Blog » How I Became A Network Developer

How I Became A Network Developer

14th June 2022

The Post: Eden Project Communities Network Developer

The Post Holder: Kathy Black

In her role with the Eden Project Communities Kathy Black helps to connect people and bring neighbourhoods together.

Give a brief outline of your career to date

I left school at 16 and returned to study as an adult to enable my professional development. I have fond memories of my first job at Avondale Foods and later, Crossbows Optical in Lurgan where we designed spectacle frames – quite the career switch. Then while at university, my part-time role in Monsoon led to five years full time, working north and south, in both its Grafton Street store and later joining the management team to open stores in Ballymena and Belfast. I later moved to Regus, launched its first Belfast office at Clarendon Dock and stayed 10 years before leaving to team up with my partner in Reencon Chartered Land Surveyors. Raising our family whilst developing my love of community, art and well-being. I founded Unit T community group in Newcastle in 2013 and it was here I honed my skills and further explored community activism, delivering a variety of environmental, youth and intergenerational projects, artisan markets, family events and providing meals using surplus food and bringing people together in our community kitchen. Thanks to our National Lottery funding, I’m proud to now be encouraging people to join and connect people where they live, as well as enabling volunteers with their own community aspirations.

What was your favourite subject at school?

Art is, and always was, my passion. I share that with my kids and community, hosting art and crafts workshops.It’s a great way to explore ideas such as eco messaging, recycling, nature and well-being.

Did you go on to further/higher education, if so what did you study and where?

As an adult I gained a BTEC Foundation Diploma which got me into Ulster University to do Jewellery and Silversmithing. I got the learning bug again recently and did my Level 5 diploma in Leadership and Management at SERC, that gave me confidence to apply for this role. During lockdown I signed up to SERC’s free online IT and social media courses. I really enjoy learning and with four teenagers of my own I believe there’s always something new to learn.

How did you get into your area of work?

My heart lies in community and I have been running community projects for more than 10 years in Mourne. I first became aware of Eden Project Communities when volunteering at the Sunflower Festival, promoting children’s natural art activities. The Northern Ireland manager was there with The Big Lunch and I was fascinated by the concept. I then brought The Big Lunch back to Newcastle and I have used it as a way to connect with neighbours and on a larger scale in providing support to other local community groups to promote good community relationships through family fun days. When I saw the advert I knew in my heart I could do a good job and am loving it.

Is this what you always wanted to do?

I am extremely proud to be the Eden Project Communities network developer in Northern Ireland. Informal volunteers are who maintained the community spirit through Covid-19. In my work I can support their ambitions and help them achieve their own community ambitions as part of a peer to peer network and we have great fun.

Were there any particular essential qualifications or experience needed?

The job requires A-level standard education but it is my wide range of community knowledge and event experience that got me the job.

Are there alternative routes into the job?

Eden Project staff are from all walks of life with diverse skills. If you are ambitious, I would say anything is possible.

What are the main personal skills your job requires?

Good communication skills, passion and knowledge to help make change happen and dedication to our community volunteers. I’m personally ambitious to see The Big Lunch become a day in everyone’s calendar.

What does a typical day entail?

There really isn’t a typical day, as we respond to individual needs but it’s our campaign period now so we are super busy right now especially as The Big Jubilee Lunch is an official part of the Queens Platinum Celebrations and we are about to go into June which is our Month of Community and anyone can take part. Whether you want to say cheers to volunteers, connect with your neighbours, support a cause you care about, or simply to say thank you. And we are working with Magic Light Pictures to bring Julia Donaldson’s much loved character, The Gruffalo, to groups and schools that are taking part in the Big Lunch throughout June. I could be supporting volunteers from across the UK on a Zoom session in the morning and supporting a rural community group in the afternoon, with anything from digital skills needs to advice ahead of their Big Lunch.

What are the best and most challenging aspects of the job?

Community volunteers are amazing people so I feel lucky to help them get The Big Lunch going and help make their communities happy places to live. Volunteers are busy, so it’s challenging finding the right times to bring them together and help them develop peer relationships but it is so rewarding too.

Why is what you do important?

Now more than ever, as so many of us have experienced such isolation in the past two years, I believe that Eden Project Communities’ commitment to connecting us with each other and the living world is so important for our mental health and a better future. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to take time to sit down and reconnect where we live, whether it’s a few neighbours or a big community event, it will help reduce loneliness by developing stronger local relationships that are there when it matters and I think our volunteers and key workers deserve to be recognised where they live and thanked. I hope people take that opportunity with this year’s Big Lunch and Big Jubilee Lunch.

How has Covid-19 impacted on your business/role?

I haven’t been able to meet our UK colleagues as I had Covid when my welcome week was planned and so I look forward to meeting everyone for our staff Big Lunch later in June.

What adjustments have you had to make?

We have Monday online team meetings and they start with a 10 minute coffee chat and that will be with any random member of the team, to create the water cooler moment we miss at home. This simple act of giving us time to connect feels like I have known them for much longer and it’s great to be part of a team that puts the people’s wellbeing, training and personal development at the heart of the business.

What advice would you give anyone looking to follow a similar career path?

Do it! If you want to make a difference and learn along the way then don’t wait until tomorrow. Grasp each opportunity as it comes.

If you weren’t doing this what would you like to do?

Unit T just won the Civic Pride Award for community work and if I didn’t have this job I would be throwing myself into our community action and probably helping with my partner’s business and being a mummy.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to yourself on your first day?

Believe in yourself! Remember that our journeys make us who we are.

Describe your ideal day off.

Camping, being by the camp fire with lots of family and friends.

And finally, what’s the key to any successful job search?

Understand the role, consider the criteria and visualise what you can bring to the table. 

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