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Ash Cross of MOCA | Life After Travel: Why I’m Glad We Settled in Tauranga

Ash Cross of MOCA

Ash Cross, Designer and Account Manager at MOCA, a well-established digital agency in Tauranga, had been thinking about the possibility of working from home for a while. As a result of the COVID-19 lockdown, that opportunity came much sooner than he expected!

He and his wife, Louise, are a bubble of two, living in the Bethlehem home they bought at the end of 2019, not long after moving to Tauranga.

In between working from the home office, and keeping the pukekos away from his vegetable garden, Ash took time to reflect on his experience of moving home to New Zealand after living in London and traveling around Europe.

This is his story.

Ash, first things first. How has lock-down life been for you?

I’ve missed cycling to work, surfing, and family board-game nights, but it’s been great to have more time to play the guitar and to be able to focus on some DIY around the house. I’ve been able to develop some new skills like growing my vegetable garden and propagating houseplants. I’ve also focused on overcoming my nemeses – the pukekos who keep eating my vegetable garden.

Are you glad to be home in New Zealand during this global crisis?

Absolutely. When we were living overseas so many people joked about escaping to New Zealand when the world turns to hell, and now it’s actually happened. I’m glad that we’ve worked together as a country to get through this. Fortunately, we’ve had the advantage of being able to see it coming, natural protection as an island nation, and above-average trust in our government to make decent decisions. Other countries aren’t so lucky.

What has it meant for your work life?

Being able to work from home has been fantastic – the flexibility of the digital industry regarding location is all it’s cracked up to be. It’s been great for MOCA internally as it’s forced us to rethink how we work as a team and to come up with better ways of doing things.

How did your career start out?

After studying industrial design at Victoria University, I took my first job as a junior designer at GDM in Whanganui. My job was to create designs and CAD drawings for manufacturing retail equipment. I then moved to Auckland and worked as an in-house designer and draftsman at Issa Furniture – a small business that manufactured and imported contract furniture for commercial business fit-outs. My role evolved to include project and production management over time. From there, my girlfriend and I decided to travel and ended up in London. I was born in the UK and my girlfriend found the two-year working visa was easy to get. 

What was it like finding work in the UK?

It took me a while to find work, but eventually, I was brought on as design studio manager for a UK furniture company. I was lucky to get this job as it paid well and helped me to advance my career. I had the freedom to pursue the things I was interested in professionally and the sales director I worked with was very encouraging of my ideas.

In what ways did travel broaden your horizons?

We left home with the intention to experience a side of the world we hadn’t seen before. I’m interested in human-centered design so an understanding of people is very important. I think it’s valuable to see where and how people live, to learn the languages and cultural traditions, to get involved and connect – rather than just visiting and viewing a place to get a good photo. It really opened me up to respect the different ways people live and get things done.

What brought you back home to New Zealand?

We came back to get married. We loved connecting with family and friends but we felt that we hadn’t seen as much of Europe as we’d wanted to. We didn’t feel ready to settle here yet, so we left again and traveled across mainland Europe in a campervan for four months. After that, it felt like the right time to be coming home.

What drew you to Tauranga?

While I was born in the UK, I grew up in KatiKati and I’ve always loved the Tauranga area and vibes. It’s also a bonus that we can be near family. My family now lives in Omokoroa and my wife’s parents moved to Te Puna to retire a number of years ago.

What was your experience of finding work in Tauranga?

I was nervous about the job search. I wasn’t quite sure where to go or what to do – other than the traditional route of searching on Trade Me or Seek, or finding meet-ups. I discovered that the Groundswell Festival of Innovation was due to start around the time I arrived back and saw that a Design Thinking Experience event was taking place in the lead-up to it. I thought attending that would be a great way to meet people involved in the local industry who had the same mindset as I did. It turned out to be the right decision, as that is where I met Andrew Mahon, the Director at MOCA.

What does your role as an account manager at MOCA involve?

MOCA design and develop websites and create digital experiences. I talk directly with clients about their websites. They come to me with ideas or problems and I work through solutions to help improve the process for them or their users. I get to work closely with the development team. Together we make sure the client and end-users get a great product.

In other roles I’ve had, the companies were one step removed from the client. Instead of talking to clients directly, we were interacting with agencies who had already solved the general problem and we were just focused on the details. Now I get to be involved from the early stages.

What’s your take on the business scene in Tauranga?

My impression is that it’s a tight-knit community and there is so much here if you begin to look under the surface. I only realized this once I physically came back to Tauranga. In Wellington and Auckland, the students and lecturers only seemed to talk about the design and start-up scene of Wellington and Auckland, but they should include Tauranga too.

What do you love about working and living in Tauranga?

I had a fear that I would get bored after years of traveling and being in London, and many friends told me a similar thing. But I haven’t found that at all. Tauranga suits me.

I enjoy the people, the lack of traffic, the personal interactions with clients, and the great team we have at work. I love the work-lifestyle balance, the proximity of decent beaches, family close by, Brew Co, and their $6 happy hour calamari plates! I go surfing when I can and my wife and I sometimes go to Ceroc dance classes on Thursdays. I’ve also had a lot of enjoyment from working on DIY projects around the house.

What has moving to Tauranga meant:

For your career? I’ve been able to move to digital product development which I’ve been interested in doing for a long time.

For your wellbeing? It’s been fantastic being near family and escaping the rat race of bigger cities.

For your relationships? I feel like I have more time for the people and things that matter in my life.  

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