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Be Inspired Series

Jen Ashton

Senior Programme Manager
Springboard Opportunities Ltd

The charity is celebrating 20 years providing life-changing local and international opportunities to empower people and build peaceful communities.

What does your role involve?

I am the senior programme manager within Springboard Opportunities Ltd with a primary focus of delivering our Wider Horizons programmes. These are international programmes for unemployed adults from disadvantaged communities. 

I am involved in a number of aspects including responsibility for research, design, development, management and delivery of the programmes. I am also responsible for the development and management of the programmes' staff team and budgets.

How did you get into the position in the first place?

I initially joined the organisation as a project leader in 2003. As my experience grew within the organisation I became interested in the management.  As a result I applied for a programme manager position which I was successful in gaining and after a number of years I progressed into the position that I currently hold today.

Did you always want to work in this sector in some capacity?

Yes -   I always knew I wanted a job that wasn't your average 9am-5pm and to do something that could make a positive difference. I have been working within this sector since I was 16 so you could say that it's in my blood.  

I once heard someone refer to working in the voluntary/community sector as 'heart work', which really sums things up well for me.

What training or previous experience do you have that has helped you in your current role?

My experience began in Sheffield running summer schemes for young people.  I then progressed to volunteer work in Northern Ireland with the Corrymeela Community. I also worked in community relations in schools as well as carrying out freelance work before joining the Springboard team in 2002. My key qualifications are BTEC Higher National Diploma in public service organisations, Level 3 Certificate in training for youth work, Level 3 NVQ in management and I am currently completing a Level 5 Diploma for professional management coaches and mentors and a Level 3 Diploma in youth work practice.

What is your organisations role in the local community?

For the past 20 years, Springboard Opportunities Ltd has worked with over 6,000 young people from disadvantaged communities in both the North and South of Ireland. 

Through the Wider Horizons programmes we have assisted these young people, to not only develop both personally and professionally, but provide them with life changing opportunities both locally and internationally. This has helped to facilitate positive experiences and empower young unemployed adults to be active citizens within their local and wider communities. 

Our 2011 evaluation of our work revealed that 95 percent of people who worked with us felt more confident, 93 per cent felt that they had a more positive attitude towards people from different community backgrounds and ethnic groups, 91 per cent felt better equipped to get a job, 96 per cent completed qualifications at Level 2 and on average 70 per cent entered employment, further education or training.

And how does your role fit in as part of this? 

My role is to deliver every aspect of the Wider Horizons programme. At the moment we are currently recruiting for the programmes. Anyone interested in getting involved should visit our website www.springboard-opps.org or call us on 028 9031 5111.

What sort of personality and qualities do you need to do your job successfully?

Flexibility, adaptability, creativity, being able to think on your feet and a sense of humour always helps too. You need to be a glass half full type of person and recognise that no matter what challenges come your way there are always solutions and it's your job to assist in finding these.

You also have to be willing to go the extra mile, quite often, and be committed to the development of young people as well as your staff team.

What are the biggest rewards of the job?

The biggest rewards of my job are seeing firsthand the impact that our programmes can have on young people that come to us and how much they have to offer given the right tools and encouragement. The sheer talent that lies amongst young people is inspirational to say the least; sometimes all it takes to unlock this is for someone to believe in them.  Working with such a passionate staff team is also very rewarding and really adds to the belief that one person can make a difference - but a dedicated team can make so much more.

And the biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge is trying to fit what needs to be done within your working day, especially when the challenges of working with so many people with individual needs is also thrown into the mix. Thankfully we have a solid team in Springboard who are well trained and equipped in order to meet those needs. 

Another challenge, which is something that most organisations experience within this sector, is sustainability and funding.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do the same job?

Keep up to date with what is happening in the sector and the challenges, be open to change and exploring new ways of working and thinking outside the box. Continually develop yourself professionally, care about what you do, be passionate about your work and stay focused.

What do you enjoy doing outside work?

I like to spend time with friends and family, DIY projects, and take part in the Belfast City Rockets Roller Derby League - all you need is roller boots and stamina!

Jen Ashton

Part of the Independent News and Media group