Achieve Programme

Lizzie Hicks | Achieve Alumni in Lockdown

Lizzie Hicks | Achieve Alumni in Lockdown

Lizzie Hicks is a Creative Producer at Blue-Zoo and attended the Helen North Achieve Programme in 2018. Continuing our series of blogs on different experiences of lockdown, we asked Lizzie to share her’s. 2020 has definitely been eventful for her as, on top of everything else, she became a mother for the first time just before lockdown.

Over to Lizzie…

I always thought I’d be a teacher. A lot of the women in my family are teachers, so I just kind of assumed that’s what I’d do. I figured I’d be ok at it and it seemed to be a good job if you wanted to have a family. Then when I was 15 I went to a careers fair, learned about the course at Bournemouth and everything changed. I switched my A-level choices so I could study a subject that I had always loved – animation!

Skip forward 10 years and I have now been working at Blue-Zoo since I graduated. It all started with a 4-week placement as a generalist which I got through a family friend… cue several years of imposter syndrome. I bounced between the short-form services department and series animation as an animator, generalist and animation director. Then, after a few years, I was offered a brand new role to the company as a Creative Producer in our commercial department where I was now a senior member of staff.

Alongside this lovely career path I had also met someone (at work which is pretty common I think in this industry) who I dated, wedded and began thinking about the next stage of our life with. This was when I enrolled in the Helen North Achieve Programme. I had a new role to figure out. How could I maintain a career I loved, and start a family?

It was brilliant meeting other women from the industry, but I was particularly interested in those who had kids. I picked their brains; what they did right, what they wished they knew. Ultimately I realised you just have to work out how to manage it in a way you feel comfortable, and for me, that meant anticipating my worries and insecurities and having open conversations about them. Luckily Blue-Zoo, and especially my line managers, had always been incredibly supportive with work-life balance as well as appreciating my candour.

I discussed my insecurities with them of leaving the company for 6 months to a year; the idea that things could change while I was gone and that I wouldn’t know about it, having someone come in and cover me, worrying that the team would suffer without me, or worse, they wouldn’t miss me at all. All I had known for 10+ years was this. I had no idea how I would feel leaving or coming back. I also picked the brains of the women in the company who had returned to work after having children, as well as hitting up a long term client of ours who is pretty senior at one of the worlds biggest broadcasters and content creators. I know she has a fantastic work ethic as well as a family, so I tentatively sent her an email asking if perhaps I could ask her about it all. She was more than happy to talk, which was amazing. All of this was before I was even pregnant haha.

It was then the summer of 2019, I had somehow wangled it so I was going to Annecy with work and then a week later to New York to meet potential new clients (as well as tagging on a little holiday with the husband at the end). Both trips were great, working hard in the day and having a lovely ol’ time in the evenings socialising and sightseeing. I came home and I was shattered. And also (it turned out) 8 weeks pregnant.

Keeping it schtum from work was very tricky as over the years both of us have made some very good friends there, but felt great when we finally decided to tell people. I knew they had recently improved the maternity policy at Blue-Zoo for anyone who had been there for longer than a year. However, as a long term member of staff, I really wanted to talk to the directors about a possible extension of both maternity and paternity leave based on how long you’d been employed. I decided the best course of action was to mention it in person to my line manager and the company director I am closest to before formally emailing all the company directors with HR. It was fantastic. They were open to it and added some weeks if you had been at the company for more than 5 years, so both I and Dane benefited, which was great.

I also had a part to play in hiring my cover, which I really enjoyed and appreciated. I looked through the applicants as well as doing the 1st round of interviews with my line manager. Then subsequent interviews were done with people my cover would have to work with.

Cover hired and there was a 3-week handover. On the 3rd week, I felt confident enough to say ‘this week I will just watch you do my job?’ She was up for it and it was brill. There were a few moments of biting my tongue. Wanting to say ‘that’s not exactly how I would do it’. I had to let go of control and I knew I was leaving my role in good hands. My worries were calmed, I left work a week before my due date feeling super prepared and ready for my next adventure.

 

I was super lucky with my pregnancy and birth and 3 days after the due date, Riley was here! Yes…it wasn’t enough to marry someone in the industry, her name was taken from a Pixar film! I have to say it was quite a whirlwind, but again something that I learnt from the course is that there is a lot to be said for women supporting women… and also that there are women out there like me! Being naturally a woman who has often been friends with men more, I always felt I wasn’t a “girl’s girl”. The idea of ‘mummy friends’ made me want to curl up a little.

However, I have to say for the 1st few weeks, my antenatal WhatsApp group of mums was a godsend. Knowing you can send a message at 3 am asking advice and often you will get a reply was amazing – even if it was just the comfort of knowing someone else was awake as well. I loved how many of them spoke about how important their work was to them and how some were keen to go back to work. It was really refreshing when I had always felt there was generally a choice and separation between motherhood and work. Also, although we are all a little different in our approaches, amazingly the general consensus of the group was ‘happy mum, happy baby’* which is definitely a good mantra to go by. Love or hate breastfeeding? Your baby will be happy either way, don’t beat yourself up. *Though this doesn’t mean if your baby is being a little oike it’s your fault… babies are weird little roller coasters, developing and growing all over the place they can literally change every day.

All in all, I was loving leave and looking forward to hanging out with my new friends, pissing people off in coffee shops with my buggy, but Dane had only gone back to work for a week when everything started to shut down in the first wave of lockdown. This damn pandemic… it’s certainly had its positives, Dane is around a lot and I obviously don’t feel like I am missing out on the Friday night pubs as no one is going. Also as Dane is a director for the comms team, I’m basically in their catch ups every morning, so I still feel incredibly connected and in many ways feel very confident about going back to work. Each week I do have various wobbles, but also have the most amazing ups as well. Feels very strange that this might not be over by the time I am due to go back to work, so I may have the pandemic still to navigate as well as the usual balance of how many days a week to go back and how to feel like I’m a good parent and good at my job. The world is a different place, but I am really looking forward to the challenges ahead, both with my lovely daughter and in my career.

And because I haven’t been able to go out and show her off to the world, I’ve included some pics of the bundle of fun. Lizzie x

Posted by Lucy Cooper in Achieve Programme, Lockdown, 0 comments
Achieve Online | Connecting Members

Achieve Online | Connecting Members

Thanks to support from ScreenSkills, Marianne and I were able to conduct our first ever Achieve Online workshops over the last few weeks.

The format translated really well, making use of Zoom’s ‘room’ functionality for the breakout sessions allowing us to bring Achieve Programme content to our members through the UK from the comfort of their own homes.

We asked some of our participants to provide some feedback.

“At the moment, perhaps more than ever, we are craving connection and I was so impressed by the support and empathy shared in a brief one and a half hour workshop. When we’re all working from home in bedrooms, and at kitchen tables with children popping by, it creates a more personal experience which only enhanced the ability to share and learn.’

These are practical workshops and it was great to see how quickly the delegates were able to fully participate in this virtual way.

The small breakout rooms helped ensure that everyone had a voice, and that was certainly reflected in the feedback from delegates:

Achieve Online Workshop
Everyone had a chance to speak and feel included, you can’t shy away at the back of the room!’
‘I think it helped people to be a little more confident than they might have been in a room’ 
‘I had an incredible time and came away feeling super inspired!’
‘It was fantastic to be able to offer these workshops to AWUK members outside of London. From Belfast to Cornwall, Glasgow to Norfolk, there was a great geographical spread which added to the experience for everyone.’
In addition to adapting some of the content from the Helen North Achieve Programme for online delivery, it was exciting to be able to offer some brand new workshops on Managing your Virtual Communication and Thriving as a Freelance.
I have always been a fan of face to face communication, but I can see the benefits of being able to offer the Achieve Programme to more people, wherever you live. We are learning as we go and will build on the experience as we all adapt to this new way of working.
‘A huge thank you to everyone who helped make Achieve On-line a real success.’

We plan to run more of these sessions later in 2020, so keep your eyes peeled if you’re interested in joining.

You can find out more about Achieve Programme and our tutors here.

Jan Armstrong

Jan Armstrong is a Leadership development expert, Executive Coach and Trainer who designs and delivers the Helen North Achieve Programme for Animated Women UK.

Posted by Lucy Cooper in Achieve Programme, Education, Events, Homepage, News, 0 comments
Achieve Online 2020

Achieve Online 2020

‘Achieve Online’ at our workshops this June.

We’re delighted to announce that we’ll be running four online workshops this June exclusively for AWUK members, thanks to the support of ScreenSkills Animation Skills Fund, with contributions from UK animations productions. The tutors of our oversubscribed Helen North Achieve Programme have adapted two of the programme’s most popular sessions for online delivery via Zoom. These are ‘Confidence and Getting your Voice Heard’ and ‘Impact and Building the Brand You’. Jan Armstrong and Marianne O’Connor have also developed two new workshops, one of which is devoted to ‘Thriving as a Freelance’. The other – ‘Managing Your Virtual Communication’ – focuses on an aspect of our jobs that is particularly relevant right now when so many of us are working from home.

The Helen North Achieve Programme 2019 alumni

The last few months have undoubtedly been challenging. Working on your laptop can often literally mean working on your lap while juggling homeschooling and other caring responsibilities. When the threat posed by the virus recedes and lockdown eventually ends, some remote working may however become the new normal if employers have found it to be productive and staff are keen to continue working this way. 

One of the perceived drawbacks to homeworking is its potential to damage career prospects. It's long been a concern for many women taking maternity leave and/or going part-time that being out of sight means being out of mind for promotion and interesting work projects. That concern also applies to homeworking. 

The workshop on 2 June will help participants develop practical strategies for building virtual relationships. This is key in an industry where relationship building is central to success (79% of women surveyed working in the animation sector said they got their job through networking). 

The session will include guidance on getting the most from a virtual team meeting, motivating yourself and others when working remotely and communicating creatively and assertively online. Members will also gain individual tips and techniques to hone their online skills in a Coaching Clinic. 

Our workshop’s focus will be on helping to ensure that participants’ careers thrive in an increasingly virtual environment where some staff will be working out of the office all or part of the time. This session is relevant even for entirely office-based staff, as many people are likely to be communicating with team members and clients who are physically elsewhere. 

These four highly interactive online workshops will use virtual break-out spaces to allow participants to workshop ideas and receive feedback in small, supportive groups. They’ll also include a ‘surgery’ where members can discuss difficult work challenges. 

Open to AWUK members at all levels of experience, the workshops are just £25, thanks to the support of ScreenSkills Animation Skills Fund.  Because they’re stand-alone, members can apply for those that are relevant to them, whether that’s one or all of them! Each lasts one and a half hours, so can be fitted in around work and other commitments.  

We’re excited to be going online for the first time ever and our workshop leaders Jan and Marianne look forward to welcoming registrants this June.

Click here to find out more information and apply for tickets.

Stay safe and keep well. 

By Louise Hussey, Co-Chair, VFX, Animated Women UK 

Read what our alumni say about The Helen North Achieve Programme below.

Chloé Deneuve
Anne Akande

These workshops are supported by ScreenSkills Animation Skills Fund with contributions from UK animation productions.

About ScreenSkills

ScreenSkills is the industry-led skills body for the UK’s screen-based creative industries - animation, film, games, television including children’s and high-end, VFX and immersive technology. They work across the whole of the country to build an inclusive workforce with the skills needed for continued success, now and in the future. 

https://www.screenskills.com

 

Posted by Peri Friend in Achieve Programme, Events, Homepage, Mentoring, 0 comments
5 Things We’ve Accomplished Since Attending The Helen North Achieve Programme

5 Things We’ve Accomplished Since Attending The Helen North Achieve Programme

The Helen North Achieve Programme is back for its fourth year. Applications are now open, so we sat down with five alumni to find out what they’ve accomplished since attending the course.

1) “As a mother returning to work the course helped me look at my options in a really positive way. I stopped worrying about rushing to be exactly the same artist I was before I had my son and made me realise I can take any route I chose and whatever time I need to achieve the goals I have set for myself.”
Anita Corcoran, Animator

2) “I’ve progressed in my job and feel more confidence when navigating the VFX industry.
“I’ve also gained an amazing support network of women in VFX and Animation and learned to stop falling victim to ‘Imposter Syndrome’.
“The wonder women stance has also been a handy tool for a quick confidence boost anytime and anywhere!”
Emma Ihecherenoma, VFX Production Coordinator at Industrial Light & Magic

3) “The course was a great way to meet new people and reflect on my work in animation to date. I got time-out to think, a chance to set some new goals and a big boost to my personal confidence and presentation skills.
“Since the course, I’ve made a lot of changes in the way I run my animation studio, which are really beginning to bear fruit. We’ve pulled in lots of new service studio work, our finances are much improved and our educational animation continues to gather momentum, awards and recognition.
“I have also found a new role for myself as a mentor, helping out other women in my field on the Creative England Industry Equals Women in Screen Programme and been making more time for ME! I am managing my time much better and can fit so much more into my week!”
Kath Shackleton, Producer at Fettle Animation

4) “Participating in the Helen North Achieve Programme allowed me to reflect and focus on those aspects of my career that I wanted to nurture, change and build upon. It gave me the confidence to seek out new challenges, become a mentor and drive harder than ever for the projects and people that I believe in. Importantly, it made me reconsider what success actually means to me… I’ve learnt that small, forgettable everyday achievements are just as important markers of success as the memorable, career game-changers.”
Natalie Llewelyn, Head of Development ar Jellyfish Pictures

5) “Since completing the programme, I have registered as a STEM Ambassador and gave a talk to A-level students last month. I found that quite intimidating but the presentation skills sessions gave me the confidence that I would come across as more knowledgable and assured than I felt. The talk seemed to go well and I had some very positive feedback from the students.”
Lucy Wilkes, Lead Software Developer at Dneg

Find out more about the Helen North Achieve Programme and apply here.

Posted by Lucy Cooper in Achieve Programme, Homepage, Profiles, 0 comments