No joy from the recruitment agencies or anything useful like that, but I went into town to purchase a bagful of toiletries to keep me going for the next few months. (New toothbrush time! I bought the silliest-looking one at the second cheapest price range. Toothbrush prices seem to have gone up a lot recently.) As well as noticing just how many of the lots within the Cleveland Centre (Middlesbrough's most central covered mall) were empty - only five or six, but enough for that to start to be a factor - I saw signs for a jobs roadshow on at the town hall. Now I was dressed completely casually, but I popped my head in and grabbed a free programme that they were handing out. It seemed quite interesting, potentially useful and happily it was going to still be in progress for another two and a quarter hours. (10 'til 7.)
So, in a rash fit of exuberance, I dashed home on the bus, shaved, showered, got dressed up in my nicest suit and my favourite tie, grabbed my folder of CVs and got Dad to give me a lift back into town. I felt proactive. I felt confident. I felt like I wanted to sweep a recruiter who I'd never met before off her feet and take her out to dinner. It was quite unlike me most of the time and pleasantly scary.
So, dressed to impress, I plunged into the unknown and went back in. The first stall I went to was that of the Tees Valley Information, Advice and Guidance network (web site under construction... hmm) and spoke to a big hairy guy called Peter Double-Barrelled about my situation. I told him that I needed guidance and direction about getting back into work. I was forthright and told him things that I haven't told most of you folk. (Coming soon. Difficult to write.) He has agreed to fix me up with a careers guidance interview which may well be just the sort of thing I'm looking for. The amusing thing is that I filled in an application form and he said "You'll never believe this, but I live ten doors away from you". And he does! So, as I joked, if this doesn't work out, I know where he lives... :-) I reckon there is maybe a 20% chance that he'll find this some day, but I was amused to discover one of my near-neighbours this way. He seemed like a nice guy and quite concerned.
Next I talked to the people at Working Links who are "designed to get the long-term unemployed back to work, and help them stay there". Effectively I'm long-term unemployed, though technically I'm self-employed, and our ward is just outside the ones which they get most support from helping. (I live close to the edge of the ward, so I may be "close enough" for practical purposes.) Could well be another source of useful, professional-quality advice and guidance.
I also talked to Reed Recruitment, who are between branches in the area, but seemed to be very helpful. Only time will tell whether they prove any better than Adecco or Manpower, but their representatives at the stall gave a good account of themselves. Had a quick word with the Jobcentre Plus people, who were promoting their web site and helpline, the Wise Group who were very pleasant but couldn't assist someone who wasn't in their target area for funding, Radio Cleveland and the Evening Gazette: only jobs for media sales reps going at the moment, which isn't me, but some useful addresses and the reminder of the existence of such things as work shadowing, which might be something to look into. (Always struck me that the media were rather more facilitative than most sectors for creative things like that, but certainly something which bears reminding.)
Two other stalls stood out. One was Middlesbrough Council, who were more into helping employers than would-be employees, but gave information out about where they advertise their jobs. (Effectively, only places I look already, but that's good to know.) I worked for Middlesbrough Council for about a month - they found a placement on the New Deal scheme in the Community Safety section there. It was strange but rather nice: one full-time worker, one office boy doing an apprenticeship and two graduates (counting me) from the New Deal scheme. I only stayed there a month before the MSO started paying for me to work for them full-time, but that's another story.
Unfortunately I never really got a particular sense of closure from my involvement with Community Safety and I rather drifted out of touch with the people there. In fact, I couldn't even remember the full-time worker's name. So I asked the representative at the jobs stand and we kind of worked it out - she mentioned some other familiar people who I definitely remembered working with, but she couldn't remember the full-time worker's name herself. Sadly, it turns out that she died of cancer a year or two ago, probably aged well under fifty. Not only is this very sad, because she was personable and pleasant as well as being a good boss to work for, but it's also annoying in terms of getting a reference. Only the good die young, as they say. Huh.
That did put a bit of a crimp on things, but the last stall I tried, very much as a long shot, was that of the North-East Chamber of Commerce. (Er, this North East Chamber of Commerce, not this one in PA or this one in MD.) They were there mostly to speak to the employers, but I was wondering if they could help me find people who might want web sites. It was getting close to closing time at 7 o'clock and they were starting to put their stall away so in a classic jobs-fair closing stunt I helped them do so and also to carry some things to their car. (An old trick - hopefully it gets them to think of you as helpful and so makes them more keen to help you.) The fact that I also knew someone who dated their President's daughter made me better-disposed towards trying something a bit more network-y with them; unfortunately, said President is now an ex-President and only one of the two of them recognised said ex-President's name, so I don't think it's an instant "in". Nevertheless, it's a name to try to phone tomorrow, to remind them that I am a helpful person and to see if they can help. In practice, I doubt they can, but it's worth a go.
The most interesting thing that they said was that I should consider moving south where more of the web work is (I did mention the best example of someone rather better-qualified than me and based in London here) but supposedly the hot place at the moment is Reading. Reading! I always thought of it as a desperately dull place with not much to commend it other than its location between Oxford and London, but apparently that's where there's zero unemployment right now and lots of jobs going spare. (There's also the Isle of Man, supposedly, but that has the downsides of requiring non-trivial work permits and of being a bugger to get to.) Accordingly I'd like to tap the brains of those in Reading and close to see whether you get the buzz that Reading is the hot place at the moment, or whether it's a false lead. Any help or local knowledge you can provide here would be much appreciated. :-) (For the confused, it's pronounced as in "Otis Redding" rather than to rhyme with "breeding".)
So I walked home, reasonably satisfied and more optimistic than I had been for a while. A very pleasant surprise - I wouldn't have expected to be in this situation 24 hours ago, heck, even 4 hours ago. (If you had told me about it, I probably would have cried off going.) Nice to know that these things can come out of the blue; yes, I have offered thanks to the non-denominational God I agnostically worship. Admittedly the day's initiatives are all still little steps on the long route and I can't help feeling that I'm really playing at finding a job rather than getting down to it and submitting ten good applications a week, but definitely I have a clearer idea of things to try and the next steps to take. Down to me to get on with them rather than sitting here and posting things to LJ, I guess. Your proactive support in this regard would be very much appreciated, folks. :-)
Oh, I saw an absolutely fantastic cliché goth as I was walking home - the hair, the clothes, the make-up, the spikes, the works. If you had taken a photo and stuck it on a playing card then you would have the Ace Of Goths right there. If any of you know the card game Gother Than Thou then this androgynous being was gother than that. That cheered me up too.