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Meet our CEO, Leah Swain

CEO, Leah Swain

We sat down with our Chief Executive, Leah Swain, to find out more about her role with the Woodsmith Foundation and what she loves about her day-to-day.

1: Why did you decide to get involved with the Foundation?

It’s my dream job! It’s incredibly exciting to have the resources and flexibility to be able to properly support communities, organisations and individuals to make a difference in their area. I knew that the Foundation had responsive, knowledgeable and innovative Trustees that I would enjoy working with as together we test and trial different ways to fund projects and tackle issues across our area of benefit. Every day brings something new – but most importantly this is a job that fits my ethos of trying to work with kindness, curiousity and courage.

2: What is your connection to our area of benefit?

In my previous role I was Chief Executive of a regional charity and spent a lot of time on the road travelling across North Yorkshire. I fell in love with the beauty of the national park and coast, but just as importantly I was inspired by the community projects I saw and the people running them. Earlier in my career I worked in urban neighbourhoods, so I feel an affinity for both the rural areas and towns. I love the diversity of places across our area of benefit.

3: What inspires you about the work the Foundation does?

I’m inspired by the people who lead the projects we fund. Each has a passion to do something good - many are doing so as unpaid volunteers or employed by charities and working in very tough situations. I’m also in awe of the natural and community assets we have across our area of benefit; the moors, the coast, the community buildings, sports clubs, and charitable organisations. I am keen to see how we can use these to ensure everyone is able to live healthy lives, with meaningful relationships and a sense of purpose.

4: If you were to see the Foundation achieve one thing in the next 10 years what would it be?

I’d love to see us make some significant changes to the housing stock in our area. An affordable, secure, warm, high quality home is so important. It’s the cornerstone for good health, secure job prospects, affordable bills and stable local connections. If we are to tackle both climate change and social issues then housing is a key element. We may only be able to start with small changes, but it’s an area that we can make a big difference. I also want to ensure that every child has the chance to lead a healthy, safe and happy life and are able to achieve their aspirations regardless of background or where they grew up. I don’t underestimate the challenges we have ahead of us to make that happen, but we can make a start now.

5: What has been one of the projects funded to date that makes you proud/stays in your mind?

I am proud that the Foundation has been able to fund one-to-one mental health counselling services that will support 600 children and young people over the two years. The waiting lists for support are so long and it was important we made this a priority for funding.

6: What are your work/volunteering roles outside of the Foundation?

Having spent a decade writing funding bids for the charity I worked for I now like to be able to use those skills by volunteering to find funding for local community groups where I live. It also means I can keep an eye on other funders approaches to see what works and what doesn'tt work about their funding and application forms – and then I can bring that learning back to the Woodsmith Foundation to improve our own grant making practices. I’m one of those strange people who love writing funding bids and I still get a huge buzz from writing a successful application form and securing funding for a great cause.

7: Interesting fact about you?

I own a tortoise called Aryton.

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