Name: Alice Mathews
Job title: Culture & Trends Consultant and Freelance Writer
Career path: Even as a child I loved writing and would scribble stories in a Woolworths notepad that I’d carry everywhere. You have to entertain yourself when you’re an only child!
I studied English and Communications at the University of Liverpool, and have called the region home ever since. After graduating in 2016, I worked as a content writer for an education start-up and took on freelance writing jobs for different lifestyle and music publications in the North West. Coming out of university it was great getting free gigs and meals at restaurants in return for an article. At the start of my career it was also a useful way to build local contacts and helped strengthen my writing skills.
Three years ago, I moved to Manchester for my current role. I had no idea what a Culture and Trends Consultant actually was and felt totally underqualified but applied anyway. That was a real lesson to not talk myself out of doing something and stop imposter syndrome from getting in the way of new opportunities.
I’m part of a small team in a wider research company (Join the Dots) based in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. We work with various global clients to identify the changing needs, attitudes and behaviours in people’s lives across the world to track emerging trends. I find it fascinating looking into different subcultures and cultural shifts changing our society, especially with everything in flux at the moment.
Ideas & Planning: Every brief is different, it might be understanding how a certain group’s attitude to a trend is changing or exploring how a country’s culture is evolving – but the common thread is always people and their behaviours so anything I can do to hear people’s perspectives and stories, whether it’s asking questions, reading articles, listening to podcasts or watching documentaries on BBC iPlayer.
The way I approach planning varies depending on the project. I’m a list-writer and will normally get all my thoughts down on paper before moving to my laptop. I can think more easily when my ideas, even in skeleton form, are laid out in front of me.
For quick turnaround projects, getting a new set of eyes on the brief and chatting through ideas as a team can help spark a new angle.
That’s the same with any freelance writing jobs, I’ll chat ideas through with family and friends first so I know the general direction before I tackle the writing.
Finance: In the creative industries, people assume London is the end goal but I think that’s changing, especially now we’ve been working more flexibility. Trends research is definitely a London-centric role but it’s reassuring to know that these jobs do exist in the North, and you don’t have to get yourself into debt just to be in London.
I think avoiding that pressure is important in creative roles, where starting salaries are normally fairly low. While Manchester is more affordable in comparison, city-centre living is expensive wherever you are so it’s all about budgeting and not eating out every night – tempting as it is!
Networking: Manchester has such a creative energy and it’s a really collaborative community. City life is usually depicted as super competitive but here everyone will happily share advice and help others out. It feels like a small-town community in a relatively big city, which is refreshing.
Outside of work, I’ll try to go to local exhibitions, talks and events to see what’s happening across the city. If you’re introverted, I think Twitter and Instagram are also a great place to stay connected with local creatives and read about exciting projects that are happening as well as getting your own work out there. I’ve had some writing work commissioned by locals via social media without ever meeting them in real life!
Culture: Even unknowingly, the place you work can have an influence on what you create. Personally, I really struggle to feel motivated and inspired in one static place. I like to change up my environment. Luckily, my workplace is flexible and allows us to work offsite if we need.
I’ll work in the office for collaborative projects and team sessions but sometimes I’ll take myself off to work in a local coffee shop or when I really need to concentrate Manchester Central Library, it reminds me of being back in univeristy and gets me in serious essay mode! It’s also a beautiful setting to work from.
Wherever my office is for that day, I think getting away from my desk and taking a walk, no matter how short, helps my productivity levels and resets my mind.