Big changes start locally

Meet our Board Attender: Abi Walker

East Cleveland Youth Housing Trust

I’m Abi, I’m 24 years old and one of the Board Attenders for Virgin Money Foundation! I graduated from Newcastle University in 2017 with a degree in English Literature and have been working in the North East charity sector for the past three years. I worked as a Bid Writer for Changing Lives for two years and am now working as a Fundraising and Grants Officer at Action Foundation. 

I’d been thinking about getting involved with a Board for about a year before this opportunity came up. Being a younger person, I thought it would be a great way to learn new things, meet people and develop new skills, as well as giving me an opportunity to have a positive impact on an organisation I was passionate about. While I was keen to explore this, whenever an opportunity to become a trustee came up, I talked myself out of it: “you’re too young – they’ll laugh if you apply!”, “you don’t have enough experience to be able to contribute anything useful” “nobody will take you seriously – the other Board Members are professionals at the top of their game and you’re just starting out in your career!” I’m sure that these worries were entirely unfounded, but they became real confidence barriers which stopped me from pushing myself to apply for a Board position. 

Board Attender Opportunity

Then in October last year, an opportunity with the Virgin Money Foundation came up that I couldn’t ignore. They were specifically looking FOR younger people to bring a new perspective to their Board – I no longer felt like my age was a barrier, rather, an advantage! It was an exciting opportunity as over the last few years I’ve been a huge admirer of the grant-making and wider sector support from VMF. 

The recruitment process was thorough and involved submitting an initial application, a video interview and then finally a face-to-face interview with the Chair of the Board. Although there were a few stages to it, I felt really relaxed at every stage – the Foundation did everything they could to make things feel informal and comfortable. I found out just before Christmas that I’d been successful and was so excited (albeit a little nervous) to take on the role of Board Attender! 

Board Meetings 

My first Board Meeting was in March –which unfortunately fell during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were all still transitioning to dining-table-desks and virtual meetings which made it a particularly challenging time to start this role. Despite this, all the other Board members were really welcoming and friendly, which is certainly appreciated when ‘meeting’ for the first time through a laptop screen. 

In June I had my second Board Meeting. We’d all started to get used to our new normality and taking part in a virtual Board Meeting didn’t feel as unusual as it had done in March. I’d spent a full day reading the Board Pack before the meeting and went in feeling confident and prepared. The meeting went really well and I came out of it feeling like I’d contributed a unique perspective and, most importantly, that this was really listened to. 

2027 Mentoring 

As part of this opportunity I was given the chance to join the 2027 scheme, a 12-month mentoring programme which supports people from diverse groups into Board roles. I immediately hit it off with my mentor, Girda, and it’s been great to have somebody to chat to about the challenges and learn from her experiences. As part of this scheme I’ve taken part in some peer support groups with other young people in similar Board roles and it’s been really comforting to talk to them. 

Being a Board Attender for Virgin Money Foundation has been an incredibly rewarding experience already – I’ve loved seeing the amazing work that’s come from VMF grants and knowing that I’ve contributed to that. I can’t wait to continue working with VMF as a Board Attender and hope I can continue bringing a unique, young person’s experience to the table.

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