As she comes to the end of almost 14 years leading the Jack Petchey Foundation, Trudy Kilcullen takes a look back at her time as CEO of the Foundation and also to the future, and the next phase as Gemma Juma takes over as CEO.
Earlier this week a youth leader said to me: “The Jack Petchey Foundation is such a life-giving organisation.” And as I move on I just can’t help but agree. It is life-giving for young people, for the youth sector and it’s been life-giving for me too! What a privilege it has been to lead such an amazing organisation.
It has always been a great privilege to work with the legendary Sir Jack Petchey to fulfil his mission that every young person will believe “if I think I can, I can”. This simple mantra is at the heart of all the Foundation does, and Sir Jack has been absolutely focused to make this so. I am so grateful for the life lessons I have learnt from him, and for the huge numbers of young people who have been inspired, motivated and gone on to achieve more as a result of his generosity and his belief that we should all “give something back”.
Sir Jack’s belief that reward is the best ‘motivator’ inspired the Jack Petchey Achievement Award scheme – the centrepiece of our work. Every day we see how hope, optimism, hard work and self-confidence is encouraged and blossoms when achievement is recognised. That is the incredible legacy the Jack Petchey Foundation continues to build.
Trudy with Jack Petchey Speak Out Challenge 2019 winner Princilla.
Not a week goes by at the Foundation without hearing good news, without hearing inspirational and heart-warming stories which push us onwards. The Achievement Award scheme is very grass-roots and embedded in communities across London and Essex. It is not about recognising the highest achievers – though yes some of our past winners are exceptional athletes, musicians, academics and performers who are exceptionally gifted – the fundamental success of the scheme is that it is about enabling all young people to believe they can achieve. It’s not about being the best, but doing your best.
I remember being in a Special Educational Needs school when they were announcing the Jack Petchey Achievement Award winners. A young person, Kojo, had no idea he was about to receive an award, but as the description of the winner was read out I could see him listen intently. When he heard his own name, Kojo (who had autism, was mute and usually quite withdrawn) leapt out of his seat and jumped up and down beating his chest and shouting “It’s me, it’s me!”. The fact that being recognised and celebrated enabled him to utter the first words his peers had ever heard him speak demonstrates the power that such recognition can have on empowering a young person.
On another occasion, I was chatting to a security guard as I waited for Sir Jack’s car to arrive at the O2 for one of our prestigious celebration events. He asked if he could have a word with Sir Jack, so when the car pulled up he opened the door and told Sir Jack: “I just want to say that when I was a kid I was on a path to prison. Then my youth club gave me one of your awards. It really made me think differently about myself – now I am married, got a job and my own children – I just want to say thank you”.
The Mayor’s Fund For London Count On Us Secondary Final at City Hall, July 2018.
This year, as in previous years, around 13,000 amazing young people will be recognised for their achievements. And I know that these young people will go on to achieve more, to make a difference to our world as future leaders in whatever they choose to do. When I meet current and former Achievement Award winners, hearing their enthusiasm for a better world gives me great hope and optimism for the future. Previous winners – now adults – pop up all over the place, in theatre, politics, business, science, education, and even recently a medic who treated Sir Jack for a minor illness! This great scheme has made such a difference over the years and if I am proud of anything, it is the fact that we have really worked hard to develop it, ensure it is well run, that it is valued, that young people’s voice and decisions are key to its operation and that it reaches as diverse a group of young people as possible.
It has also been a privilege to grow and develop a whole range of other Jack Petchey Foundation programmes which offer opportunities in public speaking, dance, music, science, maths, sport – you name it! All developed and run with one aim in mind: to enable young people to find their inner spark, something they are good at, enjoy and gain energy from.
Over the years I have been blessed to work alongside so many programme leaders, teachers and youth workers, who go the extra mile for young people. These unsung heroes are incredible positive role models who really care for our young people and want the very best for them. Sir Jack once said “a leader needs a good heart as much as a good head”, and I am honoured to have met many, many “good hearts”.
Trudy and Sir Jack Petchey, 2017.
It has been a privilege, too, to work with the Jack Petchey Foundation Trustees and wider team. It is through their continual commitment that we have been able to keep the essence of our schemes so life-giving and truly celebratory.
Many things have changed since I started work at the Jack Petchey Foundation in 2008. We used to have totally paper-based systems; social media was just being invented (Instagram and TikTok hadn’t even been dreamed of!) satnavs changed to smart phone navigation as we visited over 2,000 youth organisations and schools across our extensive area. We have moved offices to Canary Wharf, people and programmes and have come and gone, and the youth sector itself has changed radically. We have faced many challenges, including the 2008 credit crunch, the riots of 2011, a worldwide pandemic…
…And we are still here!
Though the specific needs of young people may change slightly from generation to generation, one thing does not change: young people want to achieve, they want to make a difference, they want to build a better tomorrow, and we will recognise and celebrate this.
I believe that our resilience lies in having a clear mission; we hold young people’s voices at the centre of what we do and are prepared to adapt and change in order to deliver. If anything, the Foundation is needed more now than ever before. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, in the face of uncertainty and the issues faced by young people, “if you think you can, you can!” is a mantra to be lived daily.
Trudy atop the Jack Petchey Foundation bus at the Lord Mayor’s Show, 2012.
I am proud to have been part of Sir Jack’s legacy for young people, and I look forward with confidence to seeing the work of the Jack Petchey Foundation continue to grow under the leadership of Gemma Juma. Having been our Operations Director and our Deputy CEO, Gemma knows our work and remains 100% committed to the values and ambitions of our founder, Sir Jack Petchey.
The need never diminishes, and I know the Jack Petchey Foundation will be a lasting legacy, ensuring a bright future for the young people of London and Essex.
With thanks for a wonderful life-giving experience and every blessing for the future,
Here is a poem that Matt Rantell penned and read at Trudy’s final Board meeting last week….