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Keith Wimbles: Work & Me Blog (Part 3)

Keith Wimbles: Work & Me Blog (Part 3)

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A friendly farewell to Keith from the Wester Hailes Jobclub members before the traditional debagging ceremony

Over the past three weeks our outgoing Chief Executive, Keith Wimbles, has brought us a series of blogs on his career journey and how he ended up where he did. In this third, and final, edition we learn about Keith’s introduction to the voluntary sector and the key common theme that has ran through his entire career – people.

In the final episode of my journey through the world of work I am going to speed things up a bit to cover the period 1980 to 2008.  Time has run out, as I fast approach my departure from Impact Funding Partners. So here goes.

Finally, at the age of 29, I found a higher education course that reflected my aspirations and headed to the University of Edinburgh to study Spanish and Hispanic Studies. I was right to have followed my heart because after three rewarding years, with the support of a mature student grant and a few beers, I managed to get a degree. Third time lucky, as they say.  But, because I never found it easy to celebrate my own achievements, I refused to attend the graduation ceremony. That’s something I regretted later, because my mum would have loved it.

I have fond memories of my learning experience and the obligatory socialising to the early hours. Things like bringing the Norwegian and Portuguese Societies together to organise a carnival parade on Princes Street on a freezing Sunday in February – I was insistent that it had to be at the same time as carnival in Brazil. Thankfully I kept warm in a Henry Vlll costume, then changed into something more exotic for the charity Rio Night with 2 discos and a live band, all raising funds for the Ethiopian Famine.

By the late 1980s, I began to realise that I needed to find a real purpose. My work ethic had always been driven by proving myself to others, to be accepted and considered “normal”. I felt I had to portray myself as being like everyone else in the workplace – straight. So, in my head, I thought “They may never like who I am, but they’ll never be able to say I don’t work hard”. Psychologically, it’s been a difficult pattern to break over the years, having been conditioned to think like that in childhood. I’m not sure if I’ve ever got over it.

So, I started to search for work that made me feel I was doing something worthwhile. For three years I worked in employability starting as a Jobclub Leader in Wester Hailes, then in Leith and eventually managing 12 offices from Fort William, and Inverness down to Newcastle and Carlisle.  I loved the work even though it could be emotionally demanding, especially when you genuinely cared about the members. By listening to people’s experiences I learned so much about the impact of unemployment on every aspect of people’s lives and the flaws within the system that was supposed to help them.  After a few years, I decided to relocate to Manchester where I made my second attempt at running my own business in Rochdale. It turned out that opening a sandwich shop and deli next to an industrial estate in 1990 wasn’t such a great idea.  The UK was tumbling into recession, unemployment rose to 9% in the northwest and thousands of businesses closed, including most of our customers. Sadly, the business failed after a year and it was goodbye Hungry Tums and hello bankruptcy.

In 1995, following a short spell managing Jobclubs again in greater Manchester, I took the decision to return to Scotland where I got my first real job in the voluntary sector. I started as a Volunteer Coordinator at GrandMet Trust before moving to the Castlemilk regeneration agency CEDA. Initially an Employment Counsellor, I became the Training Development Manager where I developed training programmes for residents, voluntary organisations and local businesses. It was a great opportunity to develop my knowledge and skills in community development, training and education, regeneration, European Funding and the social economy. Castlemilk had a bit of a reputation then due to violence associated with local gangs, but I saw a strong community led by local people who were passionate about making it a better place in which to live and work. Some of those organisations survived and still provide vital local services today.

After leaving CEDA in 2000, I continued to follow my own yellow brick road, passing through two intermediaries, Scottish Council for the Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) and Glasgow Council for Voluntary Sector (GCVS) before arriving at my final employment destination – Impact Funding Partners.

When I joined SCVO I was told that it would take many years for me to understand the voluntary sector, its complexity, strengths and challenges. At first I was a bit in awe of this mountain I had to climb, but then I remembered the winding path that I had taken to reach to this place.

Delivering groceries to older people, serving customers in shops and bars, teaching, setting up my own business, supporting people to get a job and self-esteem, working in areas with high levels of poverty, and meeting people from diverse backgrounds and with different experiences.

What was the common thread running through my so-called career?

 Firstly, I am a generalist, not a specialist. Another thing that has been constant throughout my working life – I have always moved from one place to another to protect myself and my close-knit family. Being separated from my family most of my working life, I had learned to become self-reliant. Maybe that’s the connection.

No, the real common thread has been my love of people, their strength, diversity, creativity, passion and ability to overcome adversity. This has inspired me all my life and it is why I have found a home in the third sector.

I may be retiring from full-time work at the end of September, but I have a lot more to do before I stop.

Keith Wimbles
Chief Executive
Impact Funding Partners