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‘Meet a…’ Chief Executive: Graham Duxbury

'Meet a...' is Groundwork Youth Hub's new careers series aiming to highlight the people behind the job titles and introduce you to a range of roles inside and outside of Groundwork. Meet our staff, partners, friends, and supporters and find out their journey to where they are now. We hope these interviews inspire you!

Our PR Officer, Stacey, sat down with Groundwork Chief Executive, Graham Duxbury who speaks about his (nearly) 20-year career with Groundwork, and why fashion photography was never for him! 

SA/Gwk Youth: Hi Graham! What does your job as Groundwork Chief Executive involve?

GD: My role is to ultimately champion Groundwork. This is both externally to the outside world, but also working to make the Federation the best it can be. I split my time between thinking about the way Groundwork works and why it does what it does, and then the other half is to convince other people that we are worth listening to.  

SA/Gwk Youth: Do you have a typical working day?

GD: I have a typical 'in' day and typical 'out' day. I’m office based half the time and externally focused half the time – so I spend a lot of time on trains but that works in my favour, as I do a lot of writing on trains, for various reports and proposals. The 'in' days are interesting because that’s the opportunity to plug into lots of conversations across the organisation. There’s also always a lot of time spent in various meetings!

SA/Gwk Youth: So how long have you worked for Groundwork?

GD: In June of this year I will have been with Groundwork for 20 years. My first job was as a Press Officer. I then started working with public affairs, then onto policy and then I made the jump into development before becoming Chief Executive.

SA/Gwk Youth: Did it feel quite natural to go from a communications role into a development post and then onto being at the helm?

GD: It did feel natural. I think most charities experience that there are never enough people to do what needs doing and if you share an aptitude for something, then there is always a job to do. It enables you to develop your own role, as long as it’s along the lines of what the organisation needs.

SA/Gwk Youth: Do you ever miss doing a sole communications role?

GD: I still do a communications role – the Chief Executive should be the main communicator of any organisation. It also means that I have to give people the opportunity to talk about Groundwork the way that they want to. People need to be able to talk about us convincingly, so they need to be allowed to do it from their perspective in their words and from their viewpoints. One of the things you have do as someone in a senior position is allow people the freedom to talk in a way that they feel comfortable.

SA/Gwk Youth: So after nearly 20 years, what is your favourite thing about working at Groundwork?

GD: Well there must be something if it’s kept me here for 20 years! I think it has to be the diversity. 

From year to year, to place to place we do different things. But what I do like is that from when Groundwork started there is a consistency that you can track that follows the principles of why Groundwork was set up that is people led, place-based and partnership focused. We can be responsive to the needs of communities so it's not a 'one size fits all' solution. 

As someone who is responsible for making sure it’s done well, you have to understand the whole variety of things we are doing. I’m constantly learning so it keeps me motivated and interested.

SA/Gwk Youth: Have you ever completed a work experience placement or internship?

GD: I've worked as a volunteer. I volunteered for the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers in East Lancashire.

I was the publicity team so I wrote press releases and designed posters and encouraged people to get involved in conservation activities, as well as getting involved in the activities. That was the 'rolling up my sleeves', putting up fences in the pouring rain experience where I paid my dues!

SA/Gwk Youth: What did you study at University?

GD: I studied French and German at Cambridge. I followed my nose as I seemed to be quite good at languages, but actually, I also had an inspirational teacher who pushed me in that direction. I was actually in touch with him recently – he was asking about some funding for a local park in Blackburn.

SA/Gwk Youth: That’s lovely! What was your first job?

GD: I had a few at the same time! I did try to make a go of a career as a self-employed graphic designer – although, can you call it a job if you don’t make any money?! I then had a job in an education office at Blackburn Council supporting children with SEN needs, and I also worked in publicity for a local arts centre, so that was what inspired me to look further into a career in PR.

SA/Gwk Youth: Did you have a favourite subject at school?

GD: Not one that stands out. I enjoyed art, I liked languages and history. Words and pictures!

SA/Gwk Youth: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

GD: I was interested in advertising for a while. I remember I visited several advertising agencies to find out more and found that they had to get excited over selling washing powder and fizzy drinks. While the lifestyle looked great and they had funky offices, I couldn’t really get excited over what I was talking about. So it helped that it made me realise I wanted to work with words and pictures, but it had to be about something I cared about.

I remember a really poor career session I had at school and the result was that I should be a fashion photographer. So what kind of questions I answered to get that specific result I have no idea!

SA/Gwk Youth: So if you would swap roles with anyone in Groundwork who would it be?

GD: Probably a Countryside Ranger working on a landscape project, like a Silverdale Country Park. I think it’s because all my initial contact with what Groundwork does was about the people and the outdoors.

SA/Gwk Youth: What’s the best career or life advice you’ve ever been given?

GD: My granny used to say 'if you want to get on, go where you’re not known!'

Something else that people have said to me over the years, is to remember that as you move up in your career, you get to meet people who you might think are quite important - but just bear in mind they are probably feeling as awkward as you are. A lot of people disguise insecurity with bravado, so whenever you feel insecure about something, take a step back and remember they probably feel exactly the same somewhere deep down inside.

SA/Gwk Youth: What advice would you give to your younger self about your career?

GD: There’s all the usual advice around not holding yourself back and always having a go at new things. I was probably quite conservative growing up about the things I tried and things I did. Looking back, I would be a bit less circumspect.

The one piece of advice that I follow is to make sure that you are doing something that you are really passionate about and believe in. That way, when things are going wrong, you have that job satisfaction that you are doing something worthwhile.

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