Ellie Coulson - Charity CEO and Drama Graduate
Ellie Coulson graduated from UEA in 2005 with a BA in Drama. Since then, Ellie has had a varied career across wellbeing, sales and management. In November 2021, Ellie joined The Hamlet Charity – supporting people with disabilities and complex health needs - as their CEO.
I’m most proud of becoming CEO of The Hamlet. As mum to an autistic child, the work we do is a cause which is extremely close to my heart.
What have you been up to since you graduated?
I have done lots of different things since I graduated in 2005. You could say I’ve had a bit of a portfolio career! I have worked in sales roles, customer service roles, as a Careers Advisor, a Wellbeing Advisor, Drug and Alcohol Worker, Service Manager and now CEO of The Hamlet Charity. I have also run my own businesses and worked as a performer within the local arts scene. I feel that, in working for a charity, I have really found my niche. I love the flexibility, creativity, and determination that this sector demands and find it immensely rewarding. I am mum to two children aged 7 and 11 and live in Norwich.
Tell us about The Hamlet Charity.
We believe people with disabilities and complex health needs deserve to be valued for who they are. This means being given the chance to explore choice, communicate, unlock potential and take new opportunities. We work with individuals from infancy through to young adults up to 29 years of age. This allows us, often over many years, to gain both trust and a real insight as to how best to support each individual and their family. As a charity we support and enrich the lives of families, children, and adults at our three locations in Norwich. Established in 1972, the charity has evolved from its beginnings as a Toy Library into offering a range of services. Today we support over 500 families each year from across Norfolk.
Why do you need volunteers, and what do you think they gain from the experience?
Volunteers play a key role in helping The Hamlet to deliver its vital work. All charities benefit hugely from the time and skills that volunteers donate, and we are no exception. We offer volunteers a friendly, supportive environment, full induction, and plenty of opportunities to access training and development. We have a range of volunteering opportunities at our centres, on trips out and about in the local area and at events across Norwich. Opportunities vary from partying with members of our Out of Hours Club at a very special night out, to being an elf supporting Father Christmas!
What are your ultimate ambitions for the charity’s work?
I’m relatively new to the organisation after joining in November 2021 so I have lots of ideas! Primarily, I want to continue to build The Hamlet’s profile to ensure that we become better known across Norfolk for the work that we do and the fabulous individuals we support.
Tell me about your experiences studying at UEA.
I chose my subject because I was passionate about the subject and had been involved with the performing arts from a young age. UEA offered one of the best Drama degree courses in the country with great facilities and the opportunity to take elective modules in other subjects such a history and music. It also offered the opportunity to undertake an industry placement in your second year (I went and worked for Opera North in Leeds). I was already familiar with UEA and Norwich as my older brother also studied here, and I liked the atmosphere. I can honestly say that I loved every minute of my degree, but I particularly enjoyed working on one of our ends of year productions ‘Once in a Lifetime’ which was just a joy from start to finish.
As a drama student you were part of a very small year group, so you got to know the other students and your lecturers really well. The studio always felt like a ‘home away from home’ and you could always find a friendly face there!
In your career what key tasks & skills are involved on a day-to-day basis, and what are/have been the most rewarding/challenging aspects?
As CEO of a charity my days are very varied. I have overall responsibility (along with the Board of Trustees) for the governance and strategic direction of the organisation. I ensure that operations are running smoothly on a day-to-day basis by working closely with my senior leadership team. I work hard to build relationships with professionals across the sector and with The Hamlet’s key stakeholders. I keep our service users and our organisational values at the heart of everything I do. In my career overall, the most rewarding thing has been building strong working relationships and seeing the profound difference that the right support can make in the lives of individuals with a variety of needs. The most challenging thing is the lack of funding/resourcing for services meaning that people can really struggle to access support when they need it!
Has your degree influenced your career?
My degree has helped immensely. Not least because in the current job market holding a degree level qualification is expected for a large number of jobs at all different levels. However, my drama degree gave me specific skills which are directly transferrable to my current post. I am a good communicator, confident with public speaking, making presentations and ‘selling’ myself and my organisation. I enjoy working in a team and can judge when to take the lead and when to take a step back. I am never happier than when having to think on my feet and improvise to find solutions to problems, and I think creatively about how a desired outcome can be achieved. My degree also helped to hone my research and writing skills which I put to use on a daily basis.
What personal or professional achievement are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of becoming CEO of The Hamlet. As mum to an autistic child, the work we do is a cause which is extremely close to my heart. I feel very privileged to lead the organisation and to be surrounded by a team of exceptionally dedicated and hardworking professionals.
What were your experiences of Norwich as a city?
As a proud Norwich resident, I think it is a wonderful place to live. There is a thriving creative scene, plenty of green space and beautiful historic architecture. I enjoy being within a short drive of the wonderful Norfolk coast and easy reach of plenty of countryside walks.
Is there any advice you would give to current students, wishing to follow a similar career path to you?
Stay curious and try lots of different things. Allow yourself the time to identify what is really important to you from a work and personal point of view and be prepared for your priorities to change throughout your career. Be brave in applying for new and different types of roles, every application and interview is a valuable experience. Be reflective, spend time identifying your personal strengths and play to them. Seek out training and mentoring opportunities to help you develop in your weaker areas. Never be afraid to admit that you got something wrong and apologise. Try to keep a sense of balance between your work and home life and build a strong support network for yourself. Have a can-do approach and a sense of humour!