From education to employment

A Decade of Making a Difference

In a constantly evolving and challenging world for small charities, I am delighted to have worked at the Helena Kennedy Foundation charity for the last ten years as Director of Operations. I have a background in supporting people in welfare and employment, the creative sector, and the unique world of Students’ Union, so it seemed only fitting to continue my journey where I help students become the best they can. I applied for this job because, if nothing else, I knew that I wanted to make a positive difference to people.

I can still remember the day when I turned up for the interview and was initially mistaken as the intern! If I am honest, once the dust had settled and I was on my own, I thought to myself, “What have I let myself in for?” I was a one-person team at the time, and so I did the best I could to start making things happen.

For me, there were many things I had to do in this role that I had not done before. I was required to prepare papers for board meetings, finance meetings, as well as manage a large budget. It became a steep learning curve, but I enjoyed the challenge. However, I was not immune to errors in the beginning. I once gave a bursary to a prospective University student but had to make the call to say it was a mistake. Thankfully, we were able to find the funds to give the bursary in the end, but the experience has made me much more careful. It is always hard having to say no to students who need our help, but we currently receive more applications than we have bursaries.

10 years ago, in 2012, it was the year of the Olympics in London and my first cohort of students. They will always have a special place in my heart, and I keep in touch with some of them.I can see how the award transformed their lives, by enabling them to go to complete their chosen studies at university and progress into amazing careers. Some of our students have given back to the charity, by fundraising, donating, or mentoring new award winners.

With a small team of volunteers, I organise our celebration event at the House of Lords each year, where I get the chance to meet many of our student award winners. These events have been a big highlight for me as we also get a chance to meet with some of our sponsors and supporters, including Baroness Helena Kennedy herself! I am also pleased that in my ten years, we have been able to raise over £1,000,000 which has helped over 1,000 students. The total figures for the charity will be much higher, as we celebrate our 25th anniversary next year.

The bursary makes a huge difference to HKF students. When I first started, each bursary amounted to a total of £500. Today, we can give £2250. We like to ask students how the bursary has helped them, but we often find that it is the wellbeing support that is most appreciated. We know that this is something we need more of going forward, as our own research tells us that the mental health of our students has shown a decline in recent years.

Through my work at the charity, I have made some wonderful friends and special connections. Together, we have been able to manage tough times for small charities, and I am grateful to the friends and allies of HKF who have continued to support us. There have been lots of change in the last ten years but the need to help disadvantaged Further Education students to have equitable access to Higher Education has remained.

Despite the challenges coming from economic and global crisis, I remain hopeful because I know that there is still kindness out there. I have experienced this for myself through my work at the charity. The guidance from our trustees and supporters keeps me going and I am looking forward to continuing our mission to help others.

By Shahida, Director of Operations for Helena Kennedy Foundation

Shahida joined the Helena Kennedy Foundation in 2012 and is currently Director of Operations for the foundation. The foundation exists to overcome social injustice by providing financial bursaries, mentoring and support to disadvantaged students from the further and adult education sectors, enabling them to progress into fulfilling careers.

A decade of making a difference – JustGiving

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