Written by Sara Robinson

It’s hard to decide what my first real job was. As I tell my son all the time, I’ve been working since I was 12. The way I lay it on, you’d think I was a Victorian chimney sweep, but it was just a paper round. There’s a nice synchronicity to that, considering that I ended up working in and with the media. Back then, I had no idea that’s what I wanted to do. I just needed the cash for sweets and trainers. As the eldest of a family of four, we didn’t get much in the way of pocket money, so from an early age I had the kind of necessity-driven work ethic that comes with lusting after the latest Nikes.

That paper round scarred me in some ways. The 6 am starts in the dead of winter, the steep Valleys hills, the driving rain, the barking dogs….but looking back, it was horizon-expanding for me too. The Guardian or The Mirror were the only newspapers we ever had in the house. My dad expressly banned The Sun. So delivering The Sunday Times (which weighed about twifty tonnes) and Telegraph (although, admittedly, very few ‘posh houses’ took that one) made me realise there were other newspapers out there. I’d read the front page stories if the weather was dry (which wasn’t often, as I recall). I’d always loved words and what you could do with them. My mum says my party trick as a kid was reading newspaper stories to babysitters - strange child.

My newspaper delivery career was cut cruelly short when I was fired by the newsagent owner, Mr Steadman, for leaving a customer’s gate open. It still cuts like a knife, the sheer injustice of it. So that was my first ‘pocket money’ job.

My first proper, proper paid job, the one that sparked what was to come, came along out of the blue. When I was 13, I had some poetry published in an anthology (as I said, I was a strange kid) after my mum showed some of my morose teenage scribblings to a lecturer. She’d gone back to University as a mature student after years of raising a family, and her lecturer sent it off to a publisher. It’s funny to think of the series of tiny events that led to what I do today, but I’d say my mum showing that poem to her lecturer kickstarted a whole series of twists of fate that led to me to what I do today. When the anthology was published, my local newspaper came to interview me. It was the first time I’d ever met a real-life journalist. My dad was a miner, my mum a housewife until she went back to University in her 30s, so we just didn’t know people that did exciting jobs like that. Never backwards in coming forward, I asked the reporter if I could do some work experience with the newspaper. I’d long dreamed of running away to London to work for the NME, and this seemed like a good stepping stone.  And that’s how I came to start working for the Pontypool Free Press.

From the moment I stepped into the office, I was hooked. I loved the buzz of the newsroom, the pressure of deadlines, and seeing all the hard work turn into a printed newspaper every week. I was doing relatively menial stuff like typing up sports reports faxed (ask your mum!) from various teams in the area and writing about golden wedding anniversaries. I started spending every school holiday there, and they couldn’t get rid of me. In the summer of 1997, for a long and complicated set of reasons involving the firing of several key people in the office, I was responsible for putting together the entire newspaper for two weeks. I was given a bus pass, a 35MM camera, and a lot of faith by head office in Gloucester. It’s mad to look back; I was 16 years old going out and about around Torfaen on the bus interviewing all kinds of people before heading back to the office to type it up. That two weeks taught me so much. I knew this was my chance to impress the bosses, show what I was capable of, and hopefully get some kind of paid employment off the back of it. I had a whole summer stretching ahead of me, and I had no intention of letting them get rid of me. So I tried my hardest to make myself indispensable. After the two weeks were up, the managing editor came down to meet me to say thank you and offered me a paid job for the rest of the summer. I was to be paid the princely sum of £90 a week which I obviously blew on too-short skirts and platform heels (this was peak Spice Girls era). He also asked if I would like to write a regular column on a subject of my choice. Bingo! This was my big opportunity. I asked if I could have a music column, and he said yes. This opened all kinds of amazing opportunities. Free promo CDs, gig tickets, getting to follow bands around on tour. That led to me getting my first job in television, as an entertainment researcher. And the rest, as they say, is history….

So, what did my first jobs teach me? The importance of making a good first impression, for a start. Turning up on time, smiling, being keen, being friendly. It was really intimidating walking into that newspaper office for the first time. It was such an alien environment for a working-class kid. But once I was in it, I knew this was a world I wanted to stay in. I didn’t think those places were for people like me, but I soon decided “why not me?” and that changed everything for me. Also, they taught me that good opportunities don’t present themselves twice, so to grab any that do appear with both hands. That’s something that I still live by today, 25 years after I first nervously asked that reporter if I could go in and do some work experience.


Sara Robinson is a multiple award-winning communications consultant and writer. After an early career in newspapers and TV, she made the leap into the dark arts of public relations. After a role heading up PR for the UK’s National Parks, she progressed through roles at agencies in Cardiff and London before starting her own agency at the age of 30. She is now a freelance consultant and trainer, working with a range of businesses and charities. Originally from Pontypool, she lives in Cardiff with her teenage son, dog and cat.  She is full of regret that she didn’t get around to running away to London to work for the NME, which she says was always her “Plan A”.