For the women who need us most

For the women who need us most

I’m Werking On My…

I’m Werking On My…

Beyond The Fear: The Incredible Stories of Women Who Shaped Their Own Destinies
By Amber Smith
Image: Dion Denmark

Explore the inspiring journeys of three women who courageously reshaped their career’s against all odds. From overcoming adversity, to embracing new passions, these women show the power of bravery and determination.

Annabel Ashley, 26, Fundraiser to VP of European Outreach and Events

Annabel was 21 when she graduated from university, sure did not want to move home to an area with little opportunity, she made the decision to move to London and sofa surf.

As soon as I moved onto my friend’s sofa I was applying for anything, including minimum wage jobs. I just needed to start making money. I got a job as a fundraiser for Oxfam initially.

When I first moved to London, life wasn’t enjoyable. If I wanted to go to the pub with my friends that week I had to not eat meat for the rest of the week, I would live on mushrooms and potatoes. I remember coming home on the tube one night and wanting to cry. 

I eventually saved up around £1000 to move into a flatshare. I moved to Barking in East Ham, it’s a bit of a commute but it was much cheaper. I was still paying about £750 a month, and all I had was a bedroom and shared bathroom.

I think one thing people want in London is to live in quite a sexy area, they want the cool shops and cafes, and of course that’s fun- but you have to pay a premium for that. If you’re willing to live further out, and commute into the city, there are ways it becomes more affordable. Don’t be afraid of looking at SpareRoom, it’s easy and a good way to get started.

I worked at Oxfam for six months and eventually, I got the job I have now. I studied politics in university, and I always had a passion for foreign policy, maybe being raised in a multi-ethnic household I wanted some of that to carry into my work. Initially I got a job as an associate and I worked in international relations, and policy analysis.

I worked my way up through the ranks and now I’m the Vice President of European Outreach and Events. My main focus is event planning, government relations, foreign policy and stakeholder engagement across the UK and Europe. It’s everything I wanted, and the fact I have all of that now makes me proud, but it wouldn’t have happened without making that move.

My biggest piece of advice to anyone would be don’t just move to a city like London if you don’t know where you want to end up. If I didn’t manage to land a job where I was happy, and I could live comfortably without having to scrimp, I would have moved by now.

Dion Denmark, 27, Barista to Photographer

Dion was always a creative woman, but she never imagined she would quit her job to start her own photography business.

I loved to take photos on my phone, but I never dreamed I would make a career from it. I left school at 16, and got a job at Costa, where I worked until the pandemic. During lockdown I bought a camera, and spent a lot of time taking pictures. It became a fun hobby when there was nothing else to do.

After the pandemic I was made redundant. I was devastated at the time, suddenly I was 23, no job and a mortgage to pay for, so I took a job at Specsavers while I worked out my next steps. It wasn’t long after that my cousin rang me, she had postponed her wedding several times due to the pandemic, and lost a ton of money, so she asked if I would take her pictures for her.

It was so fulfilling, and the start of it all, I decided that was what I wanted to do with my life. Photography just made me feel so free, and like my real self.

I carried on at Specsavers and went to an Adult Learning Centre so I could learn more, and after only a few months later I started my business. At first it was mainly my friends and family, but I started to take on more and more clients.

The first few years were tough, I had to see clients on my days off from my main job because I didn’t make enough from photography alone. After carrying on like that for a few years, I took the plunge and went full time as a photographer. It was the best decision I ever made.

I have been full time as a photographer for 2 years now, and in March I was entered into the Essex Small Business Awards as the Entrepreneur of the Year. Although I didn’t win, it feels surreal to be at the point now where I would even be considered.

My advice to anyone is that it’s going to be scary, and there are going to be times you want to give up, but just keep trying. When you get out of the otherside, you’ll be happier than you could have ever imagined. 

Jeanie Vowles, 25, Chef de Partie to Teacher

Jeanie never planned to be a chef, but she definitely didn’t think in her 20’s she would give up her career to become a teacher either.

I was always more academic, I didn’t think I would go into a physical job. University was always the plan, but when I was doing my A-Level, I suddenly lost my best friend. I missed the UCAS application deadline, and suddenly I wasn’t going to uni anymore.

I was working as a kitchen porter in college, and so they offered me a job as a trainee chef. I never saw myself going down a path like that, but I ended up loving the creative nature of the job, no two days were ever the same. I attended courses on my night off and gained a level 2 qualification in patisserie and confectionery. 

I was happy with my job, but I ended up in a rut. I enjoyed doing my level two, and I started to think about my academic career and what led to me leaving. I thought about the support I had as a child and my own neurodivergence, and it became clear I wanted to contribute to the lives of children. So I made the decision, I would return to education and I would become a teacher.

I looked into how I could go to university as a mature student, and found that a foundation year costs a lot of money, including tuition fees and living expenses. Then I discovered the access course. It meant I would go to college for 1 year, and gain entry level qualifications for university. I could also get an advanced learner loan to cover my return to education, and the loan wouldn’t be repayable so long as I completed a university degree after my access year.

I contacted my local college and started the following September. The course was hard work, and I continued to work full time, but in the end I left after one year with an Access to Higher Education Diploma, and I enrolled into the University of Plymouth to study Primary Education (BEd).

The main advice I can give to women looking at a similar path, is that you are not behind, and you are not defined by your past. There really is something for everyone. If you feel stuck, shake it up.

To read more on inspiring stories, click here to read Rebecca Kennedy’s story of owning her own business.