What does a Catalyst do?

A Catalyst in the Big Lunch Extras team works to support community-minded individuals from across the UK to do good stuff in their respective neighbourhoods, through the Big Lunch Extras programme.

We do this by hosting an inspirational residential Camp at Eden, where people from all over the country come together to tell their community stories of resilience, ingenuity and friendship – and to learn from each other.

The idea is that when participants go back to their communities they are energised, enthusiastic and full of excellent ideas for doing lovely stuff where they live.

So, after everyone goes home, Catalysts also keep in touch with the participants, which can mean anything, from encouragement on Facebook to organising events in our allocated UK region. We email, text, phone and tweet – sharing ideas, information and sometimes just offering some kind words when things aren’t going so smoothly – because community projects can be tough.

We also visit our participants in their communities and seeing their different projects, from community gardens to a traveling pop-up community café to an annual music festival.

What does being a Catalyst mean to you?

It means adventure; it means doing something I really believe in; it means being able to use everything I’ve learned to make a positive difference; and, not to be too dramatic, it means for me a whole new life. I am over 50 years old and can truthfully say I have never been happier in my work.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

The best part is hearing all the different things our participants are doing in their communities in every part of the country – making life better for people. How inventive, hard-working, enthusiastic and caring people are. And then being part of their development as they link up with each other and learn and put into practice new things – all of it just makes me sizzle with pleasure. To me, there can be few things more rewarding than watching people scoop up a new skill and make something wonderful happen for a whole community.

Tell us a bit about your background prior to working at Eden…

After leaving school with few qualifications but some skill as a dancer, actress and acrobat and a furious desire to change the world, I left my Suffolk home for London to study Community Theatre. I gained Equity working with a touring theatre company prancing about as Phoebe the Dairy Maid.

Several years later, when I found myself a single mum struggling on benefits, I was encouraged to return to education starting with GCSEs and ending up with a PhD in Social Psychology. During my time getting educated, I taught in schools, colleges, universities and, before becoming a Catalyst, I worked for three years in a category C male prison teaching self-confidence.

A little over a year ago I searched on the Eden website for job vacancies - and there it was, the best job description I’ve ever read with 48 hours left to complete the application. I did my job interview on Skype and, in what felt like no time at all, I’d packed up the family home in the North, rented an unseen room in the South and started my new work at Eden.

I still love dancing, still want to change the world (but perhaps not quite so furiously now) and believe being a Community Catalyst with Eden is one of the best jobs in the world.