Practitioner Spotlight: Laura Sutherland

Laura SutherlandOur latest #becauseofCLD practitioner spotlight is Laura Sutherland, Community Development Advisor at Robertson Group.
Laura is in her 4th year studying for the BA Honors in Community Education at the University of the West of Scotland.

What’s your current role?

Group Community Development Advisor at Robertson Group (Construction Firm)
As a community educator who is employed by a major contractor within the construction industry in Scotland my role is to deliver, implement and monitor community activity/engagement including the recruitment, training, SME and social enterprise benefits, community engagement and other community benefits.

Robertson’s Community Development team – alongside project managers and site teams – works tirelessly to make sure that engagement with local schools, community groups, building users, project neighbours and other stakeholders create real benefits rather than being a box-ticking exercise through the delivery of community benefits.

ALSO 4th Year Student at University of West of Scotland, studying on the BA Hons Community Education

Where did you begin your #becauseofCLD journey?

Everyone has a story and I always laugh when I think of where my #becauseofCLD journey began. There I was, at the back door of my local Youth Club, a young 12 years old, 20 years ago!! My Youth Worker at the time worked so hard at trying to build a relationship with me and my friends to entice us all in to the world of a Youth Club and away from the streets. She managed to get some of us in for tuck shop only and then we would retreat to our usual spot at the back door for some banter. However, I remember asking the Youth Workers, “Do you get paid to do this!?” and their response was “Yes, but it’s not the only reason we do it Laura!”
They had my attention – which at that age for me was rare! I couldn’t believe they were getting paid to do something which appeared so fun, and it seemed like it wasn’t work!
As a Community Educator, I often get asked this question by young people and when I do, it still grabs my attention!

For me I didn’t feel like I fitted in to a typical box-set standard world of any form of an education setting. Education wasn’t for me when I was younger – I couldn’t apply myself and just wanted to get out and work. I never really fitted in to the learning environment of a high school, college etc. and I pretty much disengaged from any education, the systems and processes altogether. I didn’t like the environment, didn’t have the concentration – I was better at practical things that I thought I could use.

A few years later, I was asked by another Youth Worker if I wanted to get involved in some peer education work. They explained I could use some of my own experiences to educate other young people of similar age. Something inside me was triggered; the thought that I could make even a small difference in someone’s life or change the direction of at least 1 person was so powerful for me and for once I felt like I could really make a difference. People helped me identify my experiences and skills and I could then recognise and value those and that they might be useful.
I’m glad someone helped me to recognise that when things were difficult, it meant a lot that I might be able to do that for someone else, nurture and empower them to have a voice and to use it positively.

Since being involved in that pilot project, I have never looked back and have had the privilege in having numerous roles within the CLD field and off I went on a journey of self-exploration! I have had the pleasure of working in the Health & Social care setting and Community, Youth Work sector on local & national levels.

I wish I’d found CLD a bit quicker – both as a participant and a potential career. I was hungry for a career but didn’t find anything I fitted into until I found CLD. I believed in it and for the first time felt confident in my ability to deliver something.

I have always had is a strong work ethic and passion. I’m tenacious and determined and have a belief that you can achieve anything; even if things are bad. One of my favourite quotes is:

‘One of our greatest glories is in not never failing, but in rising every time we fall’ (Confucius)

It reminds me to never give up and that change is always possible!

This motivates me, and I have gone on quite a bit of a personal/professional journey before officially being able to find a place and profession that I feel a part of and can totally relate to, which is of course CLD.

What are the key CLD values and principles that have been your anchor in your various posts?

Self-determination, Inclusion, Empowerment, Collaborative Working and Promotion of lifelong learning are all fundamentals and underpin my everyday practice.

They all come very naturally to me which I believe are through experiences and I feel they ensure a cohesive approach is applied to practice.
However, for me there are three that through personal and professional experiences I can relate to the most, they are;
Self-determination, Empowerment and Promotion of Lifelong Learning.

I think it is paramount to respect individuals and their stories/journeys and support them in making their own choices. For me it is a real pleasure to work alongside individuals and communities, encouraging them to be all that they desire to be and working with them to build their confidence and self-worth up enough that they feel empowered to take control of their own journey.
I am in a very privileged position of being able to work with a range of people/organisations/communities and provide them with information on internal and external opportunities that they may not have known existed or didn’t think were accessible to them,

If you had to pick one of the Ethics, which would it be and why?

This is an extremely difficult question; as they are all so important.
Since I have been asked to pick one, I would have to go with Number 1 – Primary Client (our ‘constituent’) is the individual, group or community with whom we engage.

As a CLD practitioner, it is paramount to practice reflectively and critically and during this process I always remind myself of the Whys? For me the decisions and actions are always in partnership with the Primary Client.

How do you make time for professional development and who supports you in this?

I am so grateful to so many people for always encouraging and inspiring me daily. There are a few people who in particular really believed in me when I didn’t, and they almost had to push me when big steps or jumps were required in terms of professional development! Without them, I’m not sure it would have been possible, and I am forever grateful to them for believing in me when I didn’t.

I still cannot believe I’m about to graduate with a BA (Hons) Community Education from University of the West of Scotland.
A previous manager encouraged me to take up further education based on my work experience/knowledge. I thought there was no chance that I’d be accepted on to a university course, or that I was capable, after all I did drop out of school in 4th year.
However, I thought there’s no harm in enquiring. The discussion I had with Dr Annette Coburn (Snr Lecturer in Community Education at UWS) that day in 2015 took me to a place that I thought I would never be possible.

I was dreading Uni, but it has been the most positive experience ever and I have met some of the most amazing people ever, I never looked back!

Roll on graduation.

Describe CLD in one word.

Ooh another difficult one; I have many amazing words that would describe CLD but I would have to say Contagious!

But if I had two words the other would be – Inspiring!

What’s the best thing that’s happened this month?

There have been so many highlights this month but a stand out moment for me has got to be being able to create and facilitate a woman in construction programme in a prison setting, which is called unlocking potential. I have been able to utilise a resource that was created as part on an in-class assessment in 2nd year to support the programme – to see it coming to life was simply amazing!

I love to support individuals and/or communities that might feel isolated and do not necessarily fit in to the ‘norm’!
I will be forever grateful for my travels and experiences through the professional and personal world over the years, it’s those experiences that underpins my practice and motivates me every day – it’s great to feel at home in a profession that I 100% believe in.

If you would like to be in the spotlight – get in touch !