Changing paths to navigate Covid

Beena Nadeem talks to a range of over 50s who have changed career path as a result of Covid, either by reinventing themselves or investing in a side hustle to survive.

Fish changing its bowl


There’s probably no need to tell you that, if you’re aged fifty or more, the pandemic has been especially hard on you. As if you need reminding, you’re more likely to bear the brunt when it comes to unemployment, with rates shooting up by a third since last year.

A look at the most recent Labour Market Statistics analysis by Rest Less also finds a 280,000 growth in unemployment in the fifties and over demographic, while claims to Universal Credit also surged. Throw in a little age discrimination and the over fifties are also the least to be reemployed compared than other age groups.

Despite many over fifties losing work after years of building up a career, we’re also hearing tales of those who have  found imaginative and insightful ways through the pandemic. These people show us that, with a little courage, you can reinvent a career for yourself that will carry you through the restrictions, and beyond.

Sarah Milne, 50, switched from teacher to professional astrology

As someone who lost her job just before lockdown when severe asthma left her in intensive care, Sarah could no longer return to her school job. She retrained during long stints at home and is now a professional astrologer. “I was a teacher this time last year, but had to part company with school after being in intensive care three times last winter with asthma and being advised not to be in an environment with bugs and colds. Schools are notorious as Covid factories right now,” she says.

Alongside writing a book during lockdown on the literary history of London, and now on to her second, she used her periods off sick to retrain.  “By the time I turned fifty in November, the business had built to a steady income and I have big plans for the coming year. It is wonderful to be able to help others to cope with their changes and challenges through their charts. I feel this was what I was meant to be doing and it took being knocked out and ventilated to make me realise”.

She adds that the biggest challenges lay in having to learn new tech, like “Canva and Facebook ads, but it didn’t take me too long to get there. I am really excited about my new life now”.

Becky Sheaves, 53, switched from marketing manager to rural nursery owner

Becky worked as a journalist for years before she switched to marketing for a large estate agency, which she says, wasn’t really for her.

“I took a forest school course, got myself registered as a childminder and have opened up a micro-nursery at my home. I now work with two colleagues and we have up to six under- fives every day.

“At 53 I’m loving my new career. I’m on a very pretty farm in Devon and the children spend their time outdoors with mud, trees, ponies, chickens, sheep.

“The Ofsted paperwork was truly epic to get this off the ground, but we have lots of enthusiasm from local parents and have built up from two days a week to four and will go for five days a week after Christmas.”

Steve went from musician and composer to a candle maker on the side

Steve Hamilton hasn’t changed careers, but, like many professional musicians, Covid soon prevented any live performances.

Instead of a career change, Steve has added to his repertoire by launching Burning Soul, a scented, natural, candle business.

“I never considered making candles, but decided to buy a glass cutter to make tumblers out of wine bottles …. the wax arrived the next day courtesy of my wife and I’ve made over 2,000 candles since then.

“I see it as another string to my bow on top of my music work.”

Steve, who plays saxophone for artists including Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, as well as Madness, still does remote sessions during lockdown.

Candle sales exceeded his expectations. “It gives me a renewed sense of community – it’s heart-warming to have found something to help not only financially but to keep me busy in an incredibly uncertain time when I couldn’t see how to make ends meet.”

Jane Keightley went from travel writer and receptionist to tour guide

Jane describes herself as a 63-year-old-granny who worked part-time in all sorts of jobs to fit around her children, mainly in retail and bookselling, but the hours, she says, were long and the wages low.

“I loved bookselling, but not working all the hours God sent. Once my kids grew up, I went very part time, working as a receptionist in an optician’s and the rest of the time started travel writing, specialising in Italy.”

Last year she started Boston History Tours, which tells people more about the history of Boston in Lincolnshire, though with everything that has happened this year, she says she fears she will lose her work…and she hasn’t been able to go back to Italy.

Helen Campbell went from full-time journalist to counsellor, while Covid added novel writer and eco-business founder to her portfolio

The 47-year-old former full-time international business journalist turned her hand to being a local councillor after 24 years of writing and travelling.

“Now I’m a councillor, writing a novel and slowly starting up an environmentally-friendly party-hire business – if we ever have parties again,” she smiles.

“It’s ironic,” she says, “that having had such an international career, I am now very locally-focused.”

With the pandemic giving her more time, she’s started her first novel, as well as taking an online TEFL course to teach English. “I’m about to start teaching my first student, who is an asylum seeker. I am happily moving away from journalism and much more towards a combination of work and volunteering activities where I am much closer to helping people and local communities.”

She is also starting an eco-friendly business with her sister.

As Anne Iarcy’s weight-loss and health-coaching business downsized during the pandemic she launched a cottage bread-baking industry

Anne, 48, was working prolifically as a weight loss and healthy lifestyle coach and was just one day away from publishing her first book, 5 Simple Steps to Releasing the Real You, when plans around the book and subsequent expansion of her business all fell through. At the same time, more than half of her clients were hit financially, becoming unable to commit to Zoom-based lessons.

“What started off as a bit of fun, turned into a small cottage industry: baking artisan, healthy, versions of sourdough bread. It has now seen me selling to friends and a few local shops and customers.”

Jo Darling went from acupuncturist to businesswomen

At 51, Jo Darling was running a successful, hands-on acupuncture studio in Hove. After Covid, she switched her attention to the release of a new product Menopoised through her company that finds natural ways in which to tackle hot flushes – a symptom of perimenopause and menopause.

“When Covid struck, I was already in discussions to re-sign a five-year lease on my health clinic. As we went into lockdown I terminated my tenancy, losing my three-month deposit.

Unable to practise acupuncture, something she’d done for 10 years, Jo put her attention into launching the new product.

“I had already been working on acupuncture-inspired products to support women going through peri/menopause, but, as I was no longer able to practise acupuncture, I put all my attention into launching a new brand to help women who couldn’t have hands-on treatment for their menopause,” she states.

Due to shortages of HRT, and stress caused by menopause, the product has been in more demand than ever.

“It’s quite a change from hands-on practice to running a product-based business and it’s one that I’m adjusting to,” she adds.

Business coach who turned menopause coach because of the pandemic during the lockdown, Dinah Tobias, shows us that our fifties are the perfect age to make career switches.

At 52 she says that the increasing time people are spending at home gives them the space to think about their real feelings of dissatisfaction at work, including those over fifty who want to channel their skills towards their real passions.

“A second act career can bring time for creativity or true purpose. A time that is truly managed by you, not by others with different agendas and priorities.”

With no client work on the horizon, she switched to helping organisations retain and support their female staff undergoing perimenopause and menopause through launching Blooming Menopause.

She says: “Having gone through the bewildering journey of menopause in the previous years, I decided to help organisations educate towards supporting colleagues dealing with menopause whilst at work.”

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