Eagle's Nest Project won a Weston Charity Award in 2020. Jan Appleton, Chief Executive at the charity, took some time out to talk about her experience.

Pilotlighters and charity leader


What is Eagle’s Nest Project?

Eagle’s Nest Project is a charity set up to work with young people aged 11-18 that are struggling to engage in mainstream education, often as a result of early childhood trauma. It offers alternative education solutions that build confidence and self-esteem, re-igniting a belief that educational success can be achieved, and teaching them to better regulate their emotions to equip them for more positive engagement in education and society moving forwards.

What motivated you to apply for the Weston Charity Awards?

We were at a point where we had experienced year-on-year growth but felt a bit stuck in terms of how to make it to the next stage. As we grew, my time as CEO needed to focus on strategy and funding to secure future growth, yet I was still very much embedded operationally due to limited funds to pay others to do these things. We really needed to move from the shared community space to a place of our own to develop the organisation and ensure appropriate safeguards for our young people as numbers grew, but as a small charity, we were struggling to find a way forward with limited resources. We needed help with how to make the next big step up, and so when we saw the Weston Charity Awards, I felt the opportunity to have those with much more business acumen than me to guide us as a charity would be priceless.

How would you describe how the Pilotlight 360 programme went?

We won the Award in June 2020, and so its fair to say things were managed a bit differently to usual as a result of COVID-19. All meetings were online, including the big launch event but despite this, most of the Pilotlighters made a trip up to the charity at some point in the first few months as restrictions allowed, to gain an insight into what we do and where we were operating. They took a genuine interest in the charity from the start. We met monthly and at times I would meet with one of the team between meetings to help me with the set task if I was struggling. It was very much led by what I felt we needed to get out of the year and whilst the plans set were ambitious, the Pilotlight Project Manager ensured this was scheduled into a workable plan.

Having the voice of four different business professionals bringing different insights really helped to broaden discussions and think through perspectives. For one of the earlier sessions, different staff, trustees and volunteers were involved and this really helped the wider team to understand more about the charity and feel more connected when I said I was off to a Pilotlight meeting. There were tough questions at times and my viewpoint was challenged, but this is exactly why we had entered into the process – it was really enjoyable, and I looked forward to each meeting… as long as I had got my homework done!

What were the results/implementation after the programme?

The Awards came at the right time for us in so many ways. We remained open and front facing throughout the pandemic, with vulnerable young people coming into the centre every day when schools were closed. It would have been easy to just manage the day-to-day and put the growth and development agenda to the side for a while, but these sessions ensured we remained focused on the future as well as the very challenging circumstances we were operating in.

This was certainly one of the main wins at the time.

Throughout the year we looked at and developed several documents to support the business case for growth and to help me to articulate messages to different audiences, developing longer term financial projections and generally being encouraged that what we were doing was good and should be celebrated. This level of endorsement was as important as the paperwork that was developed.

At the six-month check-in following the end of the project, I was able to share the fully developed strategic document with the Pilotlighters.

Following the completion of the Pilotlight 360 programme, the team remained in touch, with a couple continuing to visit and offer support in their area of expertise. When we finally secured a property, they celebrated with us.

Then in August 2023 the whole team, including the Project Manager, came once again to celebrate with us that we now have a Finance Manager and Deputy Head of Centre in place.

These felt like pipe dreams when we began working with the Pilotlighter in July 2020. It is difficult to separate what exactly has happened as a result of their input as there are clearly lots of factors, but what I know is that Eagle’s Nest Project is in a totally different place and set for future growth. And the Weston Charity Award and input from the Pilotlight team as a result has been a significant factor in this.

I would, and do, recommend this process and Award time and time again. Thank you!

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Weston Charity Awards winners 2020

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