In the world of Public Relations, work experience is essential to building a successful and rewarding career. As Maria Montessori said, ‘Only practical work and experience lead the young to maturity’, I did not know how true this was until discovering Portland Works.
In August 2020, I was studying Public Relations and Media at Sheffield Hallam University. Towards the end of my degree, I was shown a work experience opportunity that I needed in the path towards my dream career. I replied to an email sent from a lecturer of mine on behalf of a former cutlery works in Sheffield that had become one of the country’s largest community share issues needing someone to help with their PR work. This seemed like the perfect cause to get behind, not only would it be a perfect work experience opportunity, it was also a worthy cause for me to donate my time to. I was interviewed by Stella Howe, Portland Works’ Outreach and Education Officer, and within a week the job was mine!
In September, I began uploading content to the Portland Works Instagram page to promote the business and its cause. Furthermore, I got the chance to write my very first press release. Whilst in University I had been taught all about social media PR and wrote dozens of hypothetical press releases. The chance to produce this content for a good cause expanded the previous knowledge I had gained from my degree. Seeing the story about our 2020 Heritage Open Day Festival written in the Sheffield Star and receiving coverage on BBC Radio Sheffield via an interview with Stella, made me feel so happy and appreciative of the opportunity I had been given and I knew from then that PR was what my true passion.
As well as this, being able to work with Stella, a person so passionate about the heritage of Sheffield, made my work even more enjoyable. I remember being asked in my interview ‘Why do you love public relations?’, and my answer was ‘Working in public relations gives me the chance to take a company’s or person’s ethos and devotion and share it with the public, them enjoying what they do makes me enjoy doing what I can for them.’ This was how I felt working for Stella, seeing her enjoyment of history and heritage, and sharing this love with the public meant my work was not really work at all, it was a real joy. Another person I was so grateful to work with was Marco Foley, the Deputy Chair at Portland Works. His expertise in the corporate world taught me so much about working professionally and he is always there to assist me whenever I find myself stuck or confused.
One of the most enjoyable parts of my time at Portland Works is the fascinating heritage lectures I am able to attend and learn so much from, as well as having the pleasure of meeting the amazing people we have presenting them. Being given the chance to assist running these events as we came to terms with using Zoom was so fun. Considering I hadn’t studied history since secondary school, it was also incredibly refreshing and exciting.
Another reason that working for Portland Works is so rewarding is being able to share the talents of many through social media. In December 2020, Portland Works hosted its annual Christmas Markets, allowing me to share the work of so many talented artists that create their work at Portland Works. Using Instagram, I shared images of the creations these tenants had made and advertised them to our followers.
In January 2021, I was given the huge opportunity to be paid for my work under the Cultural Recovery Fund (CRF) project that was providing funding to Portland Works for multiple areas at the time. This would be my first time being paid to do Public Relations work for an organisation and it really showed me how far volunteering somewhere can go. Being employed as a freelancer by Portland Works meant that not only did I have experience to put on my CV, but I could present to future employers that my work was valued and appreciated.
Through the CRF, which provided funding to Portland Works in 2021, I had the chance to work with other professionals that would be able to teach me so much more. Portland Works also hired Julia Shipston, an experienced PR freelancer. Working alongside Julia meant I was able to learn so much about PR and have my work watched over by a real expert. We worked together on multiple articles for the Portland Works website, as well as analytical work and writing reports to present to a board. All of this gave me a real taste for what the professional world is like and with an excellent mentor to help me, I managed to learn so much that I still put into my work now and imagine I will throughout my career.
This takes us to May 2021, when I finally got to visit the Portland Works building for the very first time and meet some of the people that before then, I had only seen them from the shoulders up over countless Zoom calls. However, it was not just a social visit, I was asked to produce a video to show gratitude to the multiple Tuesday Volunteers that work hard to maintain the Portland Works building and conserve its heritage for National Volunteers Week. I thoroughly enjoyed creating this video, meeting all the volunteers, listening to their stories, and seeing how hilarious they all were made it an unforgettable day.
We are now in November and I am still a freelancer at Portland Works, writing articles like this, managing their social media accounts and helping with press work when the time calls for it. Working here has given me a great understanding of how the professional world works and allowed me to grow so much. If my work here at Portland Works can tell you anything, it is that a lot can come from answering an email about a potential volunteering opportunity, I have had the chance to learn so much, work with some amazing people, and build a respectable CV to take to future employers when the time comes.