In this first instalment of a three-part post, Liam Wiseman discusses his experience of moving home three times in in two years for different jobs across South West England.
Have you ever had that situation when you’ve seen the perfect museum or heritage job advertised, only for it to be 50-100 miles away from where you are, or where you want to be? What did you do? Did you go for the job, and in the process completely change your lifestyle, leaving behind friends, family and relationships? Or did you embrace the change wholeheartedly?
With jobs in the heritage and museums sectors coming up few and far between, it is increasingly likely that you will have to move a fair distance to land a job, especially early on in your career. And with the type of short term contracts that are particularly prevalent at the moment, the chances are that you may have to move to one location for six months to a year, and then move on again to pastures new.
I’ve had paid roles within the museums and heritage sector since the start of 2016; and within that time, I’ve had to move three times for different jobs and to advance my career. Add in moving to Bath before that to pursue my Heritage Management MA, and you’ll understand that this has been a challenging couple of years as I stumbled my way into the heritage sector. Whilst none of those moves have been what I would call massive (from Bath to Exeter to Chippenham to Bristol), they are all in completely different counties across the South West, one of the biggest regions of the UK.
The reason for my first move was that I was having no luck finding any entry level jobs in Bath. It was your typical story of even museum duty manager positions needing 3 years of management experience and inside-out knowledge of a variety of obscure computer systems as they would have no time to train you in them. So I started looking at jobs across the South West to enhance my chances of breaking into the sector, and I managed to land myself a job at Exeter Cathedral as a Development Assistant. If I’m honest, working in a Cathedral was not my first choice of heritage job (I’m not a religious person, and religious history is not particularly interesting to me); but it did give me a wealth of experience, and more importantly, I was able to play with Lego as part of the job (it was a fundraising campaign they had going on at the time).
I made the move to Exeter partway through completing my MA, so I would still have to travel back to Bath occasionally (which made for some horrendous early starts) but luckily most of the taught parts of the course were heaped together at the first few months of the course, so I was able to just write my essays and upload them without having to be there physically as much. However, like most entry level jobs, the pay was pretty poor and after a few months of data entry tedium (and completing my MA) I felt like I could be doing better and take a step up. So I once again began searching for other jobs, and in September 2016 was successful in getting one at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre in Chippenham.
I was now World Heritage Partnership Officer for Stonehenge and Avebury, a title that sounds brilliant on paper but once again meant mostly data entry, admin and organising meetings for more important people than me, only this time without any Lego to add a creative element to the proceedings. This meant I had to move to Chippenham, a tiny Wiltshire town that was as soulless and vapid as the economy there. For a young guy like me, this was the equivalent of going back to my hometown and settling down there, it just felt so depressing. Part of me wanted to move back to Bath or over to Bristol and commute there, but the salary was not nearly enough to make that worthwhile. But I did actually enjoy some parts of the job immensely; and going out to different parts of the World Heritage Site, meeting colleagues from different heritage bodies and helping to solve situations like disputes with local farmers and monitoring cow damage to archaeological sites was something that I never thought I would end up doing. It’s just a shame Chippenham was so dull, though it was this factor that really pushed me to make my next career jump into my current position.
I had considered living in Bristol for a while, as I had some friends living there and I would go there quite frequently at weekends as there was always something interesting going on. And it was at the time when I was the most frustrated with living in Chippenham that my current job was being advertised: Heritage Engagement Manager at Bristol Old Vic. I immediately knew this was something I really wanted to do. I love theatre and theatrical history, and a chance to work on a project exploring the history of the longest continuously used theatre in the UK was one I was not going to pass up. So I moved once again in September of last year to find myself in Bristol, a city that is leaps and bounds the best place I have lived so far.
I made that all sound very easy, but it really wasn’t. What I didn’t mention was the tons of failed applications and interviews before I got these different jobs, and the logistics of packing up your life every few months. However, I can honestly say that I don’t think I would have advanced as far in my career and my roles without taking those risks and moving repeatedly. I am now in a job that I love, in a city that I adore and feel like I have come such a long way in these past two years. I don’t think that would have happened if I had stayed in those same jobs, as from my experience there appears to be very little job progression in the sector from entry level to management positions. But moving for work hasn’t always been an easy process, so I have tried to summarise the pros and cons below (as much for myself as for anyone reading this).
- Moving allows you to experience new places and learn about new environments.
- I have made so many friends in each of the places I have lived in, an unexpected bonus!
- I have been able to work in some really unique and interesting places.
- The jobs I have had have allowed me to do things I never thought I would be able to, and taught me some great skills.
- Moving is expensive and time consuming (rent, deposits, house viewings etc)
- Doesn’t always pay off if you don’t end up liking where you live.
- The cost of going for interviews (organisations rarely seem pay for travel expenses).
- Trying to match up the dates of moving into a new place and starting the job is a logistical nightmare.
The last couple of years have been tough trying to establish myself as a heritage professional, but they have also been really enjoyable. I have been able to see new sights, meet new people and experience new events (the solstice at Avebury being one of the highlights). It has also made me consider some questions, like:
- With more young people moving to find work, is the job more important than the location?
- How do you know when you’ve found somewhere you really like?
- When should you settle in one place? And should you have to settle at all?
- And if you’re not moving for a job you really want, should you really be moving?
I’d be really interested to hear from people with similar experiences, and how you went about breaking into the sector. Being one of the Committee Members for the South West Emerging Museum Professionals group has let me have some great discussions with others in their early years of museum and heritage work, and no two stories have ever been the same. I know there are plenty of people within the sector that have not had to move, but I have met an awful lot of people who have had to move even greater distances than me to get the jobs they want. Ideally, I think this should not have to be the way to progress within our job sectors, but it seems from my experience that if you want to land that job, you have to cast your net wide.
Liam Wiseman is the Heritage Engagement Manager at Bristol Old Vic. He is also one of two South West Reps for the Museums Association and one of the Committee Members for the South West Emerging Museum Professionals group. Find him @liamthewiseman or @SW_EMP