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Meet Amy Dowling

Megan Raybould

23 June 2020

Amy is a trustee at Voluntary Action Sheffield where she’s been a trustee for 1 and a half years. She started her trustee journey at The Sheffield College where she’s now an apprentice.

Tell us about your professional journey so far and how you became a trustee.

I'm currently the Student Voice Coordinator at The Sheffield College - I'm an apprentice here. I was previously involved in the students' union too. I started as a volunteer officer and was then elected president, which was a sabbatical role.

Through that, I was a governor of The Sheffield College, which was how I started my trustee journey.

So really, I got into student politics first. I had really quite a rough time at sixth-form and wasn't really supported.  When I came to college that changed, but I didn't want it to happen to any other young person - that’s why I got involved.

After finishing my presidency, I applied and was successful in becoming a trustee at Voluntary Action Sheffield, which is a membership organisation that supports different charities and organisations within the city which focus on community impact, influence decision makers and champion volunteering as a force for positive action.

Has there been any key person who has supported you?

Whilst I was a student I was really supported by the person who used to have the role I have now, Arran Cottam. He was pretty instrumental for me getting involved. He really gave me space to be who I needed to be, do what I needed to do and had difficult conversations when I needed them, but also built me up massively, I don't think I'd be the person I am without him. I've also had so much support from the leadership team at the college giving me the opportunity to greally grow in all the roles I've had.

As a trustee, do you feel like you're able to connect with the people that your charity is aiming to support or serve?

I think that's something most charities could do better at. For my charity, because we're a membership organisation, we've got a number of different charities and different organisations that use our services. I think we're working on how we communicate with people better.

My remit on the trustee board is leadership and influence, so I get to focus on how we get out into the communities that we're representing and supporting, and how we work with them better. I think we do that quite well - but as a whole I think a lot of charities can do that better.

What do you think has been barriers to you in your goal of supporting and inspiring other young people?

I think there's a thing of perception. The fact that I'm not university educated and I'm currently an apprentice is often a barrier. But I think that’s changing, people are starting to  take me on merit rather than anything else now.

I’d also say that, as a woman, often when I get passionate about something people think I'm being bossy or you're just emotional. Obviously that’s sexist. It’s not blatant sexism, but it’s lots of microaggressions that I see. If a woman's in a leadership position she's often seen as bossy, whereas a man in the same position might just be seen as a boss.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about young trusteeship?

I think  the mistake people make is thinking that the young trustee on a board is there to be the voice of young people.

My board's quite good in that respect, they've never asked me “Amy, what do the young people think about this”. I think if they did that I would probably say, “I don't know... go ask them”.

The idea that you’re there to represent a specific type of person and only that, isn’t right. I've asked questions about redundancy and, even though I've never gone through redundancy, it was still really useful and relevant to the conversation.

Is there anything you worry about with regards to your trustee role?

The role I do in my job  is about getting people to use their voice and have a say where they wouldn't normally. I think sometimes I keep myself up  thinking about if we are doing enough?. Then, I remember -  I'm only one person!

What would you say has been your most important skill that you've developed, just on your life path so far?

Resilience, for sure.

I'm dyslexic, coming through school it was never tested but I really struggled with it. At the time, people just said “you just need to buck your ideas up and work a bit harder”. Being able to overcome that took resilience.

There are other things in my life that have happened and I’ve need to show resilience.  I think what’s important is being able to keep moving forward and not get stuck in it. If that happens, you can't progress and you can't help others move forward either.

What has been your greatest challenge so far?

I think building my confidence has been a big thing for me. I think I'm quite a confident person now. Even if I get anxious, I'm good at controlling that and carrying on. I think there were times where I literally would not say a word to someone because I was too scared of what they'd think about how I said it or the words I was using. I just didn't think what I had to say was good enough for anyone to take notice of. So, I think confidence in that is probably one of the biggest things I've overcome.

When you first joined your board and you noticed that there were some stark differences, especially with age, was it hard for you to find a voice in the boardroom to begin with?

The charity I’m a trustee for now, I'd applied for the role, been interviewed and selected, that reaffirmed the idea that they must value what I think and value what I have to say.

When I was on the governing body at the college I was elected to be on that by the students but not picked by the governors. I think I found that more difficult, I was probably the youngest by at least 35 years if not more.  That was more difficult because I thought that “if they haven't picked me, they don't know what my thoughts are, they don't know anything about me”.

What has been the greatest reward in your young trustee journey so far?

I think so often, especially at the moment in the media, that young people just get a really hard time. But the reality is that we all do have a voice. Young people are taking the lead in lots of different ways.

Young people’s perspectives can often be different to those older than us. Often young people think of things that might be simple, but sometimes it gets forgotten.

I think my greatest reward has been showing people what young people have to offer and showing young people that they themselves have so much to offer.

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