A young girl juggles in a field

The power of stepping back to move forward

Published: 03/02/22 | Categories: Funding, Author: Karen Chalk

In the second of her series of blogs Karen Chalk, Director of Circus Eruption, highlights the importance of making time to reflect when planning your organisation’s next move.

Day to day, the demands of our organisations and the range of considerations faced by those who carry central responsibility can be overwhelming. We work hard, and we are busy. It’s often possible to collate opinions and ideas, or have or adopt a bright idea that seems to stand out, and run with it.

It’s also possible to stick to the current circumstance and activities and avoid even measured, responsible approaches to risk. Decision making, planning and even budgeting are more evidence-based art than science but I think there’s more than discussion and consensus to be drawn upon when we are considering organisational development. I think there’s a place for a new question in our thinking – ‘is it wise?’


Over the past year our charity Circus Eruption has been on a journey of strategic development. We had planned for this pre-pandemic, as buying a permanent space for our work was a huge new departure after 30 years of renting and charity lets – and it is a former church, with two large spaces, so literally huge too!

Having been aware that we needed a new approach to planning for the future and responding to the needs we could already see emerging (even pre-pandemic), we’ve taken a deep dive into our governance and strategy, connected with a number of networks and courses and – slowly but surely – we’ve progressed from being a small, hand to mouth charity to a far more stable organisation with a plan.

There’s been some luck on our journey for sure; some real generosity and goodwill from supporters and the wider community, not just in financial terms but also in terms of positive messaging, expert advice, practical action and collaboration.


However, we’ve also put ourselves in the way of everyone who might be able to help us!

In November 2018, for example, I found myself in the theatre space of the YMCA in Swansea, listening to several speakers communicate about ‘risk and resilience’ at the very moment we were in the middle of undertaking significant ‘due diligence’ work on a former Grade II listed building which had been empty and unmaintained for a few years. It was a timely and important day for us.

One of my takeaways from that day was a fantastic new connection with another delegate I happened to sit next to with expertise in third sector property development who eventually became a trustee (!). Another was a new connection with Social Business Wales.

Thirdly I remember Ann-Marie Pyart (the then director of YMCA) communicating about her journey and the effect of the ‘pilotlight’ programme on the YMCA’s redevelopment. And, last but not least I remember a directive about ensuring that governance was properly in place and considered.

The progress we’ve made since has been steeped in process and brought to life by actions – but none of it would have happened if we had not created the capacity for me to take a step back, consider our options, reflect on our direction and collaborate with others to ensure we were moving forward together.

We’ve got ongoing connection with Social Business Wales, and the advice and support we’ve had from our advisor there has proved crucial, we’ve now completed our own pilotlight programme, two of us are currently on the Social Enterprise Academy ‘Steps to Sustainability’ programme, and I am part of the first cohort of Clore Experienced Leaders Cymru programme. We’ve identified and filled gaps in our board and staff team.


None of this would have been possible without an organisational will to think about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. There is so much advice and guidance out there – a course or a programme for every situation – and we demonstrably value them! – but at the core of any progress, any change, some foundational questions should be asked – on the surface, these are things like:

  • Is this right?
  • Is now the right time?
  • Have other people done this before; what can we learn?
  • Does this fit with our values?
  • Does it duplicate or negatively affect any other provision?
  • Does this match our objectives? If not, should we change our objectives?
  • What would be the right timeframe for this, and is it possible?
  • What should we do if it doesn’t work?
  • How will we know if it has worked?
  • Can anyone else learn from our experience; if so, how can we communicate it?

Whilst there are good practical actions which we need to make progress – things like upskilling and connecting, collaboration, planning – behind all of these is the biggest question of all which is simply ‘Is it wise’?

In our often proactive, responsive ‘get on with it’ approaches, I think our organisations could be stronger, more calm and more sustainable if this question were to become foundational.

You can learn more about Circus Eruption on their website.


Karen Chalk received the 2019 Walter Dickie Leadership Bursary. The bursary from WCVA aims to help leaders in the voluntary sector to develop their entrepreneurial leadership skills. The annual award grants £2,500 to support an individual in Wales to become a better leader.

The 2021 leadership bursary is now open for applications, to find out more please visit our Walter Dickie Leadership Bursary page.

The deadline for applications is 14 February 2022.


Tenacity and creativity – or, what we’ve needed to keep going!