Christine U'ren, 'Measuring Cup'

[‘Measuring cups’, (c) Christine U’ren]

Becky Rowe writes:

We all live our lives on different planes and engage in diverse activities. As a consultancy we call this repertoire living – the idea that people are not defined by one interest, one value or one perspective, and instead engage in what can sometimes seem contradictory activities, often switching roles in a moment.

The starkness of the different roles I play came to the fore recently, when almost exactly 24 hours after the Millennials breakfast briefing I found myself in Oldham to interview two 19-year-old single mothers about their precarious financial situations. This is repertoire working in extremis. When we think of the Millennials in terms of marketing, we think of bright young things, Topshop shoppers, chatting away on their mobiles, playing on their Wiis – the children of affluent Britain. The reality of living at the other end of the spectrum hit me hard when I interviewed these two young women.

They shared with me how they manage their day-to-day lives on £60 a week. They dream of going to college to further their education and get jobs (one wants to be a social worker, the other a nursery teacher), but can’t afford the £3.90 bus fare it would cost them to get to college, let alone the additional money for childcare. They feel everybody hates them and judges them:

“I would stack shelves, sweep floors, make tea. I don’t want to be on benefits, but nobody will give me a chance. They turn me away before they have already seen me.”

These Millennials aren’t the target audience of big brands. They aren’t the most articulate or the most entrepreneurial. They are not ‘doted on’. I got the impression that our research interview was the first time anyone had listened to their perspective on anything for a long time, although what they said was sensible, interesting and practical.

Yesterday my work was about selling more computer games or jeans. Today it’s about the future of two desperate, young mums. I feel lucky that I get to wear so many hats in my professional role, but on this occasion, the contrast was disheartening.

The picture is by artist Christine U’ren, from her ‘Still Lives’ series. This picture, along with more of her work, can be found on her website.

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