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2022: The Year to Review!

Nicola Biggerstaff – 16 December 2022

Much like our Robin, and despite appearances, I don’t like writing about myself either. If it doesn’t relate to the work we do at Common Weal, I don’t like putting it out there. It’s the same reason I don’t journal, I always think that everything else going on in the world is so much more important to document than what I’m doing or thinking, it just doesn’t feel right. However, I have made some exceptions, including this week. This year has been a year of hope for me, and if you’ll allow me to indulge for just a moment, it will all make sense in the end.

My January started pretty similar to the January before, not getting much rest over the festive period as I continued to slog away in my supermarket job. I was tired, made weary working through a pandemic, taking on even more hours than usual covering yet another outbreak among my colleagues I had managed to avoid by not being very sociable. This was only meant to be a stop gap, a wage while I studied. Now I’m three years in, almost 18 months since I graduated, and I could feel myself becoming trapped, the self-doubt almost unbearable. The only thing I had to look forward to being my upcoming rescheduled ceremony.

I had just been rejected from yet another round of exhaustive job applications, the civil service fast stream for a second time, and now from the PGDE programme at my alma mater. I was running out of money, bleeding most of it into paying my energy bills through the winter in a rented flat no one had ever bothered to insulate. Working every Thursday to Monday, never quite getting a full night’s rest as the punters in the surrounding pubs enjoyed their weekend and their newfound freedom from lockdown restrictions. ‘Keep your chin up!’ I was always told, ‘You’ll get there eventually!’ I struggled to believe them. I was on track to become just another sob story. The graduate that couldn’t get a foot in the door, their intellect they worked so hard to prove, left to rot as the fallout in the employment market from the pandemic raged on.

I just checked my phone to see if the picture gallery could jog my memory of this time, since this is all I remember of it. Nothing of me or anything I did, it’s full of pictures and videos of my nephew continuing to grow, learning to crawl, then walk, to gabble and look adorable in his superhero pyjamas. He kept going, and so must I.

Then in the early spring, it finally happened. An email from an Amanda Burgauer asking to interview me for a policy role I applied for. In a case of momentous timing, I had my interview one morning a couple of weeks later, then headed straight out for my graduation that afternoon. The whole day I had this feeling I wasn’t used to, that I hadn’t felt in a while, my intuition was telling me that things were finally going to work out. I had a good feeling about my interview and as I sat sipping wine at dinner that night, I figured out what that feeling was: hope.

A week later, the phone call I’d been waiting for all this time arrived. I handed in my notice and began my latest adventure at Common Weal. I was welcomed with open arms into an expanding team that had such a wealth of knowledge and experience, I wondered for a moment if I had bitten off more than I could chew. But the more I got stuck in, the more it all became second nature. I started getting to know the keen members of our working groups, familiarise myself even more with our policies, upcoming campaigns and events, and became a regular contributor to the newsletter. I was somewhat settled. I began to live a life again, making a treacherous return to live events and socialising just as the nights got a little lighter.

Then it hit me.

It was in the car on the way back from a concert in England with my parents. ‘Do you realise how much you’ve been coughing?’ The dreaded question, followed by the dreaded positive test. What a way to start the summer.

I was bedbound for the first three or four days, getting no more than 20 minutes sleep each night. I was told in no uncertain terms I was not to return to my desk until I was better. I wound up in out of hours with breathing difficulties, but thankfully not unwell enough to need hospital treatment. I later learned this appointment was the prerequisite for a Covid admission, and I was their first one ever to end up back home with antibiotics. Overdramatic? Or a sign of things finally looking up? As the severity of cases and admissions continue to fall, I think the latter.

For most of my working life so far, I’d been programmed to be fearful of management. Stay out of their way, keep working and they won’t be on your back. Don’t be known, don’t be a fuss, just keep working. The well wishes through my recovery from everyone were such a shock that I haven’t quite confronted it until now. It was so alien to me that a company, and the people behind it, would genuinely care about me and my health, rather than the money they could be losing with my absence. I knew I was finally in the right place.

I made a next to full recovery just in time for us to head to Doune the Rabbit Hole for my first ever ‘working holiday’, and my first ever festival. I wrote all about it but in sum, a definite highlight of the year. The sun was scorching, the music blaring, the atmosphere uplifting. Meeting some more of the team in person for the first time, including my fellow new starts, that weekend I was surer than ever that this must be the best job out there. My friend who came with me could see it as well. ‘You seem a lot happier’, is a much nicer compliment than anything that can be said on looks or superficial aesthetics.

Back home, and back to it. Now what? Suddenly facing potential homelessness, it was now time to take the next logical step in what is an illogical society and buy a place of my own, a process which was also well documented in our newsletter and how it all related to the work we do. After a difficult, whirlwind few months confronting all the issues that come with being a homeowner, I’m now just a few finishing touches away from finally being able to move in permanently, and I can’t wait to make this space a home.

Finally, what a way to wrap up a year of personal and professional growth than with our launch of Sorted earlier this month. When I first started there was talk of ‘a book’. Now it’s here, the culmination of everything we all worked so hard for. In fact, this month so far generally feels like an accumulation of all the previous months’ efforts. Despite the mental apprehensions I fight with, I still know this is a year, and indeed a life, I’ve worked hard to achieve.

I hope you’ll forgive me taking this week to take some pride in myself, but we wanted to bring you some positivity to wrap up this year. What could possibly be more positive than feeling like things are looking up? A final boost of hope, to coincide with the hope we want to put out into the world with our work.

I’d like to take this moment to thank everyone involved in Common Weal, my colleagues, our working groups, our volunteers, and of course all our supporters, for making all of this possible. For making me feel so welcome, for all the amazing opportunities that have come with the job (so far!), and for all the guidance and support. I cannot wait to see what 2023 will bring for all of us. Even if it brings its own obstacles, may we all be in a position to tackle them head on. That is hope.

3 thoughts on “2022: The Year to Review!”

  1. Donald McPhillimy

    Thanks for sharing and bringing work at Common Weal to life. As a green activist myself (with Greener Melrose), I’ve noticed that trying to get local people to engage is harder than ever. It can be done with energy and creativity but many, many people are just simply fed up, pissed off and inward looking at the moment. That will change and one of the reasons it will change is Common Weal. Keep up the great work, generating hope!

  2. Fiona McOwan

    Thanks for sharing your year Nicola and so glad that you got your job at Common Weal, great addition to the team. Wishing you a very Happy Christmas and on into 2023.

  3. Allison Graham

    Aw Nicola, well that fair cheered me up at the end! You are a joy to have in Conmon Weal and watching you take confidently to the stage at Faslane had us ‘oldies’ bursting wae pride. Wishing you and all the amazing CW team a braw 2023 when we take that hope and make a tangible positive difference!

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