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Natalie Bays

Natalie is the Deputy Centre Manager of the Mercury Shopping Centre in Romford, having been a student at our Ardleigh Green campus back in 2007.

The former Brentwood County High School student stayed at her school sixth form and then progressed to study BTEC Art & Design Foundation Diploma with Studio Photography with us when she was 19. After passing the course with flying colours, she took a gap year and then went on to study Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art & Design, part of the University of the Arts London.

She said: “I found my calling when I was at the college and I truly found my independence. Up to this point I had followed the average academic path through GCSEs and A Levels, but college was a very different place that gave me passion for what I was doing and taught me that life is about finding your own goals rather than pre-defined ones.”

She added: “I realised that despite being very good at art and painting, I didn’t necessarily want to be an artist or a painter, but I had that lightbulb moment when I decided that I definitely wanted creativity to be part of my life. For me, it doesn’t matter whether I am the one doing the art or being in the exhibition – it matters to me that I am in a position where I can be a positive influence and can help people through art, design and creativity.”

During her gap year and while at university, Natalie had various part-time jobs, one of which was working in sales, lettings and commercial relocation at Estate Agent and Property Consultants Carter Jonas. When she left uni, she realised there were not very many opportunities in the creative world and therefore continued to work full-time at Carter Jonas.

But her passion for art and creativity could not be dented and so she set up her own creative projects in her spare time. She launched The NO Collective (a youth arts organisation, which she still runs), she set up a gallery at Hackney College and she collaborated with other creatives in Havering to support the set-up of ‘Things Made Public’ (then called The Romford Creative Arts Programme).

As other opportunities developed, she left Carter Jonas after seven years to work full-time on her creative projects and was soon working with Things Made Public on the regeneration of The Quadrant shopping mall in Romford. From there, she was asked to join the Mercury team and in time, secured her current job as Deputy Centre Manager at The Mercury.

She says although her job is like running a business, she is able to be very creative and use her niche skills in art and design through creating events, partner programmes with local groups and schools, and also through design and marketing for the Mercury Centre.

Natalie said: “Between myself and the centre manager, we manage everything from HR to finance, customer service to marketing, onsite engineering and public relations to tenant business support. No two days are the same and the job can be as satisfying as you make it.”

Her advice to students at college or about to join college, would be to take every work opportunity and experience that they can.

She said: “Sometimes a work placement may not have the exact goal that you imagine, but they can often lead to much greater things through the network of people you find.”