Gemma Bull has recently joined our board of trustees. We’ve been talking to her about charities, funding, what’s important to her and why she wanted to support our work at The Advocacy Project.
You’ve recently joined our board of trustees. What attracted you to us as an organisation?
The main reason I wanted to be involved with The Advocacy Project is your ethos and your values: there’s strong alignment with what’s important to me. When I first met people at The Advocacy Project, we had long conversations about everything the organisation is doing in terms of governance structures, the way you work, the culture. The genuineness of your approach really struck me. I knew you were looking for people with expertise in different aspects of funding, and with my background at The National Lottery Community Fund as well as having worked for a disability charity, I thought there was a real connection with what I can bring.
What’s your background – where do you work, and what kind of roles have you done in the past?
At the moment I’m Funding Strategy Director for The National Lottery Community Fund. We give out around £650 million a year, mostly in the UK, to support people to do what matters most to them. We’re involved in an approach called “People in the lead”, which is a bit similar in ethos behind much of what you do at The Advocacy Project. Over the last few years we’ve moved from a more distant, centralised, way of grant-making to one that’s trying to respond more to the needs and interests of people in communities.
I’ve also worked in strategy and development roles for charities including Leonard Cheshire Disability and Save the Children. I co-founded a social enterprise called Easy Peasy: a digital service that gives parents and carers simple, low cost play ideas which support early child development. It has videos of real people practicing the games, with plain English instructions, to give parents confidence helping their child play and learn.
I’ve previously been a trustee of The Squad – a small local charity that supports people with learning disabilities to get together with people their own age and take part in social activities.
Tell me a bit more about the change from a funder-centred perspective at The National Lottery Community Fund to really understanding what’s needed by the organisations. How has that affected people?
Practically speaking, one of the changes is that there are now three times as many people from our organisation based locally with communities, so for example there’ll be someone in Peterborough and they’ll be responsible for managing applicants and grant-holders in Peterborough. Whereas before we had people making decisions about funding without having met the people who will benefit. We’ve overhauled our online applications so it’s genuinely accessible. What we’ve seen overall is something like a 30% increase in groups that have never applied to us before, applying and being successful.
What has drawn you to work with charities?
I feel very strongly about equity. I completed an MA in Human Rights a while ago, and that’s when I started working in the charity sector. And whether it’s working for a funder – trying to challenge the funder to be more accessible in all it’s doing – or being a trustee, where my skills match up with what the organisation needs, supporting inclusivity is what I’m most interested in doing.
What are you looking forward to about being on the board?
I’m excited about getting to know people individually, building relationships, finding out people’s communication styles on the board, learning and understanding the culture, and not making assumptions. I’m looking forward to working with service users on the board, and challenging my own way of doing things – thinking about things differently. From what I’ve seen so far, The Advocacy Project embraces the positive challenges real user involvement gives us personally and organisationally.
And what kind of things do you like to do in your free time?
I love reading and writing. I also enjoy getting outside – hiking – and travelling to new places.