Two smiling women hold an award certificate

We all want to love our jobs like Karen loves hers

Published: 09/02/22 | Categories: Uncategorised, Author: Karen Chalk

The last in our series of blogs from Karen Chalk, Director of Circus Eruption. Karen reflects on her leadership bursary from WCVA and plans interrupted by COVID.

In late 2019, I was excited to begin my bursary journey by booking up a couple of visits in early 2020, and had started to investigate study options. I’d hoped to use the funds to complete one course and four UK trips in order to expand my horizons and move Circus Eruption forward.

As a small inclusion charity of 30 years standing, we had been developing and growing steadily until we were in a position to buy a building for the first time in April 2019, which as a Grade II listed former church provided us with a whole new set of challenges and opportunities!

My hope was that the bursary would unlock new horizons, support my learning and understanding of what was possible, and help me and the organisation move forward more confidently in a time of great change for us.


Given we were thinking about developing our second space with new kinds of inclusion work, I had an inspirational time in Birmingham visiting Birget Kehrer at ChangeKitchen in January 2020. She was generous in sharing her story and supporting our journey, and this advice and guidance is greatly informing our current engagement with the Social Enterprise Academy’s ‘Steps to Sustainability’ programme.

I also started to investigate visiting an organisation in Belgium and had booked up to visit a project in London in late March 2020 – these were, of course, not to be.

Like everyone else, I was lurched into unchartered territory. For me this meant having to find funding to recover lost income, dealing with the sudden closure of capital grants for the renovation work on our building (planning permission had come through in late Feb 2020), home schooling, and everything else that went along with lockdown.

Travel – a key component of the bursary and something I had been so looking forward to – was obviously not an option.


Time was also a real struggle in 2020, although I did take part in ‘Common Purpose’ online, which was engaging and constructive. Particularly helpful was ‘action learning’, where a small group of leaders from the public, third and private sectors constructively engaged with specific issues faced by the group.

I received incredibly helpful mentoring through the Cranfield Trust, and later in the pandemic we were accepted onto the Pilotlight programme, which resulted in the production of a formal strategic plan. I’m now also part of the Clore Experienced Leaders Cymru programme and, with a colleague, developing the social business aspects of our development on the Steps to Sustainability course.


Despite everything being online, the value of having others take a deep dive into the opportunities and challenges we were facing has been incredibly helpful, and this ability to step outside of your own context and reflect on it is a crucial element of the learning which the Walter Dickie Leadership Bursary was intended to create.

I remember one of my Common Purpose cohort saying ‘I think we all want to love our jobs like Karen loves her job.’ This came at a time when I was really struggling with the challenges of the pandemic, and it was lovely to hear that reflected back! The Pilotlight programme brought organisational insights we would not have identified and acted on nearly as quickly without the support.


I’ve got plans to visit other groups and organisations, and hope that in 2022 these postponed opportunities will become possible.

The bursary inspired me to look around and enabled me to make connections and take opportunities that have without a doubt increased my own skills and knowledge as well as the horizons of Circus Eruption.

We are a very collaborative organisation and it felt awkward to single myself out, but if there’s a chance that you might be able to expand the horizons of your organisation with such an opportunity, I would encourage you to give it a go!


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 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.


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