Jennifer Coleman-Peers is our new Chief Executive Officer and joins us from The Voices Foundation, where she held the post of Interim Chief Executive Officer. With more than 18 years in the charity sector, Jennifer has dedicated her career to working with organisations that have social justice at their heart. Keep reading to find out more about Jennifer.
You’ve spent 18 years in the charity sector. What inspired you to work in the sector?
As a child, when asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would confidently reply that I wanted to save the world! As I got older, I realised that the world’s problems were much too complex for any one person to tackle, so I focused on working with organisations and individuals who shared my passion for creating a more just world. I volunteered throughout my time at school and university, from putting on band nights to fundraise for local charities to spending two months in the jungles of Borneo with a conservation project and supporting fellow uni students through Nightline. After university I was lucky enough to secure a graduate traineeship in the fundraising department at the NSPCC. That opportunity gave me a great insight into what it takes to run a successful charity and sparked my passion for working with organisation’s that are committed to supporting the next generation.
What made you want to apply for the role of CEO at Phoenix Dance Theatre?
I was drawn to Phoenix because the company is world-class in its creative output and also uses its platform to engage, inspire and challenge. From its earliest days education and community engagement have been placed at the very heart of the organisation, and from its genesis through to the themes it chooses to explore in its work today the company has been challenging the status quo. I find that combination really inspiring and, as we gear up to celebrate the charity’s 40th anniversary, I was excited by the opportunity to work with the company to help shape the next forty years.
What are you looking forward to about joining the company (especially in this significant birthday year)?
So many things! I am looking forward to getting to know the team and the Board. An organisation is only ever as strong as its people, and I have already seen Phoenix is full of talented and passionate individuals, which is exciting as it means the possibilities for what we can achieve together are endless. I’m looking forward to learning more about contemporary dance as, whilst I’m a passionate enthusiast, I haven’t come from a dance background (tap and modern lessons in my childhood were as far as I got!). I’m also looking forward to learning from Phoenix’s past and exploring its future. This birthday year offers us an opportunity to re-focus on what Phoenix is all about and to challenge ourselves as to where we should be focusing our energy in the years ahead in order to create the greatest possible positive impact for our audiences and our communities.
You join us from the Voices Foundation where you successfully helped them navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. What was it like leading an organisation during such a difficult situation?
It’s certainly been an interesting year! I joined Voices Foundation just as the first national lockdown was coming into effect, so had to get to know the team remotely and work quickly with them to adapt to the unprecedented circumstances we all found ourselves in. There have been a lot of challenges along the way, but the pandemic restrictions and school closures also offered an opportunity for us to reflect on the way the charity was operating and explore the potential for innovation; in many ways it was quite freeing, and I think we have been able to move forward much more quickly in some regards than if it had been a’ business as usual’ year. The team really pulled together and have been very open to new ideas, so whilst I think we’re all a little bit tired of Zoom life my time with Voices has been incredibly fulfilling.
Being a CEO is a very intense role with a lot of responsibilites. How have you been relaxing in this COVID-19 era?
I am lucky enough to live in the countryside outside Harrogate, so walking with my husband and our beagle (Arthur) and meeting up for walks with friends (when that has been allowed) has made all the difference. I’m looking forward to the lighter evenings so we can get out for walks after work again. Like most people I have spent a lot of time switching off with the TV; Wandavision and The Terror have been recent favourites, and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is always great. I enjoy cooking and have tried a range of vegan recipe boxes, which has led to some more adventurous mealtimes. I’ve also been doing quite a bit of DIY, including making curtains and decorating, which I find oddly relaxing, perhaps because it uses a different part of my brain to my day job.
What has been your favourite piece of culture (either digital or live) that you’ve seen recently?
Prior to joining the company my husband and I streamed Windrush: Movement of the People and absolutely loved it. Over the past year we have had a regular night with a couple of our friends where we stream the same production and then video chat during the interval or at the end of the performance. The verdict was unanimous, we were all blown away by the performances and thought it was a sensitive and challenging way into this period of recent British history, the consequences of which are still reverberating toady.
What are you most looking forward to about working in Leeds (post-lockdown measures of course)?
I have always loved Leeds. I grew up in Ilkley, so Leeds was where I went shopping or for a night out as a teenager. Compared to London, where I lived for 16 years, it is incredibly compact and yet packs in some incredible culture, retail and hospitality. I am looking forward to getting to know the city again on my lunchbreaks and after work and to meeting up with friends who also work in the city.
And to finish, tell us a fun fact about you…
My grandma was Maltese. She met my grandfather when he was stationed in Malta during the war and came back to the UK with him. She had a fantastic Maltese/Birmingham accent and whilst she didn’t manage to teach me much of her language the one phrase she did share that always stuck with me was ‘mignun nanna’, which means crazy grandmother!