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Liz Maddison went from a career in further education to working flexibly for Utility Warehouse.
Liz Maddison has had a varied career, fuelled by a passion for children, and in her 50s she had to negotiate a challenging workplace environment and legal action before making the big decision to start afresh in a more flexible role. That decision is something she has no regrets about. She talks to workingwise.co.uk about how it came about.
Liz started her career in special educational needs and has worked on behavioural support for a local authority, in the voluntary sector training foster carers and in further education.
Liz didn’t go to college after leaving school. By the age of 20 she had had her first child and was a stay at home mum By 24 she had her three children and was separated from her first husband. She decided to train to be a nursery nurse. It was, she says, the only thing she felt she knew how to do. She got a distinction and was encouraged to take an advanced diploma to be an assessor, later doing a leadership management degree. The diploma led to her working in special educational needs.
From 2004 to 2016 Liz worked full time as a teacher in adult education in Teesside, teaching a broad-based foundation degree in childcare-related subjects, including personal and cognitive development. She says there was “not a subject I did not cover”. That was part of the problem – the curriculum changed every year with new specifications and levels added.
Liz really loved working with the students. Although very few had a vocational passion for working in childcare, she felt they enjoyed her lessons and learnt valuable information about child development which could help them throughout their lives.
What she didn’t love, though, was all the paperwork and what she found to be a very stressful, unsupportive working environment. Liz felt trapped. She had spent most of her adult life as a single parent and although her sons had grown up, she still had to pay the mortgage and needed a reliable salary. She investigated franchising as a possible route out.
In the end an incident occurred which forced her to take action and turn her life around. Having taken part in a voluntary project in Namibia working with elephants, Liz decided to investigate whether she could take some of her students to work on the project. The college said they could not fund the trip so Liz and the students fundraised for it. She ended up taking 12 students for two weeks. “It was really successful and I wanted to do it again the next year,” she says. It became her driving passion and deflected from the other parts of her work which she was not enjoying.
Then, one Friday, after a particularly difficult week, she had a teaching observation which forced her to take action. She went part time and started working for a dog walking business on the side and became a part-time distributor for Utility Warehouse, a a multiservice provider of household services.
However, she felt there was resentment against her decision from senior management and it all came to a head when she asked if she would be paid in full for the second trip to Namibia, given she would be working the full two weeks. She was told just before the trip was due to start that she would not get anything for supervising the students 24/7. Liz had to decide whether to go unpaid or cancel and let the students down. She decided to go, but the stress was immense.
Liz was putting on her make-up to go to work one day and couldn’t do it because she was crying too much. “I had reached breaking point,” she says. She went on sick leave and has never returned to the job or to any teaching role. “It was not an easy decision. My identity was bound up with the job. I had a purpose and status. I didn’t know how I would manage, but I have never regretted it,” she says.
After she left Liz took her former employer to an employment tribunal, but the cards were stacked against her as the Namibia trip was her project and her employer was not legally obliged to pay. Moreover, she appeared to have gone along with the decision not to pay her by going on the trip. “The court summary was very sympathetic, but the law is the law,” she says.
Liz then had to work out her financial situation. She was 55 at the time and could start to draw down her pension. Liz took part in coach Judith Wardell’s Time of Your Life programme which helped her to do some soul-searching and decide what to do next.
She opted to put more of her energy into the Utility Warehouse business where she could get more money than from the dog walking, and more respect. “It met my social, emotional and financial needs and I could work when I wanted to. There is no set schedule,” she says, adding that she has become a senior team leader, responsible for sponsoring people into her business and supporting them, and is now one of the highest achievers in the company. “That gives me a sense of success,” she says.
Liz loves the job and has over 500 regular customers who she advises on how they can cut their utilities bills, for instance, if their tariff is coming to an end. Liz describes herself as a personal account manager. She gets customers through word of mouth and sets her own routine, which includes a weekly networking sessions and yoga. She is also able to set her own targets.
During Covid Liz has been able to keep working, even when she had to move in with her mum. She couldn’t do the dog walking, however, but has taken in a lodger who is helping to pay the bills. Another of the big upsides of her current flexible work is that she will be able to look after her youngest son’s first child. She missed out on grandparenting duties with her other grandchildren when she was teaching. “The work I do now means I can run my business, enjoy the social side of working and put something back by looking after my grandchild,” she says.