I've taken a fixed-hours salaried job at Loaf bakery and cookery school in Stirchley. If you've been following me for a decade or so you'll know this is a surprisingly big deal. I haven't had such a job since leaving Waterstones in 2003. After that I worked for temp agencies for a few years and then stumbled into freelancing, first with the emerging social web and then as an artist practitioner. It's never been lucrative, but then neither was retail and I've kept myself alive this way for 15 years.
I enjoy the freelance life. I'm typing this in the afternoon in my garden with the rabbits hopping around my feet, which is pretty sweet. Freelancing for me has been very short-term often well-paid jobs, based on the skills and knowledge I've developed over the long-term, usually unpaid. The goal has been to make these two broad areas complement each other, so the art practice, for example, nurtures insights and skills that make my photography teaching unique and effective, while the teaching subsidises the art-making. Sometimes you get paid to make art and sometimes the teaching pushes your practice along, as happened with the Rivers of the World project (launching in London next month and ripe for some personal documentation) but usually it's a nice steady swing between the two worlds.
Of late I've been finding this balance a bit tricky to sustain. I've never been good at promoting myself into the job market - most of my work comes to me rather than me looking for it, and when I do put myself out there the results are often dispiriting. I spent a long time writing an application for a large chunk of all-or-nothing funding and wasn't successful, meaning that time and effort was for nothing. Yes, I could have repurposed it for another application, but that's more time and more effort which I can't spare. Meanwhile I'm looking at the freelance gigs I've had of late to figure out how to get more of them. Not only does that lead to dead ends but I then get offers of work which have nothing to do with my existing CV.
It's a bit discombobulating, but it's also quite nice, because, aside for proving I'm shit at marketing myself, it means I've probably developed whatever-it-is-I-do into something pretty unique that doesn't always fit into the current categories in demand. I've made my own bed which I have to now lie in. It's my bed and it's very comfortable. It just doesn't always pay the bills.
But after spending a good chunk of my time failing to get work, or fretting about failing to get work, or some other waste of effort, I had a small revelation. I need about £800 a month to cover the basics - mortgage, bills, food, etc - and I can earn that from a part-time living-wage job that takes up the same time as I'm currently wasting. And look, there's one coming up at Loaf!
I've been tangentially involved with Loaf since it opened in 2012, volunteering in the community shop it housed for the first year and then running my Beginners Photography courses there on Sundays in exchange for odd jobs and favours. Loaf is run as a worker co-op, which is really interesting for a high street retail venture, but more importantly is run as a nice place to work. It's not anti-capitalist in as much as sidestepping the seductive trappings of capitalism in favour of keeping everyone sustainably employed, financially and healthily.
In short, if I was going to take a salaried job working for a company and not be miserable about it, this is the best company I could go for.
So, what's going to change? Not much, really, but maybe a lot over time. The time I feel I've been wasting on finding paid work will now be spent enabling the supply of bread and bread-related products to people in the local area, which feels like an improvement. The remaining time will be spent doing Photo School, which I enjoy, and making art in whatever form I need to.
In the long term this is going to embed me in Stirchley High Street which has become more of the centre of my life than Birmingham city centre and in a much more fruitful way. Rather than mostly working at home and popping out occasionally I will be seeing people all the time, people that I will probably wind up working with on interesting projects. It'll be interesting to see how that pans out.
My role at Loaf is a bit of everything except baking. I'll be in the shop serving customers and in the office doing admin. It fits quite nicely with stuff I'm already competent at doing and won't offer any major challenges, unless I decide I want to learn to bake, which I might do at some point. Fiona's very keen on this happening, of course. But for now it's a sustainable amount of cash in the bank doing a job I hope will be rewarding and which financially supports my more personal work.
I start on September 7th. Look for the slightly shellshocked older man in an apron.