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Home / Resources / News / KNOW YOU’RE SKILLED


In the second part of our interview make:good, find out how Catherine plotted her steps to setting up her own agency and how she gets kids to create and make solutions in their schools and communities.
How did you get your first clients?I had just left university and so didn’t have a professional network. I was probably the least believable person. You definitely need to have a nerve that I wouldn’t have now, like being prepared to ring people up and go “I’ve got this really interesting approach, I’d like to share it with you”.I spent a couple of years where I worked part-time and did make:good part-time. During that time, I finished my post graduate qualification. I spent my time at make:good speaking to so many people. I applied for little bits of funding – just like £1K – to deliver a couple of projects which would give me something to say “this is what I want to do”. I therefore had some examples to take to people.

Eventually people paid me to do a professional piece of work, nothing big, some of those are still clients because they understand what I’m doing and there’s a synergy. Some people don’t remember that I used to come with stuff printed out at home.

It wasn’t particularly glossy, but having an example, sharing it and talking to as many people as possible was really important.

How did you make the decision to move full-time on make:good?

It was pretty scary. I was slightly pushed, I wanted to do it and I went to half days in my job and thought I could do a couple of mornings a week in the office and then the rest of the time do make:good.

My employers thought I wasn’t committed to the future of their organisation. It was like saying “can I work enough to pay my rent and then take a risk with the rest of the time?”

It looks like that up until then, your employers were reasonably accommodating to you working on the side setting up make:good

When I was interviewed for the job with them, I told them that this was my intention from the start to set up make:good in my spare time. I think they didn’t really believe that I would actually do it. I initially asked if I could do a four day week.I was running jobs onsite that were going to get built. It was very difficult for them to say “we’ll flick you out and get someone else in”. They weren’t accommodating, they just knew I worked really hard.It was a case of them thinking it would be worse for their business to let me go. It benefitted them as they had someone who was really enthusiastic to learn and do these projects. I’ve had the same situation now as an employer with my own team when they want to go part time. You let them, but you know they’ve got one foot out of the door.

Just going through some of your make:good projects, one of your key values is how you involve all the people that are affected by the issues that you’ve been asked to work on. 

You involve people not just so they can have their say but also to help them use research and design techniques to uncover problems and develop solutions themselves. For example, when the kids do the research themselves and come up with a solution to create market stalls. How important is it to show them how their skills can help them find out about their community?I never want to be tokenistic and ask people “what do you want” and they say “I want a swimming pool” which doesn’t really give them any context. The idea that a community is one homogenous group of people doesn’t exist, actually you can have a community of interest too and within that there’ll still be many disparate groups.It’s more about empowering people of all ages to have the skills throughout their lives. When I’m asked something as a young person, I’m thinking about it, not just from my frame, but from many different perspectives, because the reality of the choices that need to be made is that they are influenced by different perspectives.

It feels patronising to say “tell me what you think” and then for me in my office to make a decision on the basis of how many people said x, y or z.

Physically making something, whether it’s repairing a wall or painting is really powerful. Sometimes it’s a totally tangential activity that allows you get deeper in the conversation and get different perspectives – the time it takes to make a jumper or build a wall. 

Do you think that those methods could help young people plan and visualise their career? 

Whenever we go into a school, college or youth group, it’s really powerful to share your story and say “this is the process I’ve used, but you can use it your way”. There isn’t a right or wrong, there are just choices and opinions.

That’s a skill that prepares people for the real world out there. There are very few jobs that you can just walk into. Everything we would use shifts so quickly, the tools you use.

For some people that’s scary that we won’t tell people whose piece of work is better than others because they are so used to that hierarchy.

I was looking at the wall and seeing the “Know You’re Skilled”. Tell me more about that.

One of the biggest barriers to getting people involved in projects is confidence across all age groups, people not feeling like they’ve got something to contribute, so we started to think about the skills we have as individuals within the business.

Being an architect is not my core skill in terms of really getting work done, being chatty is more important or not getting flustered.

On projects we wanted to create a peer group where people share. It’s hard to identify your own skills, you need someone to tell you, and so we started using it on projects where we kept coming up against barriers.

It’s like when your mum says that you’re good at something because she’s your mum. This idea of facilitating a conversation where people say “I think you are really great and I love the tone that you use when you write, it makes me feel like you really care about what I’m doing. You listen attentively, even when I’m being really negative”. These skills in the workplace are so critical. I met someone who said “I’m really good at football” and I asked him “what do you do in your team that makes you good? Because I pass the ball. Why do you pass the ball? If I don’t pass the ball, if I try and be a hero all the time then I get tackled”.

That’s a really great skill. Knowing when sharing something, a task or a vision, gets you to where you want to go. That’s a really good skill.

About managing people, you’re now an employer yourself. How has that changed your attitude towards what you think the role of an employer should be to young people entering the workplace? 

When I employ people, I always try and still hold really true to my values to treating somebody and making sure that people learn, because I love learning and if I’m not doing something new or being challenged, then you’ll get the worst of me.

Managing people is really difficult. I’m always candid and honest, saying “have I got it wrong?” you need to create a candid conversation. I’m always really explicit that working for me is about learning and challenging you because the projects are challenging themselves. 

Definitely asking difficult questions of me is key, because I don’t know the answers, so we all have to be prepared to sit around a table and if I’m going off on a tangent, they need to say “that’s wrong”. People need to know that’s where we’re going. Hand on heart, do we achieve that all the time? No. but we need to challenge ourselves.

Hopefully, people reading this won’t be so scared if they’ve got an idea, like yours, half way through university and they’ve set something up, that they don’t need to jump into it, that they can let the idea percolate!

Having studied architecture for six long years at UCL, Bath and in Copenhagen, Catherine decided she wanted to work a little differently. After qualifying as an Architect her process became less about planning and building, more about people and their stories first. She set up make:good to combine her appetite for conversation and people-led design. Her innovative approach to engagement is what gets make:good’s work noticed across a range of sectors including Local Authorities, Schools , Community Groups and even Big Developers. She is also a fellow at the Awesome Foundation, which helps find and fund innovative social change projects and a fellow at the Royal Society of Art.  

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