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The Drum Awards for Experience 2021

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Today’s Office: Antonia Collins on swapping Portobello Road for blue Jersey skies

For now, Collins has swapped city life to stay in Jersey with her family, a soppy dog, a predatory cat and two canaries

Antonia Collins, a PR and communications consultant for creative agencies, reveals how swapping London’s bustling Portobello Road for the shores of Jersey has helped her be more creative.

When there isn’t a pandemic on and it’s business as usual, where I live by Portobello Road in London is one of my favourite places. I love my local market, restaurants, cafes, community and busy city life.

However, living alone under lockdown with just the squirrels and pigeons in my garden for company was taking its toll. Cue my big sister who lives by the beach on the little island of Jersey with her husband, twin nine year-old boys, seven year-old girl, a soppy dog, a predatory cat, two guinea pigs, some goldfish, two canaries… and most recently, a sister from London.

The view from my desk is now of Mont Orgueil Castle, Jersey Royal potato fields and the pretty fishing village of Gorey.

My working day also looks very different from this time last year. In February 2020, I had just begun a great in-house agency comms director role, but a hiring freeze brought on by the pandemic killed that.

With no one else hiring at that time I started taking on contract work. The next thing I knew a year had passed and I’m working for myself looking after PR for a handful of agencies.

These days, instead of squeezing onto the tube, my ‘new normal’ is walking the dog along the beach first thing and, rather than meeting journalists (for what I used to think were essential face-to-face catch ups), we’ve gone digital. Post-work drinks have been replaced with cake baking and TikTok dances with the kids (I’m still terrible, Jersey hasn’t helped that).

Client calls and deadlines add welcome structure to the day but the flexibility of working for myself, away from an office, feels good. Making the most of a window in the diary for some me-time doesn’t raise eyebrows, nor does writing press releases or op-eds in my PJs at 7am when I’d traditionally be getting ready to leave the house.

However, the connections, ideas and energy that come from within the walls of a creative agency are pure magic and those ‘water cooler moments’ are too precious, so I hope we don’t give up on the office just yet.

There is much to love from before that we need to retain, from being with colleagues (many of whom are also true friends) to inspiring breakfast briefings, working lunches (a PR perk, I know), celebrating talent and work at awards and in-person brainstorms.

But there is a flip side – we can’t go back to frenzied commutes, those sad Pret sandwich at our desks for lunch and rarely seeing the outside world or the sky between 9am and 6pm (minimum). That’s no way to live.

Despite not seeing them, in some ways I’ve been feeling more connected to friends and colleagues than ever. With less rush and distractions, I’ve been having some epic phone calls and chatting for hours like teenagers.

With less to do, we’re all also far more online, though together, be it on WhatsApp, Twitter and more recently Clubhouse, sharing jokes, news, ideas and silly memes.

In the evenings I’m getting my culture fix from virtual galleries, podcasts, box-sets (ZeroZeroZero was brilliant) and am still seeing the world, though through the pages of books I’m escaping into (its The Old Man and the Sea with Hemingway this week).

In Jersey some museums are open, including the War Tunnels, which tell the story of the Nazi occupation of Jersey. It provides perspective. Meeting friends is also allowed and restaurants re-open next week, so we’re not totally bored over here.

I feel very lucky to have been able to get away from inner city life.

Being close to nature and family, seeing the open sea and sky, slowing down and flexible working have allowed me more time to think and be creative: who knew that staring out to a wonky castle from 1204 rather than West End buzz would make me better at my job?

Everyone is fighting their own battle these days. While I struggled living the same-day-every-day alone in London, I’m well aware that there is a parallel struggle for working parents and younger people starting out who are missing the exposure needed to build careers, contacts and friendships.

And of course, not everyone has the option to work for themselves. There is a light at the end of the tunnel though and I believe the pandemic will have some positive effects on how we live, hopefully this legacy will include hanging onto flexible working and greater empathy.

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