Marie Kirbyshaw was approached directly by Stephen Salt, Chair of the Home Counties region, about joining the Academy for Chief Executives. Marie became the Chief Executive of Luton Culture 10 years ago, just as the charity was about to lose £1m funding. Luton Culture delivers engaging arts and cultural programmes across art centres, museums, libraries heritage buildings and gardens.

“I believe in applying business principles to improve the financial viability of charities, so was keen to continue my own learning at the Academy from members, speakers and through 1:1s with Stephen the Chair”.

Taking the time away from the day-to-day running of the organisation has shown Marie the most immediate ROI for her membership. At her first meeting, she recalls Stephen saying ‘It’s about working on the business, not in it’.

It’s so easy to become completely absorbed running an organisation, and so taking the time to step back, reposition and examine what’s going on and why, is a key benefit to Marie in being an Academy member.

“I’ve also learnt a great deal from my peers, their different industries and sectors. They share different approaches and aren’t afraid to challenge some of the business models that I use in the arts and culture sector. Equally I enjoy contributing my own experiences and insight at the board sessions to broaden the discussions”.

Marie believes the Academy works because it encourages members to continually learn, reflect and intensify skills as leaders and strategies for the future,

“The group dynamic is key. In our group, I trust everyone to be honest and I know they have my best interests at heart and vice-versa. It’s not a competitive or tactical environment; it’s a safe space to share ideas, issues and plans in confidence”.

Marie considers herself to be a ‘custodian’ of the Trust and she is therefore keen that under her watch she makes a positive contribution to people’s lives through exemplary cultural activities, venues, projects and employment of over 500 people.

“It’s exciting to be leading the culture Trust through into the next chapter of greater impact and independence, especially as we are now developing a creative workspace out of the old hat factories, including the re-development of the Hat Factory Arts Centre. The Hat District project will be self-funding and also meet the values and objectives of the Trust”.

Marie believes the learning she takes from the Academy enables her to enhance her leadership skills and share the Trust’s vision throughout the organisation, sector and the wider community.

“I look at this stunning clock every day – it is broken and doesn’t tick so I have set it to 20:22 which is when the Hat District creative workspace project will be delivered. By then we will have achieved 133 new jobs, 25,000 sqft of new creative workspace, a sustainable financial model, 136,000 new visitors and we will have regenerated an incredibly important area of Luton. I am determined to transform these empty, broken resources into vibrant and culturally relevant assets once more and I know that my Academy membership is going to help me all the way!”