Redundancy is always a huge blow when it is forced upon unsuspecting workers. But as thousands face the prospect of being laid off in the recession, some of those who have been through it say it was a blessing in disguise.
By Peter Jackson
Here, four people explain how losing their jobs allowed them to follow their passions and turn their lives around. And, linked on the right of this page, factory and manual workers tell how they have fared.
FROM INSURANCE BROKER TO CASTLE GARDENER
As head gardener at Hever castle in Kent, Neil Miller's obsessions are the straight lines and attention to detail behind his immaculate Italian and rose gardens.
The 43-year-old says he loves his job, which is an extension of his hobby, and that if you get stressed in this "fairy tale setting" there must be something wrong with you.
He owes it all to the life-changing experience in 1993 when he was made redundant from his job as an insurance broker for Lloyd's of London after 11 years.
"So many times I say if I'd not been made redundant, I would not be here... the change from the stress is the best medicine," he says. "Initially I thought 'my god, what am I going to do'... it's that gut feeling, the instant shock as if your heart misses a beat."
But he says it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it allowed him to discover his true passion.
"I didn't hate insurance, it was a job, but now I can understand how people can love their job. I love just being there with your hands in the soil, noticing the change in the season. Not one day do I think I've had an awful day."
Mr Miller, from Croydon in Surrey, took time out after losing his job and started helping his family and their neighbours with their gardens.
Mr Miller is head gardener at Hever Castle, childhood home of Anne Boleyn
His hobby developed and he launched his own gardening business before eventually joining the team at Hever seven years ago.
"Because you own the business, you never turn down work and I was working 13-hour days with not enough time to do what I wanted to do," he says.
In 2002 he became a basic gardener at Hever castle, earning £10,000 and worked his way up to head gardener in less than five years.
"If I wasn't made redundant, I'd still be there probably... sometimes being pushed is a help. When you are put in that position and have no choice, it works."
FROM ADVERTISING EXEC TO BABY FOOD ENTREPRENEUR
Former advertising executive Tom Burrough, 43, had just returned from three weeks' paternity leave, after the birth of his first daughter in 2002, when he was told he was losing his job. But after the initial shock and six months spent trying to find work elsewhere, he found inspiration in his kitchen.
"Being made redundant knocks the wind out of your sails, you feel really scared and insecure," he says.
"The other side of the coin is that it's quite exciting, now I can do something different."
At first, the father-of-two tried to move into management consultancy, but it did not work out, so he became a house husband and followed his dream.
"All my friends said I should become a chef or run a B&B but I didn't want to work weekends and nights and wake up in 10 years to realise I'd missed seeing my children grow up. I wanted to do something in food as I love cooking and have been told I have real ability."
'Will I go bust?'
With his wife back at work and his daughter weaning, he started developing baby food recipes. There were few alternatives to the standard jar food, so Mr Burrough set about researching his own healthy dishes.
After several false starts he secured a small firm loan of £70,000 in 2006 and in September last year officially launched Burrough's Baby Food.
Mr Burroughs said he did not want to miss his daughters growing up
Money has been tight with the family surviving on his wife's salary, and there have been different pressures to contend with.
"Advertising was an insecure business to be in and quite a grind... I'd had enough of that... but when you're doing your own thing you worry 'will I go bust?'"
He now sells his frozen dishes like Moroccan lamb or cod and pea mornay direct to customers and is talking with several bigger shops.
"It's been a bumpy road and a bit slower than I thought, and becoming a home dad was a massive eye opener. But ultimately I'm proud of what I'm doing. If you're in advertising, it's just a job."
FROM COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER TO COUNTRYSIDE RANGER
Adrienne King lives on the edge of the Peak District National Park, shares an allotment and has been developing an interest in the outdoor life since she was a student.
But it was not until she lost her £25,000 office job at a leading pharmaceutical firm that she was able to turn her passion into a "lifetime opportunity".
The 35-year-old communications officer from Macclesfield in Cheshire leaves her company at the end of February to re-train as a countryside ranger.
After four years in her post, it is a prospect she is relishing.
"The redundancy has given me the opportunity to do something I wouldn't have had the chance to do, a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I'm running with it," she said.
"There's an instinctive thing that says 'yes, don't question it just do it. It feels right'."
Losing her job was a "body blow" but not the end of the world, she says, and that it was important not to panic.
"I know people who are going through this and a lot are going on to get better jobs. We get into a comfort zone and adapt to whatever situation we are in, but we're not always that happy," she says.
She also signed up to Careershifters.org, a website offering advice to people switching jobs.
Catherine Roan, who runs the web-based operation says: "A lot of people are unhappy in their work, but lack the confidence to go out there and find a job they would really enjoy. Redundancy removes that safety net, and makes people assess their options."
Ms King starts an Open University course on the environment at the end of January and a foundation degree in countryside management at Reaseheath College in Nantwich, Cheshire in September.
'Keep a focus'
She hopes to eventually work as a countryside warden, looking after woods, wetlands and national parks. She also wants to continue volunteering for the National Trust.
"I made up my mind I should pursue something I enjoyed doing and felt more passionate about from the get go," she says.
She plans to finance her three years of training with part-time work and her redundancy payout.
"I will probably have to take work I wouldn't naturally chose, but I have to keep a focus on the longer term goals. It's a really exciting time for me... things are beginning to happen, but I'm not there yet. Hopefully I'll be able to say leaving here was a good experience."
FROM CITY TRADER TO GRAPHIC DESIGNER
When junior trader Adam Hayes lost his job at Citigroup after five years, it gave him the chance to scrutinise his work-life balance.
The 27-year-old earned a £50,000 basic salary plus £30,000 in bonuses and benefits but hated the long hours and stress. So when the credit crunch began to bite he took voluntary redundancy, leaving his company in September to pursue a career in graphic design.
"The City offers great opportunities and high wages but when you get into the role, it's very focussed and one dimensional.".
"I'm now using a different part of my brain and you see rewards from your work from an immediate, personal point of view. It's a more creative, stimulating environment to be in and you feel much more in control."
Mr Hayes, from south London, is using his severance package to help fund his two-day-a-week course at Chelsea College of Art and Design.
The sudden slump in cash means he has had to radically compromise his lifestyle. He works as a sales assistant at Harrods department store in London five days a week and has moved into a smaller rented flat with his girlfriend. He has also given up foreign holidays and eating out as he adjusts to a more frugal life.
"I always treated the redundancy as a good thing until my first monthly wage slip didn't arrive... and I thought 'have I made the right decision?'
"That was a trough. But now I'm very excited about the potential opportunities out there."
He said if he had not taken voluntary redundancy he would probably have lost his job anyway and added that colleagues who stayed are working longer hours under greater stress.
"I'd advise people who have been made redundant not to ignore the fear aspect, the fact that you've been used to a way of life and it's suddenly ripped away from you.
"Let fear and doubt be the motivation to turn a negative into a force to take a new direction."
Below is a selection of your comments:
I really like this article, but lacking in balance - where are the people with lower wages, the factory and shop workers? Oh I forgot. How can you move sidewards/downwards if your options have been limited in the first place. I come from a north eastern town where unemployment has been a constant since the 80's. A good start Beeb, but do another article with different angles on positivity and people really struggling to improve themselves too - I find it hard to be sympathetic towards an ex city employee who now works in Harrods, even if it is part time.
Paul Clayton, London
These stories are all very positive and to some extent inspiring and I am happy for all those involved that, but I would guess from the content that the redundancy payouts involved were not the statutory minimum. There are a number of companies who do pay a fair week's wage for every year in employment, many actually exceed it, but there are others which will only pay the statutory minimum, regardless of the employees final salary. Redundancy for some can be a blessing in disguise, for others it can be extremely damaging.
S. Wadsworth, West Yorkshire
I was devastated to be made redundant from the company I had worked at for 15 years. But I saw that same company was ignoring a segment of the market and I decided to use my wider skills to serve that market. Eight years on, I have the satisfaction you can only get from making your plans work with the bonus of luring some of your former companies customers to you. It's been hard work, but I am very grateful for being made redundant.
Steve Harris, Littlehampton
Four people who all had £25,000 jobs making a change with family, savings etc behind them isn't a good representation of what is happening now. If you had some people who worked on minimum wage who made the change it might be more interesting but these are people who were actually secure making a change. These people didn't struggle in a council flat on benefits so why is it news worthy?
Hmmm. White collar worker loses highly paid job only to discover that there is more to life than money. If only a few more financial "professional" had figured this out a few years ago...
Dave, Cheltenham, UK
Good stories, but hardly representative. All four have come from decently-paying jobs; some from very well-paying ones. The young man making £80K a year could count himself a failure had he not put away enough to try something new. As with gap years and other voyages of self-discovery, these new careers are all middle-class indulgences. Try picking out similarly upbeat stories from the thousands of shopworkers, building workers, steelworkers and the rest who are now thrown on the scrapheap - especially in high-unemployment areas - and who have no similar financial cushion or well-connected social contacts to fall back on.
C C, Glos, UK
Very inspiring. There's always a silver lining if you're prepared to look for it!
Gavin, Yateley, UK
I'm glad things have worked out well for all these people, but it's noticeable that they were all high earners and none of them were part of a mass redundancy from a single dominant employer in a run-down area. Their experiences don't sound like what we'd typically think of when imagining how people have to deal with redundancy.
Tom Murphy, Beckenham, UK
I can really relate to what Adam writes. I have been made redundant and want to find a way to turn this negative experience into a positive one. I will be looking at part time courses now.
Stuart Grimes, Glasgow
Being made redundant can be the kick that some people need to turn to new careers and work that they feel passionate about, but in many cases, it can be devastating, as in many cases, people have devoted themselves to that one role and are unable to adapt to new challenges and in many cases they are unable to train for new roles as the training positions available either do not have the funding or the availability. However, those few who do take the jump can find it immensely rewarding, as I hope will I when I start my own business and start a second degree.
Why don't you tell the true story of redundancies? How it destroys families and whole communities. Redundancy happened to me years ago. It worked out in the end, but it didn't feel so good a year out of work. All this article does is attempt to sugar-coat a traumatising and humiliating experience.
Mat, Ashford, Kent.
I've been made redundant a couple of times from City Money Broking Roles. After the initial change, you realise that this is nothing personal. I've gone from looking at three screens and shouting pointless numbers at people all day to discovering lots of different skills. I've created a clothing brand, to working in hospitality and now for a Children's Charity. The rewards and experiences have increased dramatically along the way.
Peter Pogose, Bromley, Kent
The people in the article were all young enough to start again. I turned 50 this year. I don't have time to start again, and nobody's going to want to take on someone my age as a trainee.
What a great piece - it would be wonderful to see more upbeat features in the media like this that point out there are some positive aspects to what's going on in the economy. Earning more and more money each year isn't necessarily a recipe for happiness.
Claire Braithwaite, Cheshire
Inspiring as the stories of the featured four might be, they do not describe a realistic choice for the thousands of, say, ex-Woolworths employees who, in the majority, will have no capital to fall back on whilst they pursue "dream jobs", nor the acumen to draw up plans. Unless action is taken to retain both manufacturing and large scale service industries, the outlook for many will be to join the already growing underclass dependant on benefits and whose children have no role model in work to make them take their education seriously in order to break out of the downward spiral.
Jeff Sutcliffe, Rossendale, Lancashire