How selling knickers in Kirkgate Market taught me valuable life lessons - Christa Ackroyd

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It is said by many old Bradfordians that when they tore down the old Kirkgate Market in 1973 the planners ripped out the heart of what was once one of the finest Victorian cities in Europe. They did. A little piece of my heart went with it too.

Because there, under the huge, magnificent iron and glass roof, was where I first found gainful employment at the age of 14 selling knickers at Baxendall’s for the princely sum of just under two pounds a day.

But trust me when I say I learned a far more valuable lesson than the recompense that Saturday job brought me. I was taught if you want something you have to go out and work for it. And that every customer, no matter how humble the purchase, deserves to be treated with manners and respect. Even if they are only buying a pair of knickers.

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Down the road at Claydon’s in the posh part of town, was a shop window full of the kind of knickers one might aspire to in an establishment that for me symbolised the wealth Bradford once had.

French silk, Belgian lace in soft pastel colours, or racy red and black combinations that could have graced the stage of the Moulin Rouge, all wrapped in soft tissue for many a gentleman to give as a gift for Christmas and birthdays in their famous striped boxes. They were served by beautifully coiffed assistants who wore Chanel perfume and cashmere twin sets and pearls. Going down the steps to Claydon’s was an experience one could only aspire to and when my husband once bought me some underwear from there, that didn’t fit of course, I kept it for years flattered that he thought they would.

Shopping for knickers at Baxendall’s in the market was an entirely different experience. We sold proper knickers, the kind of knickers Bridget Jones would have been proud of. And we sold hundred and hundreds of them, along with cotton interlock vests, and men’s underpants. No boxer shorts or designer labels here. Good honest undergarments for good honest folk. And I loved meeting them all

That Saturday job stood me in good stead for later life. I was taught to communicate with folks from all walks of life, to say thank you when they parted with their hard earned cash, and importantly it gave me the freedom to earn my own money which was spent down the road at Chelsea Girl or C&A, an exciting new adventure for a young teenager who, until then, had worn handmade clothes or cousin’s hand me downs.

When the market closed I did a variety of jobs from waitressing to working on the contraceptive counter at Boots the Chemist in Shipley. I don’t know who was more embarrassed in the beginning, the customers who had to ask for said items hidden from view in a locked drawer, or the young teenage self who served them. Another valuable lesson learned. Get a grip Christa, this is real life. I travelled on the bus, had to get there on time, had half an hour for lunch and loved every grown up minute.

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This week a survey has shown that Saturday jobs and indeed part time jobs for teenagers are dying out. Not because they are not there but because students no longer earn while they learn, prioritising their studies instead. And I am both offended and saddened.

Firstly, because we still completed our studies while earning a bit of our own money but more importantly because it set us up for life.

And if you don’t believe me then the Resolution Foundation think tank which carried out the survey has not just produced the figures but identified why the humble Saturday job is so important.

School leavers and university graduates coming into the workplace lack the key skills of resilience, team working and workplace behaviour, says the Transformation Trust .

The Confederation of British industry says half of its members believe young people leaving school, college or university are not “work ready”. More importantly the Resolution Foundation has identified a massive increase in the number of adults who have never had a paid job equating to 3.4 million or one in twelve, a fifty per cent increase since the 1990s.

So in answer to those who would say students are too busy to earn while they learn I would simply say knickers to that. And big Baxendall’s Bridget Jones ones too.