February 13, 2017

From reflection to action –
can we really make a difference? (Yes we can).

Our CEO Tina Corri reflects on her 3 years at People United

I cannot believe it’s almost 3 years since I joined People United. I mean seriously! – where did the time go? It’s gone so fast I can only take this to be A. GOOD. SIGN. With this particular milestone looming, I wanted to reflect more personally on what’s it’s been like to be part of the People United family.

TOP reasons why it’s been – well – a bit (wonderfully) different really

24hr Arts Marathon

The People United team and some amazing artists and volunteers after making a Kindness Zine together in 24 hours… we’re …er….all a bit tired. But how amazing are they to do that?

1.       The People United people

If someone asks me ‘So… how’s work going?’ my knee-jerk response is always to say that the people I work with are simply quite brilliant. (Don’t tell them, it may go to their heads!). At one point or another everyone has probably found themselves – for a multitude of reasons – in a working environment which is perhaps less than ideal. So it is all the more precious to be in a situation where I can honestly say I look forward every day (and each day is different) to spending time with my amazing colleagues and the inspiring artists, associates and researchers we work with.

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have worked with some fantastic people over the years but I couldn’t have wished for a better team than I have found here at People United. It is a dynamic mix of rich experience and talent, compassion and empathy, humour and perseverance, clear eyed self-appraisal and the overall sense that our office is a ‘safe’ space. We can lean on each other, be creative and get things done. Our exchanges are open and honest which is liberating. We respect the experience in the room and work collaboratively. Why is it different? I think it is because when we say we are a values-led organisation, it is actually true.

Size Matters cut

2.       Size matters 

The biggest challenge I had coming to People United was not what I thought it would be. My innermost fear was leaving the much-loved community I had built after 20 years living and working in London, and moving somewhere I knew literally not a single person. But this was, in the end, fine. The bigger test, for me at least, was going from only ever working in large cultural organisations to somewhere with only 4 – yes that’s 4 – people. Joining an organisation comparatively tiny in size (though I hasten to add, NOT in ambition!) was a real eye opener. Where was the HR department? Oh, that’s us. What about Communications? Yes that’s us too. Finance? Yup. Fundraising? Uh-huh. IT? Well we just work it out. It took me a little while to shift from being a rather specialist cog in large but wonderful wheels to getting a handle on what it means to run an organisation in every aspect, combining strategy with operations, breadth with depth, business acumen with creativity.

What I missed at first – managing large teams, being part of a venue with collections on tap and having lots of people to draw on in specialist departments – was replaced by new and wonderful revelations. I now know that as a small organisation you can be properly fleet of foot. You can change your mind, have loads of new ideas, follow your gut instinct and respond to opportunities quickly. You can develop links with your partners, funders, artists and participants in a very direct way. There are no silos only partnerships. We make new art and are building our own collection.  Just because an organisation is small in terms of number of people, it doesn’t mean that our ideas and actions cannot be felt far and wide. It has been amazing to be able to lead with an autonomy that is extremely freeing. It’s really hard work at times with only our small team to keep all of the balls in the air, but in the last 3 years we have grown and continue to do so.

3.       We can make a difference

Kindness Away Day

The team with some more wonderful artists and partners at an Away Day about Kindness. 

It strikes me that this is a reflective time for many people. It is mere moments since the beginning of 2017 – we are still looking backwards whilst trying to keep a sweaty grip on our shiny new resolutions for the year ahead. There have been massive shifts in our political and cultural contexts. Looking at the news I often feel like the world is going slightly off-kilter, becoming increasingly divided, tipping into ever more dangerous waters. And so it becomes somewhat overwhelming when asking the question – but what can I do about this?

My thoughts and feelings link back to our work here at People United – to both our philosophy and research. One of our deep seated motivations has always been to not be overawed by the seemingly relentless bombardments of bad news stories, but instead to seek out and celebrate those often overlooked narratives of positive actions, of tolerance, of decency and kindness.

Be Kind

One of our 10 year anniversary commissions (I’m a bit obsessed with neon signs). 

We are fortunate to work closely with the world’s leading social psychology academics on the Study of Group Processes (with the University of Kent), and so spend a LOT of time analysing whether our work through the arts really does make a positive difference to people’s lives. Our research shows that the arts can connect different people, break down barriers, make people more empathetic, increase confidence and build bridges within communities. I have also come to realise that there is a pattern to our conversations and findings and it is this – it is often the small moments that mark a big difference in someone. And these moments are usually in conversation. And these conversations are happening because we are creating art together. In the last three years I have seen this over and over again.

Sparkles

So when it all sometimes seems too much, I think about those many little but momentous moments and I am also reminded of a quote recently raised by someone I respect very much – our founder Tom Andrews. “It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness”. We can make a difference, one person and action at a time.

Beach lights

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