Inspirational leaders are grounded in the communities they serve. They determined, fair-minded and, importantly, they have vision.
Helene identified a gap in her community, forming Passion4Fusion in 2014 to address a lack of adequate mental health and wellbeing support for young black and minority ethnic young people and families.
Initially numbering only two members of staff, Passion4Fusion was launched as an informal community initiative by a group of multi-cultural volunteers motivated to create a support structure to meet the needs of diverse ethnic minority communities, particularly young people and women in Edinburgh and the Lothians.
Identifying the increased need for mental health services during and after Covid-19, Helene spearheaded Passion4Fusion’s contribution to Heids Together, a programme designing mental health solutions for young people. The result was a suite of mental health resources including a storytelling toolkit, video and e-book to address mental health issues raised by young BME people.
She applied to be part of the Heids Together programme designing mental health solutions for young people. At that time she only had 2 members of staff and a couple of volunteers, over the last 2 years she now has now more than tripled her numbers.
Helene has worked tirelessly to provide a strong and more secure organisation and has developed partnerships with various funders including Comic Relief, The National Lottery, Creative Arts scotland and Garfield Foundation. She also managed to support families affected by poverty by providing them with gifts and food on the lead up to Christmas with thanks to the Corra Foundation.
In over 16 years at Hot Chocolate Trust, Charis has gone from a volunteer youth worker in 2006, through to her current role of assistant director – all the while demonstrating an exemplary standard and level of innovation in her youth work practice.
A huge advocate of youth voice and helping young people find the best way to explore and express themselves, Charis worked in partnership with young people to create a series of films, where young people reflected on their journeys with Hot Chocolate through to adulthood. The films examined the influence of youth work practice within and outside of Hot Chocolate, demonstrating the impact of youth work to a wide audience. This led to her writing her MSc dissertation on the ethics of storytelling, influencing the way many organisations’ use and share young people’s stories since.
Charis has also pioneered trauma-informed practice at the youth club – working with Dr Anne McKechnie over two years to establish training and practice which aligns with Scottish Government’s Trauma Informed Framework. This investment enabled Hot Chocolate to meet the youth work demands it faced during and after Covid, particularly the increase in the prevalence and severity of complex needs presented by young people.
Remarkably, Charis still finds time to deliver a Youth Work module as part of the University of Dundee’s Community Education course. In this unique module, Charis built something which brought students and teaching out of the lecture hall and into youth work spaces, integrating theory and practice, and enabling students to learn directly from young people.
Great leaders thrive in adversity, and Emma’s journey into a leadership role at Bridges Project was nothing if not turbulent.
Returning from maternity leave and still juggling her professional life with childcare, Emma was thrust into the role of CEO after the sudden passing of Lifetime Achievement Award winner Jim Boyle. Almost immediately, she found herself steering the organisation through a global pandemic, with most major funding avenues cut off.
Through Emma’s ingenuity and doggedness, Bridge Projects core services were maintained – enjoying higher engagement rates than ever in newly-adapted forms to ensure local young people had a lifeline to see them through Covid.
Since then, services at Bridges Project have continued to grow and adapt, which has led to growth in funding revenues and an enlarged workforce. Bridges Project now enjoys its largest ever service provision and is in the most stable financial position since it was established in 1984.
Another characteristic of Emma’s leadership has been her focus on staff wellbeing. She constantly displays flexibility, compassion and trust towards staff, as well as reminding them to set boundaries in order to ensure that they have a healthy work-life balance.
Youth worker Simen Holm said: “Against all odds, Emma has guided Bridges Project from crisis to success during some of the most challenging years in decades. She is a true role model for female leaders and I cannot imagine a more deserving winner of the Inspirational Leader award.”