Soon after finishing her degree in Graphic Design at Bath Spa University in 2000, Nicola Edginton made the unusual choice of moving to the countryside instead of heading to London like all of her classmates. Now Design Director at agency mark-making*, she’s had a career untethered from a metropolis. Here she speaks to us about her work life balance, and the joys of a lunchtime run in the countryside.
Creative Review: Tell us a little bit about mark-making* and how you started working there?
Nicola Edginton: mark-making* was born and raised in Chipping Norton, founded in 1995 by Ali Williams and Steve Turner. I joined the team in 2001. Before mark-making* I wrongly assumed that no credible agency could operate outside of London and my definition of being a successful designer was intrinsically connected to this idea.
How wrong was I! We are an award-winning, top 100-design agency that produces incredible work. Ali and Steve are visionary people that actively seek and value my input in shaping and growing the business, and I think mark-making* is a brilliant example of how London doesn’t need to be a factor for credibility or success.
CR: What in your opinion are the biggest advantages of running an agency in a small town?
NE: I think work-life balance and a sense of wellbeing have to be up there, and both are really important to mark-making* as a business. There isn’t the same frustrating daily commute and you have more time for the things you enjoy outside of work. We work flexibly, and the team is judged on their output not on their 9–5.
I find a lunchtime run to take in the countryside views and fresh air helps to clarify my thinking and leaves me refreshed and ready to go. West Oxfordshire was ranked third in the recent BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour study of the best places for women to live, credited for being a location that has a strong sense of community, and access to green spaces which promote happiness and wellbeing. I totally agree.
Our office is a beautiful refurbished Cotswold stone property once owned by the late, great Ronnie Barker. I think being outside of the city creates the opportunity and space to think about business challenges from a different perspective.
I also think it fundamentally comes back to the reason I became a designer. Creativity is a superpower that can make a real difference and living and working in a location that has a strong sense of community presents a real opportunity to make a difference to it. At mark-making* we have an initiative called Project:Pledge, where we offer our time and skills for free or at a significantly reduced rate to organisations that otherwise couldn’t afford them. I find it extremely rewarding to see the difference we have been able to make. I’m not sure working in a larger London agency would have ever presented pro bono opportunities with the same sense of connection and personal fulfilment.
CR: Do you find you have the required inspiration, networking opportunities etc. in Chipping Norton? Or do you find yourself traveling to London when you feel that itch to be with a part of the wider community?
NE: I think the creative community is changing and I don’t feel that we need to travel to London to find it – it sometimes feels like the London creative community is coming to us. The recent addition of Soho Farmhouse provides a diverse programme of talks and workshops and is a place where you can meet with lots of talented people.
I think the creative community is changing and I don’t feel that we need to travel to London to find it – it sometimes feels like the London creative community is coming to us.
Chipping Norton is such a friendly place you can easily find yourself chatting with like-minded people over a pint in the local. On a day-to day basis I think the many inspiring blogs and social media feeds that are readily available definitely quench our creative thirst, but of course I still visit London for exhibitions and training. I find the general hustle and bustle exciting and inspiring, and I especially love a Do Lecture (although, they’re actually from rural Wales), but I don’t see London as the be-all and end-all for everything creative.
CR: Has hiring been a challenge? Have any of your employees moved from a big city to the countryside in order to work with you?
NE: We haven’t experienced problems with recruiting. Our latest mark-maker, Emily Bingham, left her London agency behind in search of a better alternative. Her reasons might sound all-too familiar: her work-life balance was completely out of sync with a two-hour commute each way, every day, which took its toll on her social life, health, and ultimately her creativity.
“In my opinion, creatives are creative no matter where they are and what I have learned from my experience is that it is ok to forge your own path, even if it’s straying from the original one you had for yourself. It is all part of learning, developing and maturing not only as a professional, but also as an individual, which I have finally come to accept can go hand-in-hand. I have more energy, I believe in my creativity again and I’m all round a happier, healthier person. It has been everything I hoped it would be and more.”
– Emily Bingham, Designer
Our Junior Designer Tom graduated with a first class honours degree and a student award under his belt. He could’ve had the pick of the best London agencies to work for, but sought out mark-making* because he felt his talent would be nurtured, and he would be treated with respect and a monthly salary – knowing only too well the common practice in London agencies of rotating the best graduate talent on six-monthly unpaid internships.
CR: Have you noticed any signs of gentrification in Chipping Norton? Have a lot of ex-urban dwellers started moving in, in the past few years?
NE: I’ve noticed lots of changes and I think the area is becoming more popular than ever before. Friends that moved to London in their early 20s are now moving back and the celebrity onslaught in the area keeps on increasing, making it seem evermore appealing. It all started with Jeremy Clarkson and then came Alex James with his cheese farm, but we can now add to the list Amanda Holden, Patrick Stewart and most recently the Beckhams. They are renovating a property here, which is certainly giving the area lots of airtime in the media.
Daylesford Farmshop and Soho Farmhouse are just down the road and I cannot deny they have made a difference. It does feel like there is an energy and excitement in living here that differs from the past when Chipping Norton was a sleepy town full of antique shops! What stands the test of time, regardless of all these changes, is the incredible sense of community. It’s easy to take it for granted when you live here, but in today’s world it’s something that is inherently missing for lots of people, and in my experience it’s definitely worth seeking out when thinking about where you choose to live and work.
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