Carla Belle joined Birmingham City Council Neighbourhood Development and Support Unit in October leaving BBC Children in Need after 5 years working at a regional level. Her career started at a hyperlocal level in Castle Vale cutting her teeth at a local community centre and environmental trust.
Carla is rooted in Birmingham, having moved a lot when young from places in North Solihull to inner city Birmingham. With two young children at a young age herself, she decided to return to education and completed AAT foundation and intermediate accountancy courses. By chance a job at a local community centre as a receptionist and administrator came to her attention where she fell in love with working with local residents. “I found myself getting involved and organising activities for children and young people and health and wellbeing activities. It wasn’t intentional to get involved in the voluntary and community sector”. Her experience enabled Carla to move on and manage 2 community buildings as a secondee and further develop skills in financial administration, customer services, estates administration. Combined with joining a mentoring programme specifically run to support diversity in the housing field, Carla landed a Project Officer role at Castle Vale Neighbourhood Partnership Board and Castle Vale Endowment Trust Fund, where she developed her project management and grant management experience. She gained a HNC in Business and Management as well as developed her experience in Project Management. “This is when I stepped into the grant making world. That’s when I fell in love with grant making and began to understand the power of being able to make small investments in local groups”. For Carla this was the main reason to want to be involved in the funding sector. Seeing how empowering local people to have a say on what impacts on their lives and enabling them to design and deliver the support they need. “That is something I wanted to fight for…….if you put the beneficiary at the heart of what you do…….. it will make real change”. One of the biggest skills that Carla learnt was her role as an intermediary: Those groups and organisations that do brilliant work or have a brilliant idea, but are not set up in a way that funders or support organisations feel confident to invest in. “I think for me I’ve learnt how to take those groups on a journey to strengthen their capacity so that they can access those opportunities”.
Carla’s next move was intentional. She moved to a Grants Officer role in a national grant maker – BBC Children in Need. Her portfolio of work covered parts of the West Midlands as well as parts of Central England in a combination of both strategic and operational grant making. There she developed an understanding of the wider learning opportunities that her role can create; not only between grant makers but also between grant makers and the voluntary and community sector and between voluntary and community sector organisations. “When you’re reviewing so many applications a year and then managing those grants, you start to see what works well in different communities, what are the different challenges they experience and share that learning”.
So why move back to a local setting? For many years Carla had seen first-hand the challenges that many diverse communities have when accessing funding. The pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement created different conversations particularly about the unequal access to funding and support. The growing reassurance that local groups needed that were struggling in response to the pandemic, brought home to Carla how small investments at a local level and empowering groups can make a real difference. “I felt too disconnected as a grants officer with a large portfolio………I wanted to do the grant making, provide the support and share the learning as well”. Carla recognises that the move to working in the public sector will bring its own set of challenges but one which she’s very much up for. The City is massive with lots of issues and opportunities, so trying to understand where she can have the most impact in her role is a key priority for the next 12 months. Carla sees her continued involvement in the WM Funders Network in her new role as important in providing her constant learning, conversations with other types of funders and potential collaboration opportunities.