Rather than following a typical trajectory or climbing a prescribed corporate ladder, Clare Abbott has forged a career path of her own design. Praised by a former colleague as ‘an incredible agent for change,’ her progression through the theatre, education, and charity sectors is underpinned by a desire to simply make things better.
Born in Leicester into a family with strong Mancunian influences, Clare grew up instilled with the values of her mother and grandad, both teachers who expressed the importance of state education. She enjoyed school and found new confidence through local music schemes which gave her an identity outside of the classroom. Instead of following her sister to read History at Cambridge, she applied to Lady Margaret Hall to read English on the basis of their outreach events and sense of college community. At Oxford, Clare enjoyed Shakespeare and Beowulf (she still reads the occasional Old English text today!) alongside an active involvement in orchestras and societies, which she says were a crucial counterweight to her studies that helped her maintain a balance between attainment and enjoyment.
After work experience placements and events led Clare to rule out careers in law, publishing, and PR, Clare volunteered at the Cheltenham Literature Festival after graduation, working events hosted at the Everyman Theatre. The hands-on experience of running arts events, and the ‘atmosphere and buzz’ around performance spaces, encouraged Clare to look for theatre roles. She landed her first job, at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, after spotting it advertised in the Guardian. In five years at the Globe, Clare rose quickly through the ranks to management positions in charge of the theatre’s schools’ education provision, thanks to her constant drive to improve efficiency and efficacy.
A desire to avoid stagnation prompted Clare to look for new opportunities, and a switch to overseeing an overhaul of student services at the adult education college City Lit. Her role leading a large refurbishment and cultural change project at the college helped opened her eyes to the myriad social problems faced by many of the people accessing the courses. After another five-year stint there, a nine-month sabbatical helped Clare to reflect on her personal values, and these became the driving force for her relocation to the north-west as Operations Director at Manchester Mind, which delivers mental-health services and local community action projects.
Reflecting on her journey so far, Clare says that she was probably naïve, as a graduate without the safety net of a clear career ladder to climb. However, her decision to make two significant job changes has been pivotal for her professional development: in an unpredictable job market, the learning that comes from career change has been far more valuable than the surety of any permanent position. She credits the English degree for its promotion of an independent and driven work ethic, an adaptability to new and uncomfortable situations, and an emotional intelligence which has afforded her a keener appreciation of diverse perspectives and understanding of workplace politics.