For most of us, lockdown has – for better or worse – provided an abundance of time to reflect on where we’re at in our lives. Changing career paths is a bold move at any time, let alone a time like this – but a large cohort of Londoners are throwing caution to the wind and doing just that.
For some, having found themselves in various states of furlough since April, the change is about taking their job security into their own hands. Others are continuing to work but from home – and without the constant commuting, meetings, piles of paperwork, and other worldly distractions – are finding time to figure out how they might finally get their dream venture off the ground.
Here are just some of the incredible Londoners who have taken a leap of faith and created their dream job.
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‘It’s really boosted my confidence doing something I really care about’
For Megan Graye, 24, from Stoke Newington, being made suddenly redundant in April was her wake up call: “I was working as a video producer for beano studios, but my video team all got made redundant at the start of the pandemic, and there were no jobs available because of Covid… I wasn’t entitled for any of the funding schemes available, so it was a really worrying time and I felt pretty low.”
But rather than letting herself spiral, Megan saw an opportunity. She had recently set up a website, VOCAL GIRLS, after reading an article on the lack of female representation at festivals.
She said: “It was something I had never noticed before but once I did, I couldn’t unsee it”, and decided to do something about it,by building a platform dedicated to female and LGBTQ+ musicians.
Megan has endured some major lifestyle changes this year in order to pursue her dream – including taking a major cut to her income, and often finding herself snowed under, “juggling about 8 roles at once” – but said she doesn’t regret any of it.
“It’s so rewarding doing something that you feel so genuinely passionate about,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like work. It’s really boosted my confidence doing something I really care about; it’s such a positive space where everyone is lifting each other up, and that’s just such a lovely thing to be part of.”
Megan wants to continue to grow VOCAL GIRLS in order to develop the website and podcast into “a fully functioning brand with a growing team of creatives making content across podcasts, video and digital,” which will also run events with a predominantly female and LGBTQ+ line up.
She said: “the reaction from the industry, artists and music lovers has been overwhelmingly positive. It feels like this is the beginning of something really exciting and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.”
‘Your friends and family are really rooting for you’
Eva Liparova, 34, from Bermondsey, also decided to take a chance on her side-hustle, after her job in theatre production was postponed to an unknown future date.
Eva and her friend Lukas Radosa, a virologist, had dabbled in developing their own gin brand – Animal Spirits – for a couple of years. Lukas’ PhD in microbiology meant he had studied the effect of botanicals on the body, and Eva was a gin-lover with a nose for a creative endeavour.
“Lukas had an idea to start producing craft spirits that would reflect the characters of various animals,” said Eva, “their true spirits, so to speak. I created the first personality – The Rabbit – as a bold, lively and excitable character that comes with a kick. Lukas matched it with a combination of botanicals that are known for these qualities and got the ratio perfectly balanced to capture The Rabbit Spirit – our first gin.
“At first this was our creative outlet as two friends from the world of science and storytelling, but when we got a design agency onboard – The Design Laboratory – the only way we could afford to pay them was in equity. That was a moment when we had to form a limited company and turn it into a formal business – it was a real moment of ‘I guess we’re doing this’ now.”
Eva and Lukas had to rapidly adapt their business model, pouring their energies onto social media to capture the attention of gin lovers rather than bargaining with bartenders to sell their gin.
Eva said launching during the second lockdown had surprising upsides: “Your friends and family are really rooting for you because you’re doing something in times of adversity. We also did over 50 hand deliveries around London, and the look on people’s faces when they opened the door and I gave them a package of their gin was just brilliant – so many moments of human connection, which I just loved for totally selfish lockdown-affected reasons.”
‘I wish I’d done it years and years ago’
Nancy Tanikye-Buah, a former housing adviser from West London who is in her late thirties, has used lockdown to set up the business which has been her lifelong drea.
She said: “A hair and beauty retailer specifically targeting women with Afro textured hair is important for the UK beauty market as a whole”
Nancy, who set up Empress Parlour with the ambition of growing to be the leading haircare and skincare store for black women, hopes it will ultimately be “on a par with Superdrug or Boots”.
She said: “I was always quite entrepreneurial but I was always too scared to do it – then lockdown gave me enough time to think about how I could finally leave my 9 til 5. I used to wake up thinking I’m not too bothered about what I’m doing at work, when I was a housing advisor – now I wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning full of ideas of what I could do today or tomorrow.
“I absolutely love what I’m doing right now, and I wish I’d done it years and years ago – they say the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago – the next best time is now.”
‘I’m now earning over 5K each month, simply from blogging’
Dennis Relojo-Howell, 38, from Havering, was a blogger for 15 years alongside freelancing as a social media manager and working for a PR agency. He studied psychology at uni and launched psychreg in 2014 to write about psychology and mental health, but at the time it was just a hobby – bringing in roughly a hundred pounds per month, the website didn’t even cover its own domain costs.
In March and April, traffic to psychreg trebled, as people were searching for guidance to boost their wellbeing during lockdown.
He said: “My most read articles are anything about Covid-19 and self-care, presumably people looking for ways to promote mental health and wellbeing while working from home.”
Seeing an opportunity to really monetise his content, Dennis started pouring all his energies into psychreg; he registered his blog as a limited company in September, then became focused on enhancing his content and advertising strategy. He now employs four freelance content producers and brings in over £5k per month through psychreg.