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Spare Room Project

Spare Room Project

In September and October 2017 Paul Stark (Senior Audio Manager at Orion) hosted Josh Moorby as part of the Spare Room Project whilst he completed a second stint of work experience at Bloomsbury. Josh was completing his Publishing MA at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) in Preston, and during his stay he was offered a full-time role as a Sales Assistant. 12 months later the two met up at the Understudy Bar on the South Bank to discuss the Spare Room Project, getting into publishing and how the publishing world is changing…

Paul The best place to start is your entry into publishing – did you feel you had to get work experience before you started applying for roles?

Josh Definitely. Although there’s a strong publishing scene in the north, I also wanted to gain experience with large trade publishers, and felt this was necessary before I’d be considered for full time positions. Coming down south for work experience was really the only way I could get into the London side of the industry.

Paul And you were at Bloomsbury for quite a while?

Josh Yes, the initial stint was one month, unpaid with travel expenses, and then they brought me back for another month paid – it was during the second period that I applied for, and got, my current role.

Paul So how did you find out about the Spare Room Project?

Josh Through my MA – a lot of my tutors had been in the industry and had gone freelance. James Spackman (founder of the Spare Room Project) was on their radar, so I contacted him on their recommendation and it all went from there. I wouldn’t have known about this option without the course, as publishing is still an oddly difficult industry to learn about from the outside. Without the Project I wouldn’t have been able to afford to come to London for work experience. What made you want to join the Spare Room Project as a host?

Paul I was very lucky getting into the industry. I didn’t do a publishing Masters or any similar courses. I took a year after my degree working as a waiter and then as a bookseller (with a bit of travelling), and once I’d established that I wasn’t going to be a writer, I decided that publishing was the way to go, so spent a lot of time researching different roles and different ways in. I was very lucky that my parents lived (and still live) just over an hour’s train ride from London – it was a pretty long commute, but it wasn’t prohibitive – and that meant I could live at home whilst doing work experience. The expenses I got from both placements I completed were enough to cover my travel, and I didn’t have to worry about somewhere to stay before I got my first job at Orion. Reflecting on that experience, and talking to other people and their routes into the industry, you come to appreciate more and more that the whole work experience question is very difficult. It’s something that publishers still look for, but that does tend to narrow down your pool to a much smaller group of people who live close to London and who have the kind of financial security needed to effectively work for nothing for a period. I know that before the Spare Room Project kicked off the whole question was getting very controversial, particularly with a lot of the longer-term internships that were being offered for minimal pay. You can’t work in the industry for any length of time and not realise just how skewed the industry can be just by geography for a start, against people who don’t live in the south east. When the Spare Room Project started I had been in my flat for about 10 months, and it was now set up for me to have guests. The Project was pushed internally at Orion by our MD, so I thought it was worth getting involved with.

Josh Would you say, since the kick-off, you’ve seen publishing become less London-centric, with more people from outside London able to come down for work experience? Do you think that’s resulted in more non-Londoners in full time publishing jobs?

Paul I don’t think we’re there yet – it’s going to be a long process for the industry to become completely open – but we are seeing a change in terms of how far people are looking, how roles are being advertised, CV requirements (university degrees are now no longer a requirement in some instances) and things like that. From Hachette’s perspective there’s been more clarification about making the process easier for people from further afield – we can help with expenses for people from outside the M25, for example. Some of the boundaries that are preventing people from taking up jobs are slowly being eroded too. Orion now offers a rental deposit loan scheme as well as the season ticket loan scheme for full-time employees, which makes that first step of getting into the city so much easier. Going back to your experience of the Spare Room Project, from my perspective I get a list of names of people looking for places to stay, and when they need them – you just email James if you can help, and then he emails to make the introductions. When James put us in touch you were in London and looking for somewhere for the final weeks of your second placement. Was the Project still helpful financially at this point in your internship?

Josh Yes, absolutely. At the end of the first month I’d already spent a lot of my savings funding the placement, and my pay from my second month hadn’t come through when I contacted you. Thankfully hosts from my first internship were happy to put me up again – I had three days’ notice between being asked to return to London and my second internship starting. I didn’t want to miss this opportunity, and through Spare Room contacts I managed to have accommodation in time.

Paul I remember that our first actual meeting was pretty awkward – I’d sent you the list of flat details, where everything was, how to get there etc. in advance…

Josh And rules about the ban on tuna, and not to eat the peas in the freezer…

Paul Yes, I forgot about that! But I was running off to play hockey, you were caught in a train strike, and the centre of Surbiton was blocked by a food market – so it was literally a 30 second hello at the station, here’s the keys, here’s how you get back, good luck! Did it ever feel awkward, going into strangers’ houses through the Project?

Josh I was nervous at first but everyone was very welcoming. In my head I wasn’t just representing the Spare Room Project, I was also representing my university course and the area that I came from, so I felt I needed to be an ideal candidate. I wanted to set a good example and hopefully encourage hosts to take on more people from the UCLan course. The first place I stayed, I wasn’t feeling very sure of myself, and I’d only been to London once before, so that was a bit of a learning curve. Everyone was really friendly, though, so even when my hosts weren’t in, I didn’t feel out of place in their homes. The Project breaks down that barrier of initial contact, and after that it’s pretty comfortable. How did you find it, and how many people have you hosted?

Paul I think I’ve hosted five people now. It’s been really good meeting new people who are interested in the industry – one in particular was coming to a one-day conference about the industry, and was still working out if publishing was for her. She was a high-achiever, and very intelligent – fascinating to talk to. The others were much more set on coming into publishing, and it was really interesting talking to them about what they were learning about the industry, what direction they were looking to take, and what they were hoping to gain from their experience. It’s always good to meet new people, but it’s also great to get a different perspective on the industry from someone who’s just entering it. I’ve been in publishing, and at Orion, for nearly 12 years now and I’ve seen it change an awful lot in that time (I pre-date the ebook, weirdly), and you get real insight from speaking to people coming in at a different time with different goals and inspirations.

Josh That was going to be my next question – through the Spare Room Project do you get a different sense of the industry? You’re sitting down for meals together, and talking to your guests most evenings – I found it fascinating talking to people in different publishers, in very different careers, opening up about their time in publishing. Did you feel the same?

Paul Definitely! I’ve been very lucky that my career path has taken me through lots of different areas, such as rights, ebooks and now audio. You pick up some things working with people on a day-to-day basis, but you never stop learning. Speaking to people who are involved in the Masters programme, where you get that breadth of teaching, you do learn a lot. The change of focus is interesting too – listening to what people have to say about educational and technical publishing, the children’s market, coding and digital work. You get an extra insight there, and it reminds you of everything you need to try and engage with. We do tend to get stuck in our ways in publishing, so it’s great to get that different focus and shake things up a bit. You managed to turn your internship into a full-time role whilst staying with me, which was great – would that opportunity have come up if you weren’t down for that second stint at Bloomsbury?

Josh Not at all. I had a similar pattern in both stints, where I was coming in early, making myself useful, and then staying late to apply for jobs. I did the same in my second stint, and was fortunate to have the combination of being in the right place with more experience behind me. If I’d been at home when the role came up, I would have applied, but I would have had to worry about train costs for the interview, and missing a day of paid work to come to London. Being in London for the interview period, and having worked with everyone in the team, made a huge difference.

Paul Is there anything you’d change about the Spare Room Project?

Josh Not really. The Spare Room Project gives a great opportunity to people that wouldn’t otherwise be available. The only thing which needs to happen is it needs to spread wider– it needs to be pushed again in the Bookseller, and be brought to the attention of people at all levels of the industry. Hopefully seeing that this type of support is available will encourage people outside of London to take advantage of work experience and internships here.

Paul Beyond that, there’s more that the industry needs to do to encourage people from different backgrounds into publishing – what do you think needs to happen there? What’s the next first step to being more inclusive?

Josh I think establishing links with undergraduate and Masters courses further afield, and working with organisations like SYP North, would be key. It’ll be hard to cast the net wider without people from different backgrounds knowing about the support schemes the industry now offers. As you said, publishing houses are also starting to provide financial help for travel and accommodation, and offering paid work placements is incredibly important for bringing in new people from different backgrounds. For instance, Bloomsbury currently runs a paid internship scheme that lasts 3 months.

Paul So my last question for you is… when you have a spare room of your own, are you going to sign up and start hosting people?

Josh Funnily enough I do have a spare room now, and I am going to sign up next year. I really benefitted from hosts going out on a limb and welcoming me into their homes, so I’m keen to give back when I can.

Paul Great! Another pint?

Josh Sounds good!

More on HUK and Changing the Story:

Hachette aims to be the publisher and employer of choice for all people, regardless of age, faith, disability, race, gender, sexuality or socio-economic background. Changing the Story, Hachette UK's Diversity & Inclusion Group, is dedicated to making this happen.

As well supporting the Spare Room Project, covering travel expenses for interview candidates and the rental deposit scheme, Hachette UK and Orion also include salaries on all job adverts for entry-level roles, and offer a series paid internships including Fresh Chapters 8 week internships, paid at London Living Wage, and Fresh Chapters 12-Month Traineeship – paid, for BAME candidates. We also have a newly formed Employee Network – All Together Network, focused on recruitment and retention of those of low socioeconomic status backgrounds or from regional backgrounds. For more information please contact