The Insight: Where Passion, Sport and Development Meet

This September, we’re bringing you the insight to our Business Development Manager, Laura Gilmour. From being one of the leads for the Sutton Park Challenge, to having a passion for people and applying for grants on behalf of Midland Mencap, Laura’s role is multi-faceted, busy yet rewarding. Join us as we dive straight into all she does.

Laura, born and bred Birmingham, has had a passion for sport since her school years. She was on the rounders, hockey, and netball teams but it wasn’t “the elite element of sport” and competition that drew Laura in; rather, the social side of teamwork and community. Laura reflected, “I was conscious that there weren’t many opportunities for girls in sport; it was mainly focused around the boys”, giving an example of how she remembered trying to get a team of 10 girls together but the boys’ teams were always oversubscribed. As a result, her passion led her to study Biology and Sport Science at Aberystwyth University in Wales. One thing was abundantly clear – she did not want to be a PE teacher, despite how her interests lied within sport and education; “everyone wanted to be a teacher, but I knew I didn’t want to…I knew my area was in community and helping people.”

So, it was pretty fitting that her first role at Midland Mencap was our Senior Sports Worker. The role was formed from funding given by Sport England, as a nod to the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. As a result, Laura and the team she was a part of, there was an opportunity to create sports teams for the citizens at Midland Mencap. Sports that weren’t usually taught or practiced in schools, with support for those with disabilities and learning disabilities, were particularly focused on. This project gave Midland Mencap a “complete”, holistic approach to sport and Laura a chance to combine her passion for sport and people.

Moving forwards, Laura became our Health and Wellbeing Co-ordinator, which still had a sporty-feel, but focused more on activities such as Wellbeing Walks – which we still have on offer today. This role worked alongside the team based at The Hub and focused primarily on delivery of sessions and working in a face-to-face environment.

These experiences all led to Laura applying for the Business Development Manager position. As we know, she was successful and as a result, we’ve had the privilege of running some amazing projects and sessions that Laura has been instrumental in gaining funding for. But what exactly does ‘Business Development Manager’ mean? Laura describes it being split into two avenues: the first being developing relationships and networks with people, particularly outside of Birmingham. As Midland Mencap continues to grow and expand, our strategic focus is to work in the wider West Midlands; Laura’s role is to cultivate the necessary relationships to enable us to do that.

The second being to bring in additional funding, to allow us to run a wide range of projects for citizens, carers, and families. Laura explained, “we seek our funding from different areas; statutory funding, commission funding and then external sources such as small grants, charitable trusts and big overarching bodies like Sport England and the National Lottery.” It’s Laura’s role to apply for those grants, working alongside the various teams within Midland Mencap, to ensure we are successful. Each funder often wants slightly different criteria and so Laura tailor’s each application appropriately, with the support of the team she’s working with.

On a day-to-day basis this role is “reactive”, as Laura explains, “because you never know when a funder is going to put out an application for a tender”. Skills required in this role range from excellent communication, being able to research and have a good memory is also a plus, in Laura’s opinion. In addition, teamwork is a valuable skill, as her role requires involving numerous other teams who ensure projects are successful.

One of Laura’s main projects is the Sutton Park Challenge. Taking place on the 2nd of October 2021, you are able to take challenge to complete a 1km, 5km or 10km at Sutton Park, in Sutton Coldfield. Originally started by Mencap, Midland Mencap had the opportunity to host the event in 2019, and now two years on, we’re back and “extremely hopeful that people are going to come back to the run and get more people”. As a charity that strives on being accessible, Laura and the team have made inclusivity “front and centre” with “a number of different distances, no time limit; they can run, walk, jog, they can wheel, they can push their children in pushchairs – they can even walk their dog!” Similarly, we have buddy runners and a British Sign Language interpreter at the start of the race, too. It’s an event that not only is Laura passionate about, but the whole team is as well – striving for a fun, inclusive run for all.

Beyond the Sutton Park Run, where does Laura see her role going? Well, beyond Birmingham, for sure! As mentioned earlier, Midland Mencap are focused and excited to reach past the Birmingham walls, to meet and support new people across the West Midlands as a whole. Also, there is always more funding to apply to, with more projects to run. For Laura personally she summarised life at Midland Mencap well in that, “I suppose that’s the thing about [working here]; you never know where opportunities are going to come up and when. This organisation has grown massively since I started eight years ago, so I guess you have to wait and see”.

Whether it be in the next few weeks, with Sutton Park Run, or projects in the pipeline, we’re grateful for Laura’s determination, dedication to supporting citizens of the West Midlands and her passion for sport. Being a Business Development Manager is an ever-expanding role; we can’t wait to see where Laura takes us next!

Midland Mencap

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