Clare Williams is the Chief Executive of Hijinx, a Cardiff-based charity that wants to “make it commonplace to see actors with learning disabilities and autism on our stages and screens.” She describes her role as “pursuing opportunities that will ensure an actor with a learning disability wins an Oscar by 2030” – and she’s only half joking.
In 2018 we awarded Hijinx with £75,000 over three years to deliver a training and job creation programme for actors with learning difficulties. Hijinx is one of 367 charities that received developmental support alongside their grant from us in 2018; support that Clare describes as “utterly lifechanging.” She says:
“Hijinx is my life – I live and breathe it. But after five years of working obsessively on expanding and growing the charity, I was on the verge of a breakdown. In May 2018 I realised it was completely and utterly unsustainable to continue in this way, and that’s when our Lloyds Bank Foundation Grant Manager, Mike Lewis, stepped in.
“Mike invited me to meet Deri Llewellyn-Davies, a fantastic business strategist who made me realise that my 67-page business plan needed to go straight in the bin. He told me I should try to write a business plan on a page… So I took the largest piece of paper I could find. When I still couldn’t do it, I realised Hijinx had become too big for me to manage single-handedly. By October 2018 I had decided to carve up Hijinx into five workstreams, each with their own strategy and plans, each part of the whole. I have a brilliant, determined and talented team, and I gave responsibility for each area to a different person.
“I had previously been lucky enough to go on a six-month School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) course funded by Lloyds Bank Foundation, which was absolutely transformative. It was an opportunity to re-assess what we were doing and see how we could generate more income, raise our profile and make our organisation more resilient, and I could also look at how to become a better leader and a more effective manager. So when the time came for me to take some of the weight off my own shoulders, I had the knowledge to pass on – and what I learnt from Deri helped me plan how to do that.
“Lloyds Bank Foundation funded some of my investment in staff training around PR, fundraising, finance, HR and monitoring and evaluation. As a result, I now have 16 brilliant leaders who are excited to be running Hijinx. It’s a huge weight off my shoulders and I feel miles away from the overstressed, overworked Chief Executive I was a few months ago. For example, I used to do 100% of the fundraising by myself; now each strand is responsible for their own area and I bring it all together. No one has to carry the burden of sole responsibility any more.
“I think the progress we’ve made as an organisation is entirely due to what Mike offered us as an organisation and me as an individual. He has an uncanny ability to see what we need and where Lloyds Bank Foundation can offer support.
“Deri, the SSE course and Mike’s ongoing support jointly gave me the courage to be hugely ambitious for the organisation. Before Lloyds Bank Foundation started supporting Hijinx, we had four staff members, worked with seven actors and had a turnover of £250,000; now we have 16 staff, 70 actors in fulltime training and a turnover reaching almost £1 million, not to mention exciting plans for growth across Wales and even international programmes in the pipeline. Most importantly, we know our success is sustainable thanks to the developmental support from Lloyds Bank Foundation that supported me and strengthened Hijinx.”