Merging places for a true sense of place (and self)

Catherine Raynor’s blog is the first of a series of guest posts on the theme of Sense of Place.

It’s 18.14 as I start this post. I’m writing it in my garden. I have a stack of paper in front of me. On it are the notes for a plan that I will write up tomorrow morning before heading out to meet a friend for coffee. She’s on sick leave after her second lumpectomy in little over a year. Today I’ve written six case studies for a client, done a load of laundry, cleaned my flat, signed up for some Labour canvassing slots, updated our prospects spreadsheet and been for a swim. I’ve chatted to my business partner on Skype and spoken to my Mum on the phone about where capers come from.

So what sense of place, and self, does working from home give me? It means I regard time as a whole, to carve up to best effect. I don’t have work life and home life; I have life. I seamlessly blend chores with work, hanging up some towels as a break from my desk and in doing so achieving those much lauded (and important!) few minutes of moving between tasks. I chew through a sticky problem as I swim in an almost-empty mid-afternoon pool. It means I can support friends through tough times. And it means I rarely wake up on a Saturday with a list of life admin that will suck the life out of my downtime.

I love my home office. I’m a nester. I like things around me that make me feel ‘at home’, even when I’m at my desk. When I worked in an office I had favourite birthday cards and photos pinned to my notice board. I had a fruit bowl from some travels on my desk, a selection of cereal, teas and toiletries in the deep drawer meant for hanging files. As I hear an increasing number of friends talk of hot desking policies imposed on today’s office environment, I shudder.

So far, so me. How does this set-up help my clients? For my clients my home office offers flexibility. About 50% of our work is international, so if I’m planning a shoot to India and my client requests a planning call at 7am my time, it’s really not a big deal. When a client calls with an urgent and last minute edit I can reassure them that us working a couple of hours on Sunday really isn’t a big deal. Of course, technology means that most people could do this, regardless of whether they’re self-employed or not, but I don’t resent it because I’m not being forced to bring work into ‘my’ personal space, I invited it in. And on those days when workloads demand a 12 hour day, as they do in employment or self-employment, I don’t begrudge it because I know I can just take that time back. If not immediately then definitely come Wimbledon fortnight when it’s written into our rule book that unless the Queen wants the moon on a stick I don’t do much more than answer emails from my sofa from 13.00 when centre court opens…

But I’m also an extrovert. I get my energy from people. I loved office life; the gossip over morning coffee, the drama of internal politics, and the ‘quick drink’ after work that you knew would never be quick. God, I even loved team building, away days and appraisals! So how do I stay true to the gregarious and learning-hungry side of me and how do I maintain a good working relationship with my business partner when he lives and works 200 miles away?

Well, on the latter we Skype most days and spend a lot of times on shoots together. I’ve even managed to embed my love of reviews and planning into our annual calendar and every so often I decamp to Mile 91’s West Country base for reflection and brainstorming. As for the social butterfly in me that thrives on daily interaction, well, again, tech is great. Fellow self-employed types and I will regularly chat on WhatsApp as you would if you were taking a few minutes downtime in the office. The friend I’m meeting tomorrow I met through a local freelancers networking group. I write this post for a fellow entrepreneur who’s a peer on an enriching professional development group. There’s even a group of us who enjoy an Unemployables’ Christmas Lunch each year!

Unemployable? How so? Aren’t we all talented, well-networked, much in demand consultants? *chuckles* Well yes, but we’ve also all thrived so greatly through the flexibility, freedom and reduction in stress that comes with self-employment that we really do regard ourselves as unemployable. We’d struggle to go back to an office. Our sense of self and sense of place is born of our ability to forge our own path and use our time to best effect.

Catherine is a co-founder and co-director of Mile 91 which specialises in story gathering and story management for charities and changemakers. Through films, photos and words they bring to life the impact of social organisations and sustainability teams. Find out more at or follow at @Mile91_