”. However, as she was preparing to leave the UK, some exciting news was set to change the criteria for her part-time job search when she returned.
Sue says, “On the day we were due to fly I found out I was going to be a Grandma! This brought about so much excitement, but it also necessitated a change of plan. When I returned to work, I would need a role with flexibility.”
With this in mind, Sue began researching and applying for roles which would give her the flexibility she needed to embrace her new role as a Grandma in the coming months. And after wondering whether she would ever find what she was looking for, she eventually found success in her application for a Member Pioneer Coordinator role. She says, “Rest Less were advertising for Co-op Member Pioneer Co-ordinators to work in the community. I will admit I had never heard of these, so I undertook some research. The more I read the more I knew this was the job I wanted.
“The role was to recruit, develop and coordinate a team of Member Pioneers and for them to be the authentic voice in their community, increasing cooperation and participation with colleagues, members and local causes, to improve their local environment.
“All of the Pioneers live in the areas they support, and so have a clear understanding of how best to support their causes. I felt this was a role where I could continue to make a difference.”
Reflecting on her experience of looking for work, Sue says, “Looking for a career as a mature woman was challenging; not because of the lack of opportunities around, but the fact that I had no clear idea of what I wanted to do.”
“As a result, I found myself applying for either similar roles to those I had done in the past, or roles which I felt I might be able to do. There were many rejections, and sometimes I wondered whether I would ever find something, or if I would have to settle, but I persevered and I am now two months into my new role. It has been a very steep learning curve but the support from the Co-op and my colleagues has meant I’m finally beginning to feel I can make a difference.”
Now settled in her role, Sue discusses what her work entails and why she is so passionate about what she does:
“I strongly believe in the ethos of the Co-op and what we are achieving. As a Member Pioneer Co-ordinator I support my team to make a difference, whether in a large or small community and we are now working on the three year community plan, Co-operate 2022, to save and support endangered spaces, improve mental and physical wellbeing and increase learning and training in our local communities. This is an ambitious program which will make a real difference in local people’s lives.
“As a Co-operative, the company are still strong in their belief of ethical trading and being owned by their members, meaning everyone has a say in the future of the company and its direction.”
Although Sue is really enjoying life as a Member Pioneer Co-ordinator, she admits that taking on a new position does have its challenges:
“The main challenges have been around absorbing a lot of new information, telling myself that I can’t achieve everything all in one go, and working from home. The role is flexible and I work 18 hours a week, but sometimes I feel like I’m playing truant when I’m not working!”
Sue’s change of career may have been a steep learning curve, but she is reaping the benefits of pursuing her dream job and is now enjoying a better work-life balance by going part-time:
“Being able to fit my work around my very busy life as a new grandma is wonderful. I have the flexibility to work when I want and I have the support of my manager and the other coordinators.”
She continues, “Outside of work, I also have many varied interests. My two main hobbies are visiting the theatre (I’ve seen The Mousetrap five times now), and listening to live music. And if I don’t attend at least one concert a year, there is something very wrong – this year will be Take That and Will Young so far. I also enjoy patchwork and quilting. I’m self taught, so it’s a voyage of discovery each time. But my favourite thing is spending time with my daughter and new grandson, who is of course the most beautiful baby ever born!”
As someone who has spent many years helping people with disabilities and health conditions find work, and who has also had the experience of changing careers later in life, Sue offers up some advice to others looking for their next opportunity.
She says, “What advice would I give to Rest Less members? The same advice I handed down in the many years I supported customers to find work. Have a good CV, no more than two pages and no further back than 10 years. Be prepared for rejection – it happens, but remember they are not rejecting you personally. Keep focused on your goal and don’t settle for less. We may be older but we have a wealth of experience that companies appreciate and actively pursue.”
Can you relate to Sue’s story? Do you have a story of your own that you’d like to share? Email us at [email protected]. We’d love to hear from you!