Pick of the Month - May 2022

1 May 2022 | By Faye Edwards

It’s that time again! May is here and with it, we bring you our monthly pick of individuals doing some incredible work across the charity sector. This month, we spoke to a Trustee for one of Birmingham’s best attractions, the Chief Executive of the UK’s foremost narrative ballet company, East Street Arts’ Business and Development Lead and the Founder of a Social Enterprise on a mission to use music technology to create social impact.


Trustee of the Month – Heidi Leung

Heidi Leung became a Trustee for the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, a 15-acre botanical gardens and educational Charity in the heart of Edgbaston, in September of 2021. The gardens aim to support plant biodiversity and an understanding of its importance to the natural environment through conservation, education, engagement, and enjoyment. 

Heidi explains what motivated her to become a Trustee: 

“I had been a Trustee for two years at a local multi academy trust when I saw that the Birmingham Botanical Gardens was looking for a Trustee with education experience. I was looking to engage with something outside of the education sector, which had been my comfort zone for most of my career to date. I had never worked in the Charity or horticulture sector before, and this role as Trustee felt like a perfect bridge linking the three sectors.  


On personal level, the Gardens had become a green oasis for my family when we were living in the city centre, and I wanted to contribute to its future success.”

Reflecting on her experience as a Trustee, Heidi said: 

“Being a Trustee for the Birmingham Botanical Gardens has offered me a unique insight into the organisation, the people who work there (including the wonderful volunteers!), and those using the Gardens for educational or enjoyment purposes. It is extremely rewarding to know that my contribution, along with the shared commitment and aspirations of my fellow Trustees, will ensure the future success of the Gardens.”

Finally, we asked Heidi what advice she would give to anyone considering becoming a Trustee: 

“Research the organisation before you apply and ask questions! Do your values and interests align with the organisation? Do you see where you can add value as a Trustee? If possible, have an informal conversation with the Chair (or similar Executive) about what they are looking for in a Trustee.  


Finally, be realistic and honest about the time you can commit to the role. There is a lot of work which goes on outside committee meetings and, depending on the circumstances of the organisation, this may mean being more involved at certain times of the year.”

Keep up to date with what’s going on at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens on Twitter at @BhamBotanicalGd


Charity Leader of the Month – Mark Skipper DL, Northern Ballet

Mark Skipper is the Chief Executive of Northern Ballet, the UK’s foremost narrative ballet company. 

Through passionate storytelling, mastery of classical dance technique and live music, Northern Ballet aim to reach as many people as possible. The organisation has an absolute commitment to its leading role as an international ambassador for world-class dance, often showcasing its exceptional home-grown artistry on the world-stage.

Mark spoke about how he got to where he is today:

“My first career was in banking which I managed for around 6 years before the draw of working in theatre became too strong. I started working at Northern Ballet in 1987 as Deputy Stage Manager, then became Company Manager and then Head of Planning before being appointed as Chief Executive in 1996. I have now worked for Northern Ballet for 35 years.”

Over the years, Mark has supported the creation of over 40 new productions and has successfully increased the organisation’s overseas touring – recently securing partnership funding to take Northern Ballet to China.

We asked Mark what the overall mission of Northern Ballet is:

“Northern Ballet breaks down barriers to world-class ballet. We tell unexpected stories that move audiences, across the country and online. We aim to reach as many different people and places as possible by creating innovative full-length ballets and touring these to as wide an audience as we can, alongside pieces from existing repertoire. We are committed to diversifying audiences, and we have extended the reach of our work with the addition of significant digital distribution, recently seeing several of our large-scale ballets broadcast on TV and in cinema.”

When we asked him to name something he is passionate about seeing change in the sector, Mark said:

“The obvious answer to this question is more funding for the sector. Support for the arts has been continually eroded over the years, making it more and more difficult to deliver the range and quality that we all strive for. Beyond that, it would be a more diverse workforce and public realisation that the arts can be for everyone.”

Finally, Mark offered his advice to prospective CEOs:

“Leading an organisation is not easy and you must have a belief and passion for what and who you are working with. You need to be a confident leader but at the same time be prepared to listen and, where possible, be flexible. The last two years has shown us that it is possible to have a better work-life balance and I am committed to making that a reality for those that work for Northern Ballet wherever possible.”

Check out Mark’s work at Northern Ballet on Twitter at @northernballet


Fellow of the Month – Melody Walker, East Street Arts

Melody Walker is one of Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy’s 2021 Senior Fellows alongside working as Business and Development Lead at East Street Arts, an artist support organisation which provides affordable studio and making spaces, resources, professional support and opportunities for artists to work and engage with audiences and peers both nationally and internationally. Based in Leeds, East Street Arts has a strong and award-winning public art programme which involves commissioning artists to re-imagine and transform public spaces with art works whilst consulting and working with communities. 

Melody told us about what her day-to-day role involves: 

“I started working for East Street Arts in 2020, 2 months after the pandemic hit and was plunged into the deep end of preparing funding bids for Covid recovery grants. Whilst preparing fundraising bids is a key part of my job, an important facet is leading on the development of a funding and income generation strategy for the organisation, working closely with the Directors to interrogate our business model as well as working across the organisation to identify and support new opportunities for income generation. This may include artist housing, property development, placemaking consultancies, hospitality, technical facilities, educational courses, adult learning and more. I am also working on delivering our 30th anniversary programme in 2023 which provides an opportunity for developing new fundraising opportunities with stakeholders and supporters.”

Reflecting on the impact of the pandemic, Melody said:

“Like the rest of the creative sector, the pandemic severely impacted East Street Arts' income generation streams and highlighted historical as well as new vulnerabilities. We were set to open two new income generators and cultural assets in our home city of Leeds in 2020, the Art Hostel and the Convention House, both located next door to our headquarters and artist studios.


The opening of the Art Hostel was severely delayed having finally secured a new permanent space for our ‘budget friendly hospitality establishment’ with a connection to the city’s grassroots arts scene. We were keen to build on the financial and reputational success of the pop-up Art Hostel which we ran out of a meanwhile space in the city centre for two years prior. Convention House resumed its phased re-opening in 2021, made possible by a set of Covid recovery grants. The Art Hostel was given the same lifeline and finally opened to positive reviews in February this year. We were able to commission over 30 artists to renovate and decorate the rooms in the Hostel despite the various lockdowns and bottlenecks in the supply chain.


The pandemic also forced us to think and act innovatively, we developed new models of engaging with the public and artists through online, digital and even postal platforms. Whilst our international work suffered, we still managed to support and hold virtual residences with 7 overseas LGBTQ+ artists in different countries.”

We asked Melody how the Senior Fellowship has supported her work so far:

“The Senior Fellowship has provided the opportunity to explore and undertake a form of practice-based studies to explore fundraising practices through the prism of academic theories. I was able to share some of this learning with the organisation and work across the senior management team to carry out situational analyses of their respective departments and areas of work.”

Finally, on her hopes for change across the sector, Melody said:

“I would like to see our sector value the role that fundraisers and development specialists play in arts organisations. This is not always the case; it can depend on the size of an arts organisation and its success with fundraising or even its understanding of the depth and breadth of. Which is why I am constantly amazed at the mixed and diverse business model of East Street Arts; it is not afraid to take bold and radical leaps into entrepreneurialism and alternative fundraising strategies whilst always keeping art and the artist at the centre of such endeavours. This has led to the tremendous growth of the organisation as well as innovation, experimentation and exceptionalism in places. It does not shout about its achievements loud enough, but that will change as it approaches its 30th year of shaking up the arts ecology in Leeds!”

Hear more about Melody’s work at East Street Arts on Twitter at @EastStreetArts


Social Entrepreneur of the Month – Simon Glenister, Noise Solution

Simon Glenister founded Noise Solution in 2009 with a mission to use music technology to create social impact. Since then, the organisation has been named as one of the top one hundred performing enterprises in the UK (Natwest SE100) in 2019 and 2020.

Noise Solution was set up with a focus on building on people’s strengths alongside supporting individuals through the problems they are facing, using an evidence-based approach to positively impact how people feel about themselves. Since its 2009 inception, Noise Solution has been using music as a vehicle to help young people, families, carers and professionals to address the challenges around school refusal, disruptive behaviours, poor attendance, low self-esteem, neurodiversity, anxiety and depression.

Looking back over his journey, Simon said:  

"Founders start things because they spot a gap, that was certainly my experience. For me there wasn't enough freedom to work with young people in a non-deficit-based way - everything was always about the problem, whereas I wanted to promote the strengths of young people. What I wasn't prepared for was how filling that gap was the starting point for such an amazing journey of learning.”

Simon explains how he has transformed Noise Solution from just an idea into something great: 

“Noise Solution has grown from an idea at a kitchen table to a multiple national award-winning social enterprise, saving local authorities and the families of the young people we work with an estimated million pounds a year. Since 2009 we've been developing approaches to digital youth work and we are doing so in a way that utilises technology to understand and improve our impact, in a way that means families the young people we work with thoroughly enjoy the process without being medicalised or problematised.” 

Finally, Simon summarises the organisation’s work: 

“We're achieving transformative change for young people and families in a way that is a genuine fusion of practice, academic research, theory of change, impact analysis and by far the most important element fun."

Stay up to date with Simon’s incredible work at Noise Solution on Twitter @NoiseSolutionuk

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