It’s often said that being a Mum is the hardest job in the world. Nevertheless, it can’t be denied that some take to it like a duck to water. And for many ambitious women, only the addition of a mind-bogglingly demanding full-time career can help meet their irrepressible need for challenge. Meet Lora Cooper, who appears to be, well, a genuine superwoman.
The past seven years have seen lots of changes in the property lettings industry - the financial crisis of 2007-2008 certainly had an impact as rent prices fluctuated and many people lost their homes and began letting instead. But one thing in the lettings industry remained an absolute constant – and that was the ambition of one Lora Cooper, a mum of two whose commitment to her kids never fluctuated and, yet, never impacted on her incredible professional development.
‘I guess you could say I fell into lettings,’ she tells us. ‘I’d looked after my children for the previous five years as a single mum and, when my partner and I decided that he’d move in with us, it seemed that the time was right for me to return to work.’
Lora hadn’t had it easy in the run-up to starting her new career. After marrying and starting her family soon after leaving school at the age of 16 and developing a career with Royal Mail for seven years, she hit that common stumbling block that helps to halt so many budding professionals in their tracks: divorce. Being left alone to raise her two young children meant that Lora was forced to give up her professional ambitions for the next half-decade.
‘The most frightening thing about returning to work after such a long break wasn’t the work itself,’ she says. ‘I was more concerned about how the children would cope without me being there for them all day and what I’d do if they got sick and needed me to be there.’
Those fears proved to be ‘unfounded’ though when, soon after joining Harvey Baines Ltd in Wolverhampton, she felt happy enough to take on full-time hours as a result of impressing her bosses. The increase in hours meant an increase in responsibilities and Lora’s role began to focus more on producing legal tenancy agreements, as well as arranging renewals and terminations. She had found something she loved doing.
‘I like things to be black and white,’ Lora says matter-of-factly. ‘I’m not very good with grey and the more you know about the law, the less grey everything seems.’
That passion for legal and compliance soon developed into an actionable career path and, within three years, Lora had moved her family back to her hometown of Bath and taken on a role with Touchstone Corporate Property Services, where she began to really come into her own. The organisation offered all the support she needed to develop her career and, before long, she found herself applying to MOL for the hugely prestigious NfOPP Level 5 Diploma in Residential Lettings & Property Management.
‘I like to push myself and be the best at everything I can do,’ Lora tells us. ‘The Diploma would provide me with better understanding of a huge range of topics that I otherwise wouldn’t have regular experience of, and that would enable me to offer greater support to the people I work with.’ So push herself she did.
She spent her evenings and weekends reading the course materials and using the practice exam questions to test her knowledge. Her social life certainly took a turn for the less lively and even family time would have to be compromised from time to time if, for instance, the children wanted to go somewhere or do something when Lora had to study. Her dedication was such that the entirety of her annual leave from work for a whole three years was spent studying.
‘The most difficult part,’ she tells us, ‘was the project – I had never undertaken a project before so I felt like I was going in completely blind. But I had a number of conversations with my tutor about ideas and, once we’d agreed on a title, I started work on researching and compiling a report.’
It took Lora 12 months to complete the project alone, but, she says, ‘I would say that only a quarter of that was spent working “full-on” – the rest was just me dipping in, getting stuck in for a while and then leaving it again.’ Her family supported her throughout, pushing her to study when her motivation was running dry, checking the accuracy of her research figures and proof reading her project work.
‘[Studying for the Level 5 programme] has definitely given me an edge,’ Lora says, ‘and an increased level of respect from clients, customers and colleagues. They all recognise the qualification that now follows my name, along with my ARLA Fellow status. I think it’s also helped to make my employers all the more aware of my career aspirations and I’m now looking at possibly undertaking a quality management programme.’
And the question of her work-life balance… I ask her how she’s managing to keep that in check now that she’s been promoted to Assistant Manager for Back Office Services and has responsibility for four different teams and a whole host of people.
‘It’s a continuous juggling act,’ she says, unperturbed, ‘and I do have to miss the occasional school presentation and that kind of thing. But my husband and the boys are very understanding of my responsibilities at work and the pressures they bring. One of the key things is to make sure that I spend quality time with them when I am at home.’
Where Lora finds the energy, we do not know. But we’re mightily impressed.
Note: MOL discontinued its Level 5 Diploma offering in 2010 in favour of a Level 4 Certificate programme, which we felt would be much more conducive to learning while earning. There's no project to complete and it's much easier to study in bite sized chunks. Find out more about property programmes with MOL. Visit http://www.moltraining.co.uk/property