Deeds not words” were the order of the day for the recent Women’s Autumn Lunch held by the County Durham Community Foundation. Over 150 women from leading businesses and third sector organisations, including UMi, celebrated the achievements of local charities supported by the Foundation at the glorious Wynyard Hall in Billingham. 

The County Durham Community Foundation is an independent grant-making foundation. It works with individuals, families and local businesses who want to put something back into their community, either in their lifetime, or through leaving a legacy.  

Compére and entrepreneur Caroline Theobald CBE interviewed selfless volunteers and staff from local charities Just Handmade, Cheesy Waffles, the Beamish Museum, the Teesdale Community Resources Hub, St Johns Hall, Women Today NE and Building Bloxs – all recipients of Foundation support.  

UMi attendees were hugely impressed by the event. Julia Hatton, Company Secretary, said the magnificent setting and wonderful hospitality were jaw dropping, but the tone of the event was very business-like: “There was a clear aim of ensuring that everyone in the audience understood what the Foundation was trying to achieve, and the important part every individual and business played in helping to make those achievements possible – how every penny counted and made a difference. 

 “The volunteers bravely talked about the work of their charity, describing a scary world hidden from many of us, but very real to them, and it made me so thankful that someone was there to reach out and help.” 

 Karen Lilley, UMi Service and Investment Executive, said she was moved by the passion and love that the volunteers have for their projects: “How hard they work to support their local community. How they transform tough lives and nurture vulnerable and overlooked people and help them to feel valued. How they make sure they get help or education, give them time and draw them back into the communities, giving them a value and a place. Amazing.”

 Jean Royal, Personal Assistant to the UMi Executive Team, also referred to the dedication shown: “What inspired me was the way that these women spoke about the charities and the deeds that they have done or are doing. Their passion was infectious, and it left me wanting to get active with the UMi fund so that we could have our own story to tell.” 

 Leigh Alder, UMi HR Business Partner, said: “I don’t think there is enough coverage for small charities in the media. The Community Foundation really shone a spotlight on a few of these amazing charities so that they can continue to make a difference to people’s lives.” UMi Community Manager, Bethan Wright, said the standout for her was the session with Linda Kirk of Just Handmade in Stanley: “They do incredible work in providing women of all ages the emotional education to cope alone. But what affected me was a harrowing, personal story about their loss of a colleague and friend to suicide. It was utterly poignant to hear about their own experience of the devastating impact of depression and suicidal thoughts.” 

 Nicki Clark, UMi Chief Executive, said: “At UMi, we are always looking for ways to do more in the community. I went to last year’s lunch and was absolutely blown away, hearing from organisations that weren’t in it for themselves – they are in it for everybody else. We didn’t think we were big enough to make any sort of difference but have been really encouraged by the Foundation to set up a fund – which we’ve just done – so we’re playing our small part.” 

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