I am sharing the story of #MyFirstJob. Joining the conversation with Llamau to raise awareness of the growing need for more employment opportunities for young people in Wales.
General Assistant may sound a bit boring… a bit general, a bit assistanty. But do you know what, that was what made #MyFirstJob the best.
I was lucky enough (and I really do mean, lucky) that my first job was as a General Assistant at Bodelwyddan Castle in, what is now, Denbighshire. Back in 1989, it was Clwyd. I was 16 and Bodelwyddan Castle was owned and run by Clwyd County Council.
Bodelwyddan Castle is a Grade II* listed historic house and gardens. In partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, it was one of North Wales’ leading visitor attractions, winning Museum of the Year Award in 1989. It was home to displays of nineteenth century works from the National Portrait Gallery, sculpture from the Royal Academy of Arts, and furniture from the V&A. There was also a raft of interactive displays, temporary exhibition spaces, and extensive parkland for hosting events. Oh, and as you might expect with any visitor attraction, a tearoom and gift shop!
I worked at Bodelwyddan Castle at weekends, during school, college, and later, University holidays. I started on the 16-year-old hourly rate of £2.02 – pre-minimum wage. And although it might not seem a lot, I was on double the hourly rate that my friend was on selling candy floss on Rhyl seafront… so was very grateful.
As I said, one of the great things about being a General Assistant was that I worked wherever I was needed. This included…
Ticket Office. I worked in the ticket office greeting visitors, selling tickets, guidebooks, explaining a little about the history of the Castle, what they could see on their visit. I was the first point of contact and so it was essential that visitors’ initial impression was a good, kind, informative, efficient, and welcoming one.
Gift Shop. I loved working in the gift shop, not just because the Gift Shop Manager was lovely, nurturing, and trusting (so important to have people like this around you when you’re first starting out in the world of work) but also because we sold so many lovely Welsh crafts. I developed a range of skills working in the gift shop – pricing items, stocktaking, designing and refilling displays, advising and recommending gifts, and along with selling, further developed my customer service skills. Oh, and my skills of working under pressure were certainly honed when we had school visits. Have you tried selling lots of pencils, pens, rubbers, bookmarks, sweets in supersonic speed as one class gets ushered out by their teacher as another one gets ushered in?!!
Tearoom. Like the ticket office and gift shop, customer service and product knowledge were essential in the tearoom. As was the ability to operate in dual mode – one, waitressing and helping to create a gentile Victorian ambiance, and the other, behind the kitchen doors, clearing plates, running dishes through the dishwasher, and being totally on top of your orders. I waitressed in a couple of places whilst studying for my post-graduate degrees, and the experiences that I gained in the tearoom certainly helped me in getting those jobs.
Cleaner. When the cleaners were short-staffed, I filled in. I cleaned the top floor of the Castle, the temporary exhibition space. It was the space that had the least precious items (phew). I took great pride in ensuring the floor looked the best it could for the visitors.
Puppet workshop. One of the best summers I had was supporting puppet theatre. Before and after the performances, children had the opportunity to create their own puppets and perform their own shows with their puppets. And I helped and encouraged them to do this! So, most of my time I was covered in glue, glitter, paint, felt and being an audience member to lots and lots of children’s shows. It was such fun! Very different to the other roles I had, but one that sparked my creativity and encouraged others to do the same.
Lego workshop and shop. Along similar lines, one of the events we held was a Lego exhibition and I supported this by facilitating lots of Lego play (to be honest, whether you’re young or old, people don’t tend to need much encouragement to play with Lego!). But still, a fun and encouraging manner was so important.
Marketing. Marketing was one of the threads through all the roles I had as a General Assistant – my job was to market the Castle, its services, and products. Sometimes this required going off-site. Imagine the scene, dressed in a long Victorian dress with a bustle, walking around the shopping centres in Rhyl, Colwyn Bay and Llandudno handing out leaflets about the Castle. My goodness. What a gig. And that’s how I dealt with it, like a performance! Driving a Mini in a bustle was a bit of a nightmare though!
#MyFirstJob was an amazing experience. I developed an inordinate number of valuable skills, many of which have been central to the paid and voluntary roles that I have had since – customer service, communication, marketing, working under pressure, being organised, and the ability to be agile. It provided me with a platform to grow and develop, to gain confidence and have something to offer future employers. The role of General Assistant at Bodelwyddan Castle may seem a long way away from what I am doing now, but it’s not really. The fundamentals are the same. And each one of those steps were important in shaping me as a person, as a volunteer, as employee, as an employer… paving my future.
Everyone deserves a chance to achieve their potential. And a job can be the springboard that can help with that.