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Is this the best of both worlds? Meet the Highland HR manager working from a converted bus on a farm in Devon

Jo Fanning outside her new accommodation

Jo Fanning believes she has found the perfect work-life balance.

Pre-Covid, her post was at Inverness College UHI before the pandemic led her to work from home on the outskirts of the Highland capital.

But remote working now means she operates from a desk in a converted bus nearly 600 miles away at the opposite end of the UK.

Nomadic way of life

The radical lifestyle change was prompted by Jo and her partner Ben Thynne being fed up working 9-5 and seeking to live more sustainably.

They also wanted to be closer to family living in the south of England.

Ben, 36, quit his job as a wind farm site supervisor with SSE and Jo, 35, reduced her hours as a HR partner with the college to two days a week.

Jo works on the farm four days a week

They then sold their furniture, rented out their three-bedroom house and packed everything they own into a van to start a new nomadic way of life.

Their first stop is Bulstone Springs Farm in Devon where they became Wwoofers, part of the Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (Wwoof) movement which links visitors with organic farmers.

For free food and accommodation – the converted bus – Ben works six days and Jo four days a week on the farm.

On the other two days Jo carries out her HR duties in her new surroundings.

‘The change is ticking lots of boxes’

“We had been speaking about spending too much time inside and behind a desk. We want to be a bit more connected to where our food comes from, living a bit more sustainably,” she said.

“There was just the two of us living in a three-bedroom house in Inverness. We loved living there, but as soon as you get the house you’re looking for the next thing to buy.

“We felt we were not being fulfilled by that lifestyle and were just treading water.

“The change is ticking lots of boxes. We are learning where our food comes from, we’re working outside and we’re closer to family.

Jo’s accommodation and office is a converted bus

“We’ve gone from a new-build house on the outskirts of the city to living in a bus with a compost toilet and an outdoor kitchen.

“It’s very rustic and a real lifestyle change. But we’ve adapted to it really quickly and are loving it.”

Jo added: “When I was working full-time behind a desk I was getting back pain and felt like it was seizing up a lot of the time. I felt I had to go to the gym because I had not moved all day.

‘It’s getting the balance right’

“Now I don’t feel the need to exercise as I’m moving all day. It’s just a better quality of life than I had before.

“For us it’s been a silver lining to the pandemic. I’ve got the best of both worlds. I enjoy my job and find it interesting and mentally stimulating. It’s just getting the balance right and not sitting at a desk 9-5 five days a week.”

The couple are committed to volunteering at Bulstone Springs for six months. They then plan to work on other farms with the aim of eventually starting their own small holding.

Jo praised the college’s support and flexibility towards her lifestyle change, and has also been pleased with the reaction of colleagues.

“They have been really supportive. Most people think it’s a very brave move and say ‘I wish I could do that’.

“People have other commitments. If you have kids it’s not so easy to do. Many have been surprised as they did not see it as a possibility, but maybe it will get them thinking about what options are available.”

Jo works at her desk in the bus two days a week

A college spokeswoman said: “Inverness College UHI is committed to promoting equality, respecting diversity and supporting staff through flexible working in line with business need in order to make best use of our talented workforce.

“The pandemic has enabled further opportunities for remote working and we are delighted to support Jo to combine her volunteering and new life whilst continuing to work for the college remotely.

“This flexibility meets our business and college need as we are keen to retain Jo’s skills, experience and talent in the years to come.”

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