Annabelle joined Yarm School in 2000 as one of the first cohort of girls in Reception and stayed at Yarm until leaving Sixth Form in 2014 to go to University of York to study Politics with International Relations.
During her time at Yarm, Annabelle saw the school change with the increase of girls in the school after becoming fully coeducational in 2001 to the opening of the Dining Hall, Riverside Development and the Princess Alexandra Auditorium. Annabelle took advantage of the events, activities and trips on offer whilst at school, going on multiple ski trips and even to Vietnam in Sixth Form.
After completing her A Levels in Politics, English Literature and Biology, Annabelle’s route to university took an unexpected turn on results day when she didn’t achieve the required grades for the course she selected. Drawing on her knowledge of her subjects, extracurricular experiences and her resilience, Annabelle turned a disappointing moment into what she describes as “the best thing to ever happen to me”.
We caught up with Annabelle to find out more about her experiences and fascinating career since leaving Yarm…
I actually applied for a different course at a different university, not believing that I’d get the grades to be able to attend a university like York!
I didn’t achieve the required grades to be accepted onto the course I originally applied for and York lowered their entry requirements on results day, so I was able to apply through the clearing process.
What felt like total devastation after not seeing the grades I wanted as I opened the envelope on results day turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to me!
After a couple of hours of disappointment and sadness I started to explore opportunities available through clearing and rang the Politics Department at the University of York, anxiously detailing what I’d learnt during my Politics A Level and the lectures I attended at lunchtime and after school that were organised by Mr Edwards. Being able to draw on extracurricular events and the different talks from MPs, Lords and activists, helped me demonstrate a keen interest in the area and to my relief I secured a place that same day!
A Level results day feels like the biggest day of your life and you have a certain idea of how you want it to play out. I learnt that what you think you want isn’t always the best path for you, but you’ll find it if you don’t give up!
After graduating from the University of York, I undertook an internship at a PR agency in London before going travelling. Despite knowing that I was interested in politics and communications, I didn’t really know what this looked like as a career and decided to go back into education to do a masters in Business Management at Durham University.
Looking back, I think I was overwhelmed at the thought of starting a career, especially after studying a non-vocational course with endless options ahead of me and was scared of making the ‘wrong’ choice. I felt that gaining more experience, particularly in the business sector, would help to demonstrate where my strengths are and what opportunities are available.
Having a base knowledge of politics and how the government works from studying Politics at A Level was invaluable to both my time at university and starting my career. I also think studying English Literature sparked an interest in language and communications without me even noticing! So really, these A Level options were the perfect duo for what I went on to do.
After graduating from Durham I applied for a Government Affairs role at General Electric. This is when I first recognised that I could combine both passions when we were working with a governmental press office for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on a joint announcement of opening a renewable energy facility. That was my first exposure to Government communications and I knew I wanted to be on the other side!
I started to apply for Press Officer positions in government departments after working on the renewable energy project at GE. After a written application, practical task and two interviews, I was offered a role at the MOJ.
Every day and week is very different and is often dictated by the media and news events.
There are two aspects of the job: the first involves reacting to news and responding to journalists who are reporting on the work of the Department. For example, we were recently called by a journalist who received a tip that a high-profile prisoner had been in a fight and was injured in prison. She was going to report that the prison was unsafe. It is our job to uncover the truth and protect the reputation of the Department. After contacting the prison, we discovered that the tip was inaccurate and talked it through with the journalist, therefore preventing a potential negative article from appearing in the paper.
The second aspect of the job is proactively announcing new policies or areas of government investment. For example, a recent announcement I worked on was about expanding the legal aid scheme which funds legal advice and representation for people who are going through court proceedings and can’t afford a solicitor or barrister.
Announcements involve writing press notices, working with journalists to ensure they report the news, and briefing government ministers before they speak to the media.
I currently work for Dominic Raab who is the Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister. It is my job to advise communications approaches, draft his quotes and Tweets, secure media opportunities for him to promote the work of the Department and brief him ahead of speaking to journalists.
When working in the civil service there are many opportunities to develop outside of your immediate team and department through secondments. Last year I was seconded to work at the United Nations climate change conference, COP26, in Glasgow. It was the largest summit ever hosted by the UK, bringing together 120 world leaders to discuss how climate change is being tackled across the world.
I was involved in managing the world’s media, ensuring broadcasters and journalists from each nation were in the right place at the right time to capture statements from their leaders. I was also responsible for securing opportunities for leaders to publicise their commitments to reduce global warming through television and radio interviews.
It was an incredible insight into how global events are managed and the important role the media plays in broadcasting discussions around such a vital topic to the rest of the world.
It’s always challenging briefing a minister who is unenthusiastic or unknowledgeable about a policy they’re going to discuss in front of cameras!
A particular challenge was when I was given five minutes to explain an announcement to a new, inexperienced minister before they went live on air. I had to distil the information down to three key points that were easy to remember, all while maintaining their focus and making them feel at ease as their nerves about appearing on national TV were creeping in.
What are your immediate plans and how do you see your career developing? What are your long-term dreams?
I was recently promoted at the Ministry of Justice so I plan to stay in my current position for the time being. Working for a high-profile minister such as Dominic Raab makes my job more demanding but much more interesting, as broadcasters and journalists are always interested to hear from him, so this is a great way to build up my experience.
Further down the line I plan to move departments to hone my skills further and gain a broader understanding of the Government, before likely moving into the private sector. Working in Government Affairs or communications for an innovative start-up has always interested me, looking at ways to enhance exposure both in Westminster and among the wider general public… However, I have no plans to be jumping ship anytime soon!
If you’re interested in working in Government I recommend getting in touch with your local MP and volunteering in the school holidays or on a weekend. Regardless of your political views, this is a great way to get an understanding of how politics works and will allow you to recognise what sparks your interest and what jobs are available in that sphere.
I would love to have my time at Yarm again – it gave me the confidence to try new things and I truly made friends for life. I wouldn’t change a thing.
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