‘Council house cuisine’, ‘Frank Gallagher’, ‘Funny accents‘
These are all things you might think of when you think about the north or working class people. It’s never ‘Prime Minister’, ‘Hollywood actor’, ‘top quality food’. And it’s never ‘classy’.
Maybe you think of the working class as ‘cool’ and ‘urban’, this also isn’t super helpful as it perpetuates the idea that you have to be cool to be worthy if you’re working class, you have to be something above average just to be amongst the generational middle classes in the industry.
Viewed from above working class – yes even just in standard old middle class – this might all seem like good humour, something to love about our country. The hilarious north/south or class divide banter.
But in truth, it’s not so funny. And it’s something that has taken me so much of my adult working life to even realise! As a girl brought up by a single mum with 3 kids on a council estate in Sunderland.. it seemed all I was destined to do was work in the local Heron foods. Or at best, become a teacher in my local area. I never even dreamt that there could be other possibilities out there.
I had no intention of going to uni, but through lack of any other desirable choices, I thought I’d go ahead and give it a try. Still staying up in Sunderland.
Throughout uni, it became apparent that I’d have to either move to Manchester or London and at this time, I had no want or desire to move as far as London as there wasn’t a single person I even vaguely knew down there. However, long story short, after applying to countless work experiences and internships, I managed to be offered 2 weeks unpaid work experience in London. It felt amazing! However, there was absolutely no way I’d be able to afford to stay in London for 2 weeks when I had no job and wouldn’t be earning anything from this experience.
Luckily, the uni had a scheme funded by kind donations which helped poorer students financially for things that helped their careers. I had to do a lengthy essay and application to explain why I deserve this and I was given money to cover my travel and accommodation. (Am I now a charity case?)
And the rest is history! I now find myself ‘living the dream’. I’ve escaped the north and I guess I’m technically middle class? (does it count if I still live in a house share?!). But there’s always been something I find I’m missing from certain conversations. I always struggled with basic small talk with clients or in meetings with colleagues, knowing deep down I can’t be my true self. My mannerisms and my accent aren’t quite the same, I didn’t have much other than the odd caravan holiday growing up, and I’ve certainly never travelled around Asia, so it seems I’ve nothing in common to talk about even around growing up. There’s often the fear that you’ll say something that makes you sound uncultured, and in-turn, they think you’re incompetent at your job. There’s no doubt that people have treated me like I’m unintelligent because of my accent and demeanour. It truly has left me feeling isolated at times.
Now that I’m getting older, I’ve learned how to tone down my accent, and where to hide some of my working class-ness (although why should I?!). But I also look back and wonder what it’d have been like if I’d been able to stay near my family. If jobs like this were available more in places, not just large capital cities. It feels like a decision you have to make, leave it all behind in hope for happiness and good fortune, or stay in the bubble and live a miserable life counting up your coppers for a pint of milk. I truly hope that remote working can help with this going forward and that people do have the option to work in the industry from anywhere, and companies should be flexible with this.
I’m someone who is very open, honest and laid back. I don’t enjoy the need for fake office personalities and having to change yourself depending on who you’re meeting with. But this is the world we live in and we all have to do it at times, even if you’re middle or upper class. But I wonder if with more diversity and inclusion, we won’t need to be fake anymore. We won’t always be desperately trying to impress people different from us, we won’t all be trying to fit in with a certain crowd. And we can all be our chaotic selves!… maybe. Let people behave a little outside the box and I’m sure they will do more thinking outside of the box ey?!
Now I know there are working class people all over the country of course, I can only speak as someone coming from the North East. But here are some final thoughts to finish on..
Funding is invaluable – I’d not be where I am if I hadn’t been given an additional grant from uni. Please invest and donate to causes helping young people in less fortunate situations, or even just to schools, youth clubs and unis.
Patience is important – Just as with disabilities, mental illness, language barriers, we need to be patient with how working class people may communicate, they may not always have the exact same thought processes or vocabulary. We don’t all have the same ways of thinking, nor do we want that!
Being just within a close proximity to London is a huge privilege – use it if you’re working class and you’re nearby! But also, let’s not keep it as a place to work only if you are privileged, let’s put workflows in place to accommodate remote working from all over the country.
Thanks for reading, if you need me, you’ll find me eating a Greggs ‘n watchin Shameless x
Jamie-Lee Carr is Head of Production at Tinderflint.