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BD Giving Notes #54 – Finding Our Feet

Settling into a new job is always tricky but when your new employer is creating radical systems and ways of working with communities, the learning curve can feel especially steep.

It has been just over two months since our team grew from five to eight, enough time to get a feel for our work. The second BD Giving Note of February dives into the experiences of our new starters, including where they are starting to see themselves in the work and where their roles could develop…

Nicki Lane - Head of Place

Coming back to Barking and Dagenham felt like stepping back to familiar territory, having worked in the borough for 18 years previously. So I thought it would be easy to transition straight back but the reality was different — I’m not the same person, and neither is the borough. Navigating the changes that have occurred while trying to hold onto a sense of familiarity has been more of a learning curve than I had anticipated. Things are different now, and that makes the year ahead really exciting. I’m looking forward to playing my part in the future of Barking & Dagenham Giving.

Being able to delve deeper into BD Giving has revealed an exciting variety of initiatives that are being delivered. The range and volume of participation and funding opportunities being developed and explored was surprising, with fresh ideas bubbling up everywhere. It’s a reminder that Barking and Dagenham is evolving, and there’s always something new to explore, making it a really exciting prospect to be working in this borough again, albeit in a different role and with a different perspective.

I’m genuinely excited about the progress that is being made at BD Giving. I’m looking forward to playing my part in the evolution and delivery of the great opportunities that BD Giving has been developing over the past 12 months. We’re starting to see those efforts translate into a wider impact in the borough and it’s great to see them gradually making a difference in people’s lives. And with ideas for a new focus on assets in the pipeline, there’s a sense of anticipation for the possibilities it holds.

BD Giving isn’t just a workplace—it’s a team of people who are passionate about participatory funding and investing. The commitment to putting residents first isn’t just talk; it’s woven into the core of everything we do. We’re all in this together, pushing boundaries, learning, and supporting each other along the way. As we move our way through the year, I’m looking forward to facing whatever comes our way, celebrating the successes, and tackling each new adventure head on.

Melanie Gunetilleke - Programme Officer

My start at BD Giving marks a significant step into what feels like true adulthood. Compared to my previous roles, this promises the potential of developing into a successful career in the third sector. Exploring what our organisation offers and does for the borough has been fulfilling and inspiring. I don’t tend to sugarcoat things – the journey thus far has been a learning curve but one for which I am grateful. Due to the nature of the charity sector, it sometimes leaves space for uncomfortable discussions with the intention of evolution and change. As an individual who always wants to do my utmost to assist, I’ve had to realise that this isn’t always feasible. However, working at BD Giving has helped me practice using my voice, laying boundaries and making space for myself, skills I wish to continue improving in both my professional and personal life.

Working in Barking and Dagenham has evoked a sense of familiarity and nostalgia for me. I was brought up in a predominantly white area and lacked access to my community. Some of my earliest memories of connecting with my culture outside my family involved visiting Sri Lankan grocery shops, spending time with family friends, and exploring Buddhist temples in East London. I cherished hearing my language beyond the confines of my home, enjoying the vibrant fruits and vegetables from my motherland and most importantly, encountering people who looked like me. Barking and Dagenham has a similar feel due to the blend of many communities and cultures. I love that wherever you are from, you can find a piece of home. For me, it’s dosa, idli and jalebis (in Sinhalese, we call these ‘pani walalu’ meaning “honey bangles” as they look like glistening bright orange coils dripping in syrup). 

As a community, this borough is an inspiration. Collaboration and mutual betterment are paramount here in maintaining community spirit. There’s a real sense of giving back and growing alongside your peers. This mindset develops the area in both community visions and regeneration. I am excited to see more of this on a smaller scale through our projects, getting to know more of the local organisations and how they feed into the community. 

Exciting changes are on the horizon for the borough with the development of Eastbrook Studios, which is set to become London’s largest and most advanced film and television studio. The studios bring promising opportunities for the people of Barking and Dagenham, adding creative variety to the local job market. While this is exciting, I am looking forward to more participatory and collaborative initiatives shaping how the new sectors land in the borough. Seeing how BD Giving operates highlights the importance of putting residents at the forefront of decision-making, showcasing its effectiveness. This approach allows us to serve our locals diligently, embodying a commitment to deliver work by the borough, for the borough.

All in all, I am so excited to get more stuck into the nitty-gritty! Here’s to the bright future of Barking & Dagenham!

Sophie Miles - Programme Officer

I came into BD Giving after working in the corporate sector for over three years. My experience in the charity sector and knowledge of Barking and Dagenham was pretty limited so I was feeling very nervous on my first day! However, l left the office that day feeling reassured, full, and with a smile on my face. It was really exciting to be working with people who share my passions, interests and values. This might sound obvious, but for me this was not something I had experienced in the corporate world. I was really inspired by the knowledge all of the team had about the borough and their passion for making an impact in Barking and Dagenham. 

As the nerves started to wear off, I felt excited and relieved to be out of the bubble of the corporate world and the City. When we had our first walk around the borough, I felt really drawn to the focus on community. I was struck by the vast amount of initiatives and small-businesses supporting the community, which had started from one person simply having an idea and a passion to bring change to the borough. 

My first day also coincided with the end of the GROW Fund celebration event in Factory 15. This was a great intro into some of the work BD Giving has done in the borough and a great way to meet the people involved in that process, including members of the CSG and the GROW Fund grantees, and hear about their different businesses. 

The culture of BD Giving has also been really refreshing for me, particularly the focus on employee wellbeing and working in a way which is supportive to different people’s interests, needs and schedules. Everyone is encouraged to identify what interests them the most, and carve out their own role. There is a strong sense of agency and autonomy. At the same time, as a very new organisation, we don’t work in silos: everyone is involved in different parts of the work we do, which I think is really important. 

What has really helped me with learning about the borough and participatory grantmaking has been sitting in or taking part in the workshops, events and sessions we have run with local residents in the last couple of months. I have seen first hand the power of participatory decision-making and how this can be achieved. I have also been able to meet different people in the borough, hear their stories and experiences, their vision for Barking & Dagenham and about how our work has impacted them. 

In the work we do around facilitation, there can be a lot of different personalities as well as  emotions and feelings to navigate. As someone with an interest in psychology and mental health, I have found this fascinating but also quite challenging, particularly when there is some conflict and tension. This is where I found the power of facilitation really interesting. How with the right facilitation methods, this conflict can be carefully unearthed, worked through and resolved in a safe way for the group. This is a powerful tool for any kind of decision-making and I think it should be used in a lot more settings and contexts. 

Overall, I have loved the past couple of months working at BD Giving and I have learnt so much. I feel much more suited to this type of work and I am so grateful to have this opportunity to work in the borough and be involved in some of the exciting work that is happening. Looking ahead, I am really looking forward to being more involved in the programmes we are running this year, taking more ownership in managing some of these myself and also in connecting with and getting to know more people in the borough. 

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