From Cash to Conservation: A change in career to the Churches Conservation Trust

09 Jan 2023

Local Community Officer Rachel Whitty tells us all about her experiences working for CCT...

Why the CCT for me?

You may be wondering as the New Year begins how you might change careers and utilise different transferable skills.

Here is a potted history of how I switched from retail to heritage and found, at the Churches Conservation Trust, an exciting and rewarding change in direction.

A lifelong passion for church history led to my discovery of the Churches Conservation Trust whilst on a holiday in Norfolk and I have consequently been an avid supporter for over 20 years now.

My first degree was in Archaeology and Church History but after graduating, I was elected to the unique position of a sabbatical bar manager and found myself lured into the world of retail. Having secured a graduate traineeship role with the John Lewis Partnership, I’ve spent the last thirty years working across John Lewis and Waitrose from shopfloor to Head Office, undertaking a variety of people, contract, and project management roles. Along with gaining a commercial perspective, I’ve also picked up along the way a diverse set of skills including change and stakeholder management, writing cash and stock operating procedures, managing banking and cash in transit contracts to qualifying and being a business coach. I went from being a member of a field team covering 20 Waitrose Branches to managing that field team across the whole of the Waitrose estate and became known as the human sat-nav as I drove so much! My final role was the Sales to Cash process lead across John Lewis and Waitrose. Basically, that means improving the speed and process of getting all payments into the bank account as quickly and as accurately as possible.

Taking redundancy in 2021, gave me the amazing opportunity to consider a change in career and return to something that has remained close to my heart, all things heritage. Whilst I had built up a wide range of transferable skills, I wanted to complement that existing skill set with a qualification in Heritage Management. I successfully applied to Bath Spa University and after a considerable gap, returned to academia and have just completed a Masters in Heritage Management passing with distinction.

What attracted me to the course was the opportunity to do placements with heritage organisations such as the National Trust, the Wiltshire Museum and Roman Baths, for example. Guess who I chose? The CCT of course. This gave me the chance to get a real feel for what might be involved in working for the organisation, and it did not disappoint. I completed 2 placements, the first involved researching funding and evaluating commonly encountered actions for both staff and communities across a range of churches and the final placement centred around planning an event at a Church for the Heritage Open Days Festival to gain experience in organising events and managing volunteers. My heart was set on working for the CCT, something I had said right from the start of my MA but I never dreamed the opportunity would come up to apply for a role of a Local Community Officer nor that I would be successful, but here I am to tell you a bit more about the role.

A day in the life of a Local Community Officer

What is a day in the life of an LCO like? Well, they say variety is the spice of life and if you crave variety, juggling priorities and dealing with random operational incidents, then this is the job for you. What I love about the role is that no day is quite the same, you can be catching up with emails and admin at home one day and chatting to volunteers on the ‘phone and the next day driving around

the countryside visiting our amazing buildings and meeting the communities who support their CCT church.

Whilst of course there are routine activities such as creating action plans with your community and an annual cycle of inspections to complete, there are also some ad hoc and at times unexpected elements which crop up.

To give you a flavour here are some examples of additional activities:

· Appeals and fundraisers.

· Event hiring e.g., live theatre, music, art exhibitions.

· Filming – from student projects.

· Funerals, weddings, and christenings.

· Dealing with heritage crime and handling complaints.

· Rewarding, inspiring, and celebrating volunteers.

The skills that I amassed during my retail career have been invaluable for the role of the LCO. Building relationships with volunteers is key so for example, my years of working on the shopfloor and dealing with a wide range of customers has come in very handy as well as my field team experience of working remotely across a wide geographical area. My operational knowledge of cash & card payments, accounting processes, and project management is also an asset in this role. My recently acquired Heritage Management qualification has also helped in understanding the challenges facing the sector, from managing conservation, funding applications to working with volunteers.

The role is home based, but there is plenty of opportunity to interact and work with highly skilled and knowledgeable staff across the organisation who are more than happy to share their expertise. In addition, you can leave your desk and get outdoors, engaging with the amazing array of dedicated and diverse volunteers, making this a fascinating and rewarding job where you will never get bored!

What is it like working for the CCT?

As a placement student and now a member of staff, the CCT have been most welcoming and supportive. I have been really impressed by the care taken to ensure that I have the right IT equipment to do the job and set up to work from home along with an array of supporting handbooks and training modules in Safeguarding, Health and Safety, Mental Health, and Remote Working to name a few.

The special touch of a personal Christmas Card from the Director of Operations is just one of the ways that demonstrates that this is an organisation that cares about its staff, values their contribution, and wants them to succeed.

To find and apply for our current vacancies please visit our Vacancies page

Image Credit: Tim Rubidge