Carrick businesswoman named chair of Halifax Foundation for NI

The new chair of Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland, Paula Leathem from Carrickfergus, is looking forward to using her skills and experience to help the third sector in a post-Covid world.

Monday, 12th April 2021, 5:00 pm
New chair of Halifax Foundation for NI Paula Leathem with the team: Niall Corry, Cara Dixon, Executive Director Brenda McMullan, Joanne Byrne, Caroline Fulton and Richard Rogers

The new chair of Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland, Paula Leathem from Carrickfergus, is looking forward to using her skills and experience to help the third sector in a post-Covid world.

The Senior HR Business Partner for NIE Networks predicts the challenges for the Voluntary and Community Sector post Covid will be huge but will also present an opportunity to do things differently.

“Coming out of Covid will be challenging for the sector but it has made us look at new ways of thinking and doing things. We need to be positive as we look at how we best support the communities most in need,” she said.

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New chair of Halifax Foundation for NI Paula Leathem from Carrickfergus

Paula, who has been on the board of Halifax Foundation since 2013, explained that the organisation adapted quickly to the pandemic and made it easier for grassroots groups to access vital funding.

“Our amazing team could see early on what was happening and how the Foundation could provide an emergency response. As the pandemic hit, they quickly repurposed the Community Grants programme and awarded the first batch of grants on the day in which the first lockdown was announced,” she explained.

Through this emergency Covid-19 fund they provided grants for 234 projects with a total of £893,225 benefitting 193,394 people. Funding supported food parcels to the most vulnerable, resource packs, digital support both for charities to set up online and for children to access remote learning as well as much needed core funding.

As the Foundation looks to the future, she says she sees her role as encouraging the team to delve deeper into the learnings from the past year and consider whether there’s a better way to doing things.

“It’s important for all organisations to step back now and look closely at their processes to see if they need to be adapted. Some things will have changed and some won’t but we need to query that,” she continued.

The Foundation’s team of six, led by Executive Director Brenda McMullan, has more than 80 years’ grant-making experience between them but it’s their energy, passion and enthusiasm that has made the organisation what it is today.

Paula explained: “They are all doing a job they love and that shows. They take the time to connect with charity representatives of each grant application, ensuring they fully understand the unique issues and needs of each community and the impact our funding can make on local people.”

The Foundation’s funding comes from an annual donation from Lloyds Banking Group to fund all its Grant Programmes, including its Matched Giving Scheme, which supports the fundraising and volunteering efforts of staff from Halifax and Lloyds Bank in Northern Ireland. Part of the chair’s role will be as an ambassador for the Foundation continuing to develop the excellent working relationship with the banking group.

Paula brings a wealth of experience to this role. For the past 34 years she has worked for Northern Ireland Electricity Networks and now holds the post of Senior HR Business Partner, having worked previously in Customer Services. She is responsible for leading the company’s diversity agenda and also specializes in change management, employee engagement and personal development.

A mum of four grown-up children, she also recently joined the board of Women in Business and says she believes in the importance of supporting voluntary and community groups.

“At NIE Networks we encourage our team members to give time to voluntary boards. It’s a great experience to be sharing the skills you’ve developed over your career to help others,” she urged.

Executive Director Brenda McMullan said that she believes Paula’s skills and experience will help Halifax Foundation to meet the challenges of the future.

“We are so fortunate to be supported by such a strong board of trustees. As chair, Paula brings a depth of knowledge of the sector but also years of experience working closely with people, and that’s what the Foundation is all about,” Brenda McMullan said.

Paula takes over the chair from Imelda McMillan who served as chair for eight years.

Brenda McMullan added: “We’d like to thank Imelda for her hard work, dedication and time supporting the Foundation. She played a vital role in helping our team through the early days of the pandemic when we needed to make essential decisions quickly.”

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