Alison Reijman, PR executive at care company Brendoncare, talks to workingwise.co.uk about her varied life in journalism and PR and finds her enthusiasm for her job is undimmed at 64.
Alison Reijman made up her mind at 15 that she wanted to be a journalist after writing for her school magazine and, despite some ups and downs, including four redundancies, she hasn’t regretted it a bit with her bounceback ability underlining her resilience and commitment to a job she loves. She has worked in a broad range of fascinating organisations, covering everything from Portsmouth Historic Dockyards to the National Trust and she’s still learning at 64.
Alison got into journalism after school. Inspired by her time on the school magazine, she did some research, wrote to the National Council for Training of Journalists and got herself onto a pre-entry course for journalism in Portsmouth after her A Levels. “I loved writing,” she says. “I didn’t want to go to university. I wanted to write straight away.”
As a trainee she worked on the Beds & Bucks Observer in Leighton Buzzard. She stayed for four years, learned a lot and met lots of interesting people. When she started she had wanted to be a music journalist, writing about prog rock, but, although she was able to do some reviews, punk blew her plans out of the water.
After she passed her final journalism exams, she applied to the Hampshire Chronicle in Winchester, taking up her post in 1982. It was a bit of a culture shock. The newspaper hadn’t had a female reporter in 15 years and the newspaper was very old-fashioned, with front page adverts for cattle markets. News was almost verbatim reporting, but Winchester itself was bursting with history and it was an interesting time to be there. Alison became the first woman chief reporter on the paper, staying for eight years until technology swept in, changing the way news was done. Alison decided it was time for a change and started working for a PR agency and doing freelance features work for the county council.
She then set up her own business for 18 months, but work started to dwindle and her first husband left her with a pile of debts. Alison had to start over again.
She worked for a local MP in Southampton and then as a marketing executive. Marketing was not her forte – she liked telling stories – but it helped her get back on her feet again and then her dream job came along: working in the press office of the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. She stayed for eight years and describes it as “the best job in the world”. Just the journey to work, driving past HMS Victory every day, was a privilege, she says, although there were challenges with having a heritage site on a working naval base.
Alison worked with a lot of film crews, hosted broadcasters like Terry Wogan and programmes like Any Questions and Antiques Roadshow and organised a James Bond exhibition, which resulted in a Channel 4 programme on James Bond, hosted by Miss Moneypenny Lois Maxwell who wrote Alison a beautiful letter afterwards. “There was never a dull moment working somewhere that is an integral part of our history,” she says. “Everyone was so focused.”
She only left – and reluctantly – when she was passed over for promotion due, she says, to internal office politics. “I was very hurt. No-one thought about the impact on me. But I am very proud of the work I achieved. It is some of the best in my career. That job really suited my personality,” she states.
Alison remained in PR and her next job was as PR manager for the commercial arm of the National Trust. She started just after a major outbreak of foot and mouth disease and her job involved trying to get people to go back to National Trust properties. It was another job that really appealed to her due to the history of the beautiful properties she was dealing with. She took voluntary redundancy, however, when the headquarters moved to Swindon and the Trust restructured the press office.
After a period working for a PR agency, she branched out in a new direction, taking a job as press office manager at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation. She remained there for six years, learning all about the world of recruitment and establishing the REC as the go-to experts. Although it was a completely different field, Alison says her transferable skills, her passion for learning and her love of storytelling helped her make the job her own. “Journalism is one of those jobs where your life journey becomes more interesting with the people you meet and whose stories you tell,” she says.
Once again, however, she was made redundant. Around the same time her second marriage came to an end. She was approaching 50. It was time to reinvent herself again.
So Alison returned to her earliest passion – writing about music – and was discovered online, becoming a regular reviewer of prog rock albums and gigs. It was also as a result of her interest in music that she met her third husband Martin. There then followed a series of jobs on fields ranging from transport to care.
Through a friend Alison was invited to be a communications consultant for the British Council on a hot desking project, but that ended when her contract changed and she found she could not afford the commute. So she took a job as regional PR manager for First Bus covering the area from Cornwall to Hampshire. It was an interesting, but challenging job as there was a lot of criticism about public transport. Following yet another restructure she took redundancy.
The job centre directed her to the M3 Job Club which helped unemployed executives find their next role through coaching and other support to rebuild their confidence. Someone from the banknote designer and maker De La Rue came in one day, looking for bid writers. Alison thought she would give it a go. She worked with two young male graduates and says the small team “got on like a house on fire”. It was a new way of writing for her and, although it was not quite her style, she stayed for two years until, inevitably, they announced a restructure.
Alison picked herself up again and applied for a job as a part-time PR coordinator at a care company in Basingstoke. She got the job the same day and loved it. “We were living near Basingstoke. It ticked all the boxes. I had free time so could do other things like music writing and I was able to talk to people and come up with fantastic ideas,” she says. But earlier this year they too underwent a restructuring exercise and Alison took redundancy again. “It broke my heart,” she says.
Within a week, however, she got a job as a PR executive at another care company, Brendoncare, which has employees aged 79 and 74 and has been a big supporter of this year’s National Older Workers Week. A few weeks into the job, Alison says she couldn’t be happier. Her enthusiasm for her profession and for being open to new experiences is infectious. “I love that I am still working and making a difference,” she says, “and writing stories about amazing people.”