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Writing about being a portfolio worker is something I have wanted to do for a while. I recently shared my story of my journey to becoming a Stories Officer. In this story, I focused on a small experience in my working life, but a lot of what and where I have worked are hidden from this. Not hidden in a purposeful way, more because they are a separate story and I’d like to share that with you now.


I’m writing this blog to share what a portfolio worker is and how we work. I don’t meet many of us but know there has to be many of us out there. And I thought hiring managers might find it to be an interesting story. 


Firstly, what does portfolio worker mean? To me it describes someone who has combined freelance work, part time jobs, and even non-executive (paid or voluntary) roles. It describes me. I have worked in administration, press and pr, marketing, communications, research, storytelling and equity, diversity and inclusion. I have worked in corporate business, charities, museums, libraries and archives, universities, and small businesses.


Secondly, how did I become a portfolio worker? Well, I became a portfolio worker because many roles I wanted to do were part time, and also later in life this type of working fitted around chronic health conditions. Since completing a Master of Arts in Museum Gallery Management at City University, London in the 90s I have worked in part time in roles. This has meant I was working full time hours.  I remember, working for an arts sponsorship company, Museum of London and Sainsbury’s all at the same time. As you can see, a real mixture of organisations. The roles varied from personal assistant, press office assistant to pricing control (I was one of the people who put the prices and offer tickets on the shelves in a supermarket). I then moved into working for a finance crisis strategy communications company (this paid the bills and helped me save for a deposit to buy a house) and set up my own business as a curator (I trained in Fine Art – installation- at degree level). These two opportunities incorporated storytelling; telling stories of corporate annual reports and telling themed stories through artists work (exhibited in private and public organisations).


Reflecting at 47, nothing really has changed. I have grown in myself through life and work experiences. I now understand that the skills and knowledge I have gained over the years, can be either focused on a specific role or part of a role. For example, I am the Stories Officer at the Taskforce for Lung Health and in addition an Equity, Inclusion, Diversity (EDI) consultant for Asthma UK, British Lung Foundation. In both of these roles, storytelling is important. In the Taskforce role, I write stories about people with lived experience of lung conditions in order to influence policy makers to support lung health care in England. In the consultant EDI role, I tell stories of what I hear and learn on EDI from attending conferences and events. I recommend that we share stories as we do for the Taskforce to influence cultural and societal change.  I tell stories to share what we should and could be doing and share lived experience stories as evidence.  So, even though the roles are very different in job title I have to have storytelling skills for both.


Thirdly what are the benefits of being a portfolio worker? Well, where do I start? We are very adaptable, as we often have to attend meetings and work around one subject and then maybe the next hour we are working on a different subject and with different people.

We are agile, often having to change direction of work quickly and always strategically for whomever we are working for. We have often been involved in different projects, worked with different levels of teams (senior to junior), worked with the public and for the public, we’ve project managed varying project briefs and work plans, so we have a large pool of understanding of how organisations work and what is needed to deliver deadlines, strategies and cultural change. We are creative, I am not sure what the statistics might be for portfolio workers being neurodiverse, but I have a short-term memory which is similar to dyslexia and I find my creative thinking allows me to help organisations see the bigger picture on a subject – I am often called a ‘magpie’ as I gather a lot of research, articles etc. to inform working briefs, strategy and policy development and future planning. Creatively learning from other organisations and industries is something I see clearly and feed into any work undertaken.


Lastly, what are the pitfalls? Yes, there are pitfalls. And that’s the reason I have been wanting to write about portfolio working for a while. Sometimes, we are seen as not having a focus, or that been multiskilled means we don’t have a clear career path in mind. I believe in knowledge transfer, and I am not sure if it because of the way my brain works like a magpie, but I can see how all our skills link together and are one skill in itself. We can then apply these skills to different but appropriate job roles.  We might have a large CV that shows all of the skills we have, for example mine is split into volunteer engagement, EDI, research, curating, and communications. This shows how agile a portfolio worker is.


So, if you are a hiring person and are looking at a portfolio worker when selecting people for roles you have advertised for, please listen to the stories around the variety of work we have undertaken. And want to find out about those stories. What do the stories tell you about a person? Are they agile, creative, good project managers, and ultimately are we good value for money? A-ha I hear you say! because if we look at it from a business perspective, hiring someone who understands many aspects of an organisation and has many skills will add value to the role and your organisation. I overdeliver in any role and have an understanding of the many aspects of an organisation’s role in society and its role for employees to be able to bring themselves to work.  

Exercising my writing muscle

Posted on 6th June, 2021

Her writing indicated dyslexia, this was a lot to take in

What was she going to wear? The air was cold and ice was forming on the windows in her bedroom. Warm clothes bought in charity shops neatly hung in the wardrobe. Opening the door, the itchy thickness of the Aran jumpers called her. They were large and hung low and covered the top of her legs, so she could get away with wearing leggings with them. She pulled a jumper out and put it on. Right, nearly ready for college. She stood high, put on her trusted suede coat, she’d got from the second-hand market, picked up her rucksack and walked out of the house to the bus stop across the street.


She didn’t know many people in the class. She sat in her usual space, on the back of the U- shaped desk, facing the lecturer so she could hear her clearly. Class was good. A discussion about the politics of the press was eye opening. It’s the Guardian for me, she thought to herself. The class ended, and the lecturer asked for her to stay behind. Sweat formed on her palms, a false smile of pretend confidence forced out a ‘yeh, sure’. The lecturer pulled out her last assignment and held it in front of them both. They explained how they’d noticed errors and patterns in her writing that indicated dyslexia and they recommended she seek to be tested. A haze of embarrassment flooded her body and her face flushed. This was a lot to take in.


She loved sharing people’s stories

Skip forward to adult working life, having had the diagnosis of dyslexia and then a learning difficulty affecting short term memory, she sat in a university canteen preparing to pitch to a chair of a charity that she could help by finding stories and writing them for their website. The written word did scare her, the amount of work it took to write things which had to be edited so much and changed and receiving critical feedback was tough, but her heart loved sharing people’s stories. She loved meeting people, chatting to them and hearing their stories, and then sharing them to help others. She loved stories.


On her way out of the university, a smile that was so large spread across her face. She had been offered an opportunity to be the blogger in residence for the charity.  The nerves and the anticipation of working with the written word, she suppressed. The next few years were glorious, she visited people and heard their stories and wrote with guidance from a wonderful editor – the Chair of the charity – and published and commissioned many stories. She was very happy.


But how could she turn this voluntary role into a paid role. She’d worked in communication roles - and other non-story roles to pay the rent – however, there was nothing out there that just quite fit. Where could she exercise her writing muscle? A project coordinator role in a national museum offered the opportunity to share stories of various museum professionals. So, she dived into the job and wrote strategic copy for newsletters, blogs, reports and shared lots of stories. Her manager was a great editor.


She sat at her writing desk, turned off the radio, and started to write a blog

How is writing becoming such a strong part of my life, she reflected one day. It’s hard. Maybe that’s the joy of it and the challenge, she laughed at herself. She was now a Stories Officer and had found the perfect role to share stories. She worked with a team and had an influential editor, her manager.


She sat at her writing desk, turned off the radio, and started to write a blog from an interview transcript from a storyteller. I feel like a writer, she giggled, well, I can pretend to be a writer, she smiled. Over the next couple of days, she would go back to the blog and move things around, edit and refine, then the day came to send to her editor. Her palms always sweated when she pressed the send button of the email with the blog. She’d then anxiously wait for a few days for the comments to come back. Her editor was tough, in a good way.


One day, the blogs started to come back with less and less changes and comments of ‘I love this’. The happiness was overwhelming when this feedback started to come in. She couldn’t wait to tell her partner. She felt like she was coming back from school with a good report and excited to share with her parents. Her partner knew how much she worked on writing, and how it was a challenge. But, hey, it was improving, but why she thought?


She remembered being moved to a lower English language class at school because she talked too much – she talked to her friend to ask her questions. She could see the rules of English language being written on the blackboard, but they just wouldn’t stick in her memory. To this day, grammar books with exercises in, sit on her bookshelf and she visits them to try and remind herself of the rules of English language. The rules will still not stick. She reads a lot of fiction, blogs, social media stories, and non-fiction – slowly, but surely. She listens to her editor and takes on board what she is looking for. She actually hears the stories, which is a talent she has naturally but can’t explain.


It’s a mixture of all the above that contribute to her developing her writing skills, and most of all it’s being the influence and guidance of good editors. A good editor who is constructive and allows space for a person’s writing style and confidence to develop is key. She wouldn’t be writing as she is now without the guidance of Judy Willcocks and Eve Kasperaviciute and a lot of hard work. Her learning difficulty will never go away. She works with it and not against it and learns each time she writes something. She sits at her writing desk and is happy, she looks in her diary; when is the next interview with a storyteller lined up? – her writing journey continues.



My journey to a stories officer role

Posted on 28th May, 2021

Recently I’ve been thinking about how I got into working on stories in the charity sector. I trained in fine art and told stories in installations, and in a curatorial way by organising exhibitions in public and corporate spaces. I moved into research and started to work with people, gathering their stories for qualitative research and was introduced to narrative methodologies by Victoria Ward and Paul Corney.


Paul and Victoria took me on a path into the corporate world of stories and knowledge management and we worked on some intense and creative projects. One that I really enjoyed was developing stories and coding themes on the subject of, wait for it; “the benefits of a long term (10 year) financial strategy, for the then Audit Commission. I remember creating a workshop plan to explore the findings by using story boxes as objects – I learnt a lot from working on this project seeing the importance of people using objects to tell their stories and how stories can illustrate good practice in organisations, oh and the bad practice too!


Lying here, resting on my lunch break, the smell of tea wafting over my face, I started to think how did I and why did I start to work in the charity sector? Well, five years ago, I was seriously ill with one of the conditions I have. This meant I had to take some time out to recover. One day, when I was starting to gain strength, I saw on Facebook an advert for a Support to Work scheme run by Scope. Now then, at this time I was beginning to realise there were potential barriers to me returning to work; fatigue, threat of infections, painful and swollen legs and brain fog (to name but a few) – how would I be able to work with all of these things? I clicked on apply to Support to Work and thought what the heck, what have I got to lose, maybe they can help me overcome these perceived barriers.


My application was accepted. I received a phone call that week from a support officer. A lovely lady called Pia chatted to me. She said she would like to book some time in with me to go over what I was looking for in a job and to send my CV to her. I came off of the phone. My palms were wet. I had been nervous on the call, I was scared. I didn’t know what I was looking for, and I didn’t feel ready to go back to work.  And I had a task, I had to prepare my CV - but who would employ me? Looking back now, I can see how my confidence had totally gone.


The time came for my next call with Pia. I waited nervously. I had worked on my CV and sent it over. What would Pia say? The phone rang. I answered ‘hello’, tentatively. Pia answered in her cheerful way and I began to feel at ease. We chatted about my CV and came up with my next task. To find a job advert that would suit my skills and prepare an application but with the intention of not submitting it. Then Pia asked me if I would like to share my story for Scope about using the service and if so, she would pass my details on to a ‘Stories Officer’ – wow I thought, a Stories Officer, I had never heard of that before. I said yes, sure, happy to help Scope any way I can – I was very thankful for this free service.  We booked in our next call – and I prepared myself for the task of putting together a job application.


A week later I had an email from Hayley, the then Senior Stories Officer at Scope asking if she could interview me so that Scope could share my story. We arranged to meet in a coffee shop near where I lived – ‘I’ll come to you’ Hayley had said. The day arrived of the interview. I was a little early to the coffee shop. I ordered my usual (oh the days of coconut lattes), and sat in a table near the window. A friendly woman entered the coffee shop with a big smile and was looking around and then saw me, and knew I was the person she was looking for. I smiled and stood up, ready to shake Hayley’s hand. We greeted each other, Hayley got a coffee and came back to sit with me. I remember how her dress blew around her as she graced her chair and she sat and relaxed and pulled out her phone. ‘Can I record the interview?’ She asked, ‘yes sure’ I replied. She placed the phone on the table, sat back, relaxed and we started to chat.


I say chat, as it didn’t feel like an interview. Hayley is a very skilled interviewer. I was very relaxed and shared my story, my insecurities and sadness and happiness too. Hayley made me feel very comfortable. We chatted for over an hour and a half and I asked lots of questions about Scope and about disability. I felt safe.


That evening, I looked on Scope’s website and looked up the Stories Team. Who were they and what did they do? I found the space that the Stories Manager and Senior Stories Officer were on and read the stories they had worked on with people. I really liked what Scope were doing, and I really enjoyed my time with Hayley. I thought to myself, why don’t I look at the jobs on the website, just to look. To my surprise a job was being advertised for a Stories Officer – oh I thought, let’s have a look at this, maybe this is the job I could put an application together for. I read the job description, and wow, I wanted to apply – where had this eagerness come from? There was something that was calling me to this role. All of my skills were applicable, and I felt safe with the people they employed and for the first time I could talk to a person who knew about disability and the social model of disability.


But wait, the deadline for applications was that day. Oh no. I emailed Hayley to say I had seen the job and could I apply and be a day late. I didn’t have to wait to long for a reply. She replied and said yes I could. I prepared a statement, and I had my CV ready to go, so I sent them in. My palms sweated again after I pressed send on the email to Hayley. What was I doing?


A few days later I had an email to say I had an interview! What, I thought? Oh goodness. What’s going to happen now? The rest is a bit of a blur. I remember being sat outside the office building waiting for my interview, seeing all these people going to work, feeling slightly out of place and old. I had a tough but enjoyable interview with Hayley and two others, I could feel my confidence coming back. I was called back for a second interview. This time I met, the then Content Manager and the then Head of Marketing. I felt at home. I really wanted the job. Well, you can guess the outcome, I was successful and I started working in a great team, learning how to be a Stories Officer.


I loved being a Stories Officer and still do. I had found what I didn’t know what I had been looking for. Now I had to tell Pia. I wasn’t looking for a job but I found one organically. I don’t remember how I told Pia – all I remember now is that we have become friends and we shared our story at Scope events. I know I mention Scope a lot in this blog, but the Stories Officer role has really had an impact on my career path. Not only, did I get back into work, but I found a pastoral job I love doing. I gained my confidence again and started on a career journey in stories that is taking me to working with many volunteers.


Now, a few years down the line, I have moved and am the Stories Officer at Taskforce for Lung Health – a place where I can work on sharing stories on lung conditions, advocating for support of lung health care. I bring my lived experience to this role, and I adore working with colleagues and storytellers to bring about change. It’s a short-term freelance contract which will be ending soon. So, I am looking out for the next story adventure. Where will I be at the end of the year?  Whose stories will I be sharing? – watch this space?







A deflated Santa waits for Christmas

Posted on 1st March, 2021

My stomach fluttered with excitement. It was nearly time for Story Brunch with guest Ian McMillan (poet). In lockdown, a year and half of shielding, McMillan’s morning strolls shared on his twitter @IMcmillan every morning, helped me connect with an early community and visit home through Ian’s stories of the Yorkshire landscape. I felt nervous to meet my early morning hero!


The clock’s hands quickly go round and round and it’s 10.50. I move from the sofa to the office and set up my computer. Tick, tock. It’s soon 11.00. I click into Zoom and in a flash Ian is in the waiting room waiting to be admitted. Here we go...


Story Brunch with Ian was relaxed and comfortable and safe. Annette and Zoe and I welcomed Ian and he welcomed us into story time. The theme was Dreams. We started to share stories. I won’t write them down here because it’s a confidential environment, we all discussed that we’d like to highlight some of the commonalities.


We all had different takes on the theme and came at it with our individual lived experience. We shared -


Frozen moments in time

A deflated Santa lies in a garden waiting for Christmas again when it will come back to life, Ian warmly told us. The rhythm of his northern accent took us to the street he walked down and saw this lonesome Santa.  He sat back and his story then led him from a dream he had to his real life of a moment of time of remembering when he was told John F Kennedy was assassinated and the time frozen in his memory of being at Church Lads' Brigade and being scared and thinking that there would be an invasion the next day and he would have to be going out to fight.

Key points in our lives

We all recalled stories of frozen points in time of where we were on 9/11 and July 4th in London, or Princess Diana was killed, or when John Lennon was assassinated. We learned about each other, how we grew up, and what was important to us around those times.

Key history points in the world but became key points in our lives, connecting us to those times and part of our self-evolution.


We had differing perspectives in our stories but commonalities of which key points in time became part of our identities. In brief and with permission, these were the realisation of: the impact of gender identity on a person; the effect of chronic illness on a person’s life and who they identify as, the journey of a career and taking time to pause and absorb a new identity.  


The frozen moment

A fitting end to the Story brunch, Ian gave us homework for us to report on at a future session with him in a few months’ time.  He both randomly reached for a book from his shelf and chose a sentence. ‘Right, take this sentence and write a story around it’, he said. He read the sentence out, and uncannily it linked to the stories in the brunch:  the joke is that I’m known in the industry as the frozen moment [put in gender we identify with here]’.


So now we are starting our homework. At our next brunch, (last Saturday of each month), we will go over what we have prepared for our next Story Brunch with Ian in the summer. Will our stories start to inflate Santa, getting him ready for the winter and Christmas?



the start of story brunch

Posted on 16th December, 2020
In February, I caught the flu and was housebound for a few weeks. With a raspy chest in recovery, I started my venture into the outside world, a trip to the GPs. 
I waited in reception for the call to see the Dr. The call came. I slowly made my way to his room.  'Hello Julie, how are you, what can I do for you today?' he smiled. 'I'm not too bad I replied'.  His smile was always welcoming (I have moved now and he is no longer my Dr) and I felt comfortable. But it always surprised me how I would reply to his first question by making out I was okay - why was I there then? I would say to myself in my head.


I sat. Explained how my recovery was going and how my chest was feeling. My stats were checked and my chest listened to. I was recovering but my chest was still chuggy  and I needed to take things slowly. 


At this time COVID had started to spread in the UK, in particular where I lived in London numbers were rising quite quickly. I nonchalantly asked my Dr about my recovery plan, 'can I walk a lap outside the house and come to the village and walk around and go for a coffee'.  He looked at me, 'you can walk near your house, but no I wouldn't recommend going for a coffee and mixing with people'. I was slightly aghast. The reality of still being weak and at risk of getting this COVID hit me. 'Oh', I replied looking at my coffee in its takeaway cup, 'I will.'


Coming out of the surgery, my partner met me. I told him what I had just been told and we chatted about risk and about this new COVID threat. Reality of how this might affect our lives emerged. 


A few weeks later, lockdown hit and I was told to shield. The outside world and people were beginning the turn into scary things. I am used to having infections and been housebound, but something about this COVID really did scare me.


Right, deep breath I told myself, let's do something to connect with the world and make sure friendships I value don't get lost in this flux. This being scared feeling made me think more about my friends, how were they coping and dealing with lockdown, how could we support each other? 


Well, what about a virtual Stories Brunch. A platform for us to share stories and chat in a safe environment. I messaged a couple of friends and asked what they thought - yes that would be great, was the response. I set up a Facebook (FB) group and invited a few close friends. A date was set up. The last Saturday of the month. I nervously put a zoom link in the FB group - would people show up?


On the day, I sat and waited for people to log in. Two dear friends logged in. We had a good open chat and shared stories around the theme 'A Happy Moment.' We decided on a theme for the next brunch and agreed that the last Saturday of the month worked well.


Afterwards I put the story I shared in the FB group. A friend who couldn't attend on that particular day but wanted to take part, shared her story too.


Wow, we were all learning about each other and learning things that we might not have known in any another setting. I couldn't wait for the next brunch.


We're now on our 11th brunch, and there is a core group of us (3 to 4 people in total). We have long chats and share stories and support each other. The brunches have evolved into a peer to peer support session. It's a privilege to be part of it and learn and support friends. 


It's connected me to the world and my friends and has helped my mental health. Lockdown came down on all of us like a dark cloud with thunder and lightning in its darkness. It hit me hard. My mental state started to show signs of being delicate. Further disconnection from the world scared me. Story Brunch helps me and my friendships have strengthened with some amazing people.


In part 2, I'll share some insights in to our shared learnings. 
a close up of leaves, shining in the sun.