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'Meet a...' Director of Partnership and Programmes: Sarah Reece-Mills

'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 spoke to Groundwork Director of Partnership and Programmes, Sarah Reece-Mills about her journey with Groundwork and the career – and life – advice she lives by.

SA/Gwk Youth: Hi Sarah! What is your role and what does this involve?

SRM: I’m Partnerships and Programmes Director at Groundwork UK - it’s a very varied role! I oversee the Programmes team as well as communications, fundraising, and marketing. 

SA/Gwk Youth: So would you say that you have a typical working day?

SRM: I don’t have a typical working day – and I really enjoy that part of my job. It’s a very creative role because a lot of it is about making decisions. One hour I might be making a decision about a strategic activity such as business planning and budgets, the next I could be working on outreach and development such as putting proposals together and keeping our relationships going with various stakeholders and organisations and then my attention could be on our communications and fundraising strands, such as Go Green for Groundwork or our Community Awards.

SA/Gwk Youth: Nice and busy then! How long have you worked for Groundwork?

SRM: I joined in 2007 for Groundwork Birmingham and Solihull (areas now covered by Groundwork West Midlands) and then joined Groundwork UK in 2009. I was originally a Landscape Architect – but in Groundwork you never do one thing! I was involved in local regeneration with local partners, but what I learned very rapidly is that it wasn’t just about places but the people too. We were based near a community centre and there were kids hanging about with nothing to do.

The projects were more than just about tackling antisocial behaviour, they were about community projects that encouraged people of all ages to share spaces and give people things to do. We got some funding to fund a youth engagement project and ran a youth centre a couple of times a week, and that was what got me involved with wider Groundwork and not just being a Landscape Architect. 

SA/Gwk Youth: So that’s quite a switch of roles from coming in to do a very hands-on, practical role to being behind a desk. Did it feel like a natural progression?

SRM: It didit’s really useful having a practical skill because it helps to know and have background knowledge. It’s valuable to have that information and use that to base decisions on.

SA/Gwk Youth: So after working for Groundwork for so many years, what is your favourite thing about working for the organisation?

SRM: I like that we as a charity have the flexibility to make decisions. If we want something done then we can do it. We can set up programmes and can react to situations and needs when they arise and not wait six months to make changes and make things happen. It can also be quite a challenging role – and I like to be challenged!

SA/Gwk Youth: Have you ever completed an internship or got involved in any volunteering?

SRM: When I left school after finishing my A-Levels I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for a career. I thought I might want to explore Art Therapy, so I started getting involved with volunteer work in residential homes, and with people with learning disabilities. I then did a six-month work experience placement with my local museum, then a six-month placement with Keep Britain Tidy, where I went to schools to talk all things litter.

SA/Gwk Youth: Did you then go to University?

SRM: Yes, I studied Landscape Architecture. I had always had an interest in the environment but I wanted a creative role and it brought together all the things that I enjoyed in one degree. When I was at university I actually volunteered with Groundwork on several projects. It was the volunteering that helped me to get my first job because I had that first-hand experience that I could offer.    

SA/Gwk Youth: So what was your first ever job?

SRM: Since I was 15 I’ve always worked at various hotels and waitressing. My first job when leaving university was at Surrey County Council. When I left university I thought I will apply and go for any job, anywhere, so I went from Leeds to Surrey! I didn’t know anybody, but sometimes you have to take risks and just go for it.

SA/Gwk Youth: That’s very brave! So looking back at before you started university, did you have a favourite subject at school?

SRM: I loved geography and art – they were my favourite subjects. 

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

SRM: I remember saying to my mum that I wanted to be a 'doctor of plants' – I spent all my time in the garden.

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

SRM: I think it would be to have confidence – it’s taken me a long time to really build up my confidence. It’s about having that belief in your own abilities that you can achieve things. It’s also so important to have a voice. My younger self was very quiet.

SA/Gwk Youth: Do you feel that being a woman in director role that you have a responsibility to be role model to other women and girls that they can reach high in terms of career goals?

SRM: Absolutely. I feel that more now more than ever. I learned quickly that you have to stand up for yourself. It’s important that women know that things are possible if they want them.

SA/Gwk Youth: So very true. Finally – what is the best career advice you have ever been given?

SRM: I always try to be positive and it’s important to act with integrity. It’s important to remember that everyone is entitled to an opinion – it doesn’t matter to me what role someone is in, everybody has a value to an organisation and it’s important that each person is listened to. You should never discount people.

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