Catherine Redshaw talks to workingwise.co.uk about her working life and shows why employers shouldn’t make assumptions that older workers are not able to adapt and learn new things.
Catherine Redshaw did not have any idea what she wanted to do when she left school. She laughs that even now, at 56, she doesn’t have a plan, but says she is happy with the choices she has made and the variety of her working life which encompasses video post production, working as a technician in a secondary school and recycling furniture.
Like many, she just wishes employers would value it more and not make assumptions about older workers.
Catherine didn’t go to university when she left school because her family was not supportive. Instead she did an art foundation course and got a job at Our Price so she could leave home.
While she enjoyed the job, Catherine didn’t want to move into management – the next rung up the ladder – so she left after a while and got a clerical job, but found it was not for her. She went travelling and when she came back she started a job at a solicitors as an outdoor clerk, shuttling briefs to barristers. The job involved taking notes in court and Catherine found it fascinating observing all the criminal cases.
However, when she moved house the commute to work was too long so she signed up with an employment agency and was sent for an interview with a video post-production company. “I basically had to sit and watch tv all day. It was really interesting and quite technical,” she says, “and I got quite good at it, even though I had just fallen into it and didn’t know video post production existed before that.”
After two years Catherine moved to a larger post production company and worked in the very male-dominated technical department. Just before she had served two years the company decided to cut its staff numbers. Catherine was sacked which meant she couldn’t claim benefits. She f3ought the case and won.
She continued to work in post production until, thinking about starting a family, Catherine asked if job shares or part-time work was available. She was told it wasn’t so she went freelance.
Catherine [pictured below right] had the first of her three children and it made financial sense for her to be the main carer. She stayed at home for 12 years until she decided she wanted to get back to work when her youngest child was six. She got a job at a local secondary school as a textile and food technician at 22 hours a week. Soon after, the head teacher asked her to do some extra hours as an art technician. While she was working Catherine did an Open University degree in humanities with art history and decided she needed to change jobs and get something that stretched her.
There had been several changes at the school and by 2018, when Catherine was 54, she felt it was time to leave. “I spent a while thinking what I should do. I was still waiting for a grand idea for what to do with my life,” she says. At the end of 2019 she went travelling with her husband and then Covid hit. Her middle daughter moved home to do her master’s, her older daughter moved back in temporarily because her sector was badly affected and her son went to university.
In amongst all of the turbulence, Catherine started collecting old furniture that had been dumped on the streets during the first lockdown. That was the start of a passion for recycling old furniture and selling it online. Her children helped her promote it on instagram. “I realised I preferred working for myself,” says Catherine. Her biggest piece of work to date was a dressing table which she dragged down the street and rubbed down, cleaned and oiled. She put wallpaper in the drawers and sold it online for 200 pounds. “None of the pieces of furniture has cost me anything,” she says. “I like the fact that I am rescuing things that could end up in landfill. I like the idea of repurposing things.”
Catherine feels she has “muddled along” in her working life, but along the way she has picked up lots of transferable skills and experience. The problem is she doesn’t have any paperwork to document it. “It’s very difficult because I don’t have any evidence of what I have done. When I read job descriptions there are many where I think I could do that, but trying to prove that is difficult,” she says.
Now she is thinking of looking for a side job to provide security while she continues her furniture recycling. The recycling does not allow a fast enough turnaround to earn a decent living. Catherine says she likes the independence of being able to bring in some money. She has had a couple of interviews for administrative jobs during the pandemic, but they have been full time and she would prefer to work part time so she can do her recycling work.
Catherine feels that her age may also be hindering her job search, although she says it is hard to prove age discrimination. “When I left my job at the secondary school I didn’t see it as my last paid employment, but maybe it was. That wasn’t the plan. I planned to have another career for 10 plus years,” she says. She adds: “I wonder if employers are thinking that, because of my age, I won’t be interested in learning new things.” Catherine’s whole working life is testament to the fact that that is not the case and that she is very able to adapt and be creative. She says: “I like learning new things. I hope that I never think I am the finished article.”
*workingwise.co.uk is looking to tell people’s career stories as a way of highlighting the range of experience of older workers, not just work-related but life-related. The aim is to change the sometimes negative narrative on older workers and show just how much we have to offer. If you are interested in taking part, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.