I started out in business and management. That was my first career after university. I liked to plan ahead, but the institution and its departments had other priorities. Despite trying to educate internal customers through awareness training and advocate for longer lead times to improve external customers’ experience, each year was the same. The weekend before the start of term, my living room carpet was transformed into a sea of student timetables, staff with part time availability on standby and a bottle of wine to help ease the headache.
The variables in terms of availability, capability, skills and knowledge within a pool of staff, some of whom didn’t drive, made the logistics of coordinating cross-city student support from basic skills to postgraduate level fun. During my time there, I almost died 2 months into the job (it wasn’t the job that almost killed me!) and being signed off with stressed related to ongoing workplace bullying was the determining factor in choosing to leave the organisation.
The next job was similar, though on a much smaller scale – a single site, a small cohort of students studying the same course – it didn’t stretch me. The daily commute added hours to my day and upped my then nicotine habit. But the post enabled me to freelance part time as a sign language interpreter. I then set up my own agency, in response to a gap in the market, employed staff and outsourced work nationally to other freelance interpreters.
During those 12 years, I lost the passion for interpreting and my agency; I felt trapped by it. I became depressed, had a midlife meltdown, my marriage was failing and had no idea what I was going to do next. That coincided with government changes to funding support and convergence of fees so there was parity between costs paid to interpreters whether it was a hospital appointment or legal assignment. The government’s multi-million pound contract under a single provider framework agreement compromised quality, as contracts for communication services to Deaf people were subsumed within generic language and translation contracts. The choices were partnerships with lead organisations who met the PQQ requirements, or diversify into spoken languages in readiness for the contract renewal stage. It sounded the knell for smaller private agencies. Market rates were being influenced by the public purse driving down costs; subcontractors fought to maintain their fees in what was once a demand-led profession.