GUEST BLOG: a second helping of @Work

UoY Careers Balloon illy Guest blog written by Henrietta Thomson, English and Related Literature

Where next for the independent bookshop?

As a second year student who had taken part in the programme before, this was my second helping of the @Work Project, and from my previous great experience it didn’t take me long to sign up for another one.

As an avid reader of books in the paper-form, as well as a self-confessed Amazon junkie, and a penny-saving English Literature student, I was immediately drawn to this project. The title ‘Where Next for the Independent Bookshop?’ posed an important and difficult question. I was part of a group of six students who had to investigate the independent bookshop industry in York, then create a report outlining the situation as it stands, as well as propose potential solutions for the future success of the industry.


The project brief was very open, the report could take any format we liked, and we were encouraged from the start to use our initiative and come to our own conclusions. As a team mainly comprised of English Literature students, we felt that we had a perhaps imbalanced opinion when it came to bookshops, and whilst this gave us a background knowledge of the bookshop scene in York, we needed to get a view of the bigger picture.  We approached this project with a combination of market research; interviews with members of the public and bookshop owners, customer surveys and internet research.  As a team effort this worked out well, as we could easily break down tasks and bring our own research together for the final report.

I applied for a team volunteering project for a number of reasons.  My prior experience of the At Work programme was overwhelmingly positive. It was a well-organised and very professional project, and I still have friends and fond memories from it. The programme is a huge asset to have on your CV, and of course it is a great place to meet new people- both students and members of the local community. It is very easy to get caught up in University life- both in terms of study and socialising. I really relished the idea of getting involved in the local community, and being reminded of the world outside Uni.

With this project, I particularly enjoyed the business-like attitude that was required to create a professional report. We attended training sessions specifically aimed at marketing and interview techniques. We also arranged meetings with industry experts and got to present to the Dragon’s Den panel. All of my team were exceptionally enthusiastic and passionate about the project. As a result, we pooled all our resources, skills and contacts, and I was very impressed by the level of professionalism. Our project included interviews with internationally-acclaimed bookshops, not only in York, but also in London and the South West. We created an online survey, undertook a city-wide study, and interviewed six different bookshop owners. Our final report was actually circulated amongst businesses, and picked up by the Book Buyers Guide, who are interested in extending it nationally.

I feel that the project was invaluable in the insight it has given me into the professional working environment. Applying skills to a real-life, business situation is not something that an English degree always caters for.  I relished working as part of a team, arranging meetings, allocating tasks, and working together to fit with busy timetables and other commitments. My confidence in public speaking has improved, thanks to undertaking surveys with members of the public, interviewing industry experts and liaising with unknown bookshop owners. I have also made some brilliant new friends and contacts as a result of this project. I really enjoyed putting the report together, and I feel really proud of the final result.

For me, this project was a very deliberate choice in terms of my future career. My ambition is to work in publishing, and so this project enabled me to see the book industry up close and personal, from the book-trade side of the fence. I learnt a lot about the future of books as a consumer product, and gained some expert opinions on the industry as a whole. I was very pleased when I was allocated this project in particular. However, had I not had a specific career in mind, I would have found it hard to choose from the range of inspiring projects on offer.

I only have two words for anyone thinking of applying: ‘Do it’! It is a unique opportunity here at York, to have a ready-made project to get involved in, with all the training and contacts ready for you. The skills you learn from it are invaluable, and it really shows future employers that you are willing to do something different. It may seem like it will be hard to fit it in, but with good time management and communication between team members, it can easily be done alongside study, exams, and socialising too! The At Work Coordinators in Careers are all friendly and approachable. It is so easy to apply for, and the schemes you can get involved with are really worthwhile. I can’t recommend it enough, and I only wish that they were open to final year students too.

For more information about the @Work programme, visit the website.