Reflections on my first year as Grants Manager

PHOTO: James McHugh, Grants Manager in his first week at Stratford Town Trust visiting Lifeways Centre with Abigail Johnson, Communications Officer.

What a year. We’re in a fundamentally different place in many ways, but I wanted to look back at my first year in post at the Trust and share my thoughts.  

Frankly, I didn’t know that much about Stratford before working here. I’d been many times as a tourist – enjoying sunny walks, ice creams and the RSC. But I never really knew the character of the town, What makes it tick? What is important to it? How can I help make it even better for everyone?  

 In any new job, there’s always the pressure to jump straight in. Make your mark. Do things your way. But for me, the important thing was to do the complete opposite. 

 Take time to just listen. Just to take time to notice what was happening and being said. And notice what wasn’t happening, and what wasn’t being said. And not to rush into preconceived ideas about what needed ‘fixing’.  

 The only way I could ever find this out was by getting out and about and talking to people right across the town, and I found out that people are keen to talk. They want to share what’s important to them. They want to share things that aren’t working. And they want to create a town that is vibrant and connected, and that is a place that is fantastic four everyone who calls it home.  

 SENSE OF COMMUNITY 

The time I took to really notice what is important was a great foundation for the work we do as a Trust. It underpinned the work we did back in the autumn of 2019 (which seems a lifetime ago!) when we consulted with you about what you want to see in the town, and how you want the Trust to be involved in making Stratford even better.  

 This reinforced the sense of community that I’d seen in my first few months, but also showed that there was a feeling that the community was ‘fractured’. Many people told us that there was no real sense of once community, but that there were lots of smaller communities living side by side – sometimes interacting, sometimes almost living entirely separate lives and with fundamentally different experiences of life in the town.  

At the event we hosted for members in September at Hotel du Vin, someone fed back that they thought we needed a crisis to bring the community together. 

 Well, boy, did we get one. 

 I also found a group of people at the Trust – staff and trustees – that are genuinely focused on making the town, and the lives of its residents, better. There is a real openness to listen to the broader community, and to be bold in how we can better support the amazing community work that goes on. This boldness is something we need even more in the new world, so we are able make the new normal something that we can use as a platform to overcome inequality, and not fall back into some of the bad habits we as a society may have slipped into.  

LOOKING AHEAD 

After a year into the job, I was just getting ready to start to shift how we as a trust made grants and worked with our community – moving us to be much more people focused, with you, as the community, being more directly involved in deciding how we make grants and what we fund. We want to be much more participatory, and in future blogs, I’ll talk more about what that actually might look and feel like.  

But now, in the middle of the pandemic, I am even more confident in the strength of the community (and the different communities that make it up!) of the town to continue to support each other. And therefore it will be vital that our role as supporter and grantmaker helps continue to fan the flames of this community work, and I know our grantmaking in the future will be a big part of this – not just financially but the support we will offer alongside that.  

So, a year in, I think we’ve made lots of progress – lots behind the scenes about the ethos of being a funder – what does it mean? Where does power lie (with the community!)? What’s important? We’ll continue to listen, and continue to be there for Stratford. 

Take care. 

 

James.  

 

 

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