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Comment: Ten years at SWM

Apparently, it’s quite unusual for a young(ish) person to stay at the same organisation for ten years these days. This post explains why I have.

By Alan Carr, Senior Sustainability Adviser and Climate Change Adaptation Lead

I was a naive 26 year old when I started at SWM on 20 January 2014, recovering from a youth filled with anxiety and just ‘getting through each day.’ So I was hugely grateful for the opportunity to work for an organisation that I already knew was looked up to as a beacon of sustainability advice and guidance for regional stakeholders. Indeed, in my previous role in the Climate Change Team at Staffordshire County Council, I had already attended many of SWM’s events at which I learnt plenty. I knew already that if SWM was the event organiser it would be an event worth attending.

So it was a privilege to work for the organisation that had already done so much for me, to be on the other side and contribute to the chaos of organising events that always looked so well coordinated from the attendees’ perspective!

My role with SWM has massively changed in the past 10 years. I started by supporting the delivery of the since defunct Climate Ready programme and by working with the Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands, nee Birmingham Science City, along with coordinating our networks and, believe it not, running our comms channels. Now my role involves managing all manner of projects, supporting business development and leading on our climate adaptation work, which is exactly where I want to be as a failed meteorologist.

But the one consistency is my role as an adviser, being a point of contact for any of our stakeholders and members to get in touch with if they need support. And to this day it remains an honour to act in this supporting role, giving the impression that I know exactly what I’m talking about through an art of ranting and blagging, and using humour as a defence mechanism.

There are two main elements of working for SWM that I’d particularly like to celebrate, however. One is you, anyone reading this, as on a daily basis I am in awe of the incredible work, knowledge, passion and dedication our stakeholders and members have trying to make the West Midlands a better place to live. The list of things I have learnt from you over the past ten years is endless.

In particular, I have had the privilege of working directly with some hugely inspirational characters in the world of sustainability. These include:

  • Dr. Simon Slater, who was CEO at SWM when I started until he stepped down in 2016. In those two years working directly with Simon, and many years since (including in his role as CEO of ecoBirmingham, his current role), I learnt so much not just about sustainability, but about how to be a strong and influential leader.
  • Julie Pope, who recently left SWM as our Stakeholder and Engagement Manager. In those five years, Jules taught me how to improve relationship management, opened my eyes to the importance of diversity and inclusion and, mostly importantly, broadened my musical knowledge like you wouldn’t believe. Jules’s LinkedIn profile states she is ‘a versatile professional with creative bones’ which kinda sums her up.
  • Dr. Pam Waddell OBE, Director of Birmingham Science City/ Innovation Alliance for the West Midlands since 2009. I supported the low carbon innovation strand for the organisation until 2022, thrown into the deep end in 2014 when I started in the role not having a clue what I was doing. Pam taught me so much about what we mean by and the importance of demand-led innovation and, most importantly, she taught me that relentless energy and passion for something usually generates results! An OBE awarded to her in 2019 speaks for itself.

And of course…

  • Anna Bright, who has been my line manager since I started at SWM and who became CEO when Simon stood down in 2016. She has led the company to new heights and overseen, with unbelievable professionalism, the more difficult times SWM, like all companies, go through from time to time. But for me, the most important thing about Anna is that she is like a mate, not a boss. She is the main reason I’ve stayed at SWM for ten years, despite my now living nigh-on 300 miles away from Birmingham.

And that leads me onto the second main element of celebration. SWM has given me, personally, so much over the past ten years. It supported me no end when I became a part-time carer in 2017 for five years, when most of the time I was a blithering wreck under the surface. I needed to reduce my working hours, and SWM made that happen instantly without considering the impact it would have on the organisation. And then since February last year I have been living in Edinburgh, which I appreciate somewhat stretches the definition of West Midlands. Yet, despite that, I am still working for SWM (mostly) remotely, and have been given huge support despite it being a pain in the arse that I am out of area.

For me, the main things that make you want to work for a company are flexibility, compassion for your circumstances and treating you like a person, not a number. SWM has provided that in spades.

Cheers to working with a great bunch of people, and thanks for all your support.

Best wishes, Al.

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