Profile: Kathleen Caper, Head of Policy & Advocacy, Hospice UK Author: GUEST POST     
Date: 18th April 2016

Lucy Olliff and Maddy Race, two current Charityworks trainees tell us about the career journey and motivations of their colleague Kathleen Caper, head of policy and advocacy at Hospice UK, the national charity for hospice care, which champions the voice of hospice care on a national level and supports over 200 member hospices and their staff across the country.

Originally from Sydney, Australia, Kathleen went to university at the age of 22 after what she describes as a “five year gap year”. She has worked in the third sector for eight years now, and Hospice UK for about nine months.

Kathleen Caper

Moving to London: ‘The Paddington Bear years’

Kathleen graduated with an Art Theory Bachelors and began her career in the arts world as a ‘curator of public programmes’. Whilst there, she thoroughly enjoyed designing and promoting tours and masterclasses for a range of ages in a local museum. At the turn of the millennium, she headed to the UK’s diverse cultural capital, London. However, after quickly discovering just how competitive and privileged public sector arts jobs were, she landed a more corporate role at a copyrights agency for classic English Literature characters. The perks of the job were countless and fun: international travel, business class sojourns in New York and a speedy company car. However, five years in to being brand manager for much loved characters like the Snowman, Paddington Bear and Peter Rabbit, she had started to feel a little bored of marmalade sandwiches.

When I grow up: ‘The third sector years’

Boredom galvanised Kathleen into doing something else, something outside work. She recalls her first key volunteering experience in the Crisis at Christmas centres, which she then continued throughout the year (after all, volunteering is for life, not just for Christmas!). She thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to develop personally and professionally outside of work, and as the copyrights agency headed towards the recession she asked herself, “what’s next for me?”

So she entered the non-profit sector, and halved her salary overnight, starting out in project work at various homelessness charities, including St Mungo’s and SHP (Single Homeless Project). “I was really enjoying making my brain work in a different way”, she recalls, “though I realised I was solving the same problem over and over again, which seemed insane!” Her ‘eureka’ moment came when she started dabbling in local policy work at SHP: for Kathleen it was about solving the problem further upstream, and policy work was the answer.

“It just really clicked for me – this is what I want to do when I grow up.”

What followed was a big sideways step. She moved to Homeless Link, the national support charity for homelessness, and then to the National Office of Citizens Advice. Working on a more national policy level at these organisations, she felt intellectually stimulated, creatively satisfied and professionally worthwhile. She also fell in love with data and relished the opportunity to support hundreds of independent charities as the large umbrella organisation. Outside of professional work, she discovered a desire to pursue further studies and is now currently doing a part-time Masters in public policy and management at Birkbeck with a completion date of summer 2016.

Kathleen joined Hospice UK in July 2015, after stumbling upon the job opportunity in one Irn Bru fuelled 2am job search. She admits feeling like she wanted a new challenge and slowly searching with little luck, but when she found the Hospice UK listing, “the application just wrote itself”. Since being here, she has enjoyed the generosity of those across the hospice and palliative care sector in sharing knowledge, and the myriad of opportunities for innovation and development.

Advice for the rest of us: ‘The way she sees it’

  1. Mentorship – Kathleen believes that mentorship can’t be forced, but when you find a good mentor, she advises hanging on to them. She has been lucky enough to have three great managers at Homeless Link, from whom she learnt a lot about “being a boss”.
  2. Fearlessness – Don’t be afraid of applying for the next step, even if you feel that you don’t have the necessary knowledge. You don’t need all the experience – you will learn on the job and flourish through that.
  3. Self-awareness – To know yourself and your lateral skill set is hugely important, especially if you want to move across as Kathleen did. We all have ‘transferable skills’ and in today’s job market it is hugely important that you know yours and can “market yourself” to potential employers.

Something else that was both striking and reassuring to everyone starting out in this sector, was to know that although it took Kathleen many years and many shifts to find the role where she really belongs, she did find different kinds of fulfilment in her diverse roles and each contributed to where she has found herself today. 



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