Interview Series | Kick-Ass Women: Philippa Clare

Interview Series | Kick-Ass Women: Philippa Clare


Philippa Clare – LEGEND!

I hope you managed to catch the 1st in this interview series that I begun in December, where I get to interview some of the most amazing women that I either admire from afar, love up close or just straight up fan-girl over. I have only really met Philippa once when she came up from London to speak at a work conference I arranged. But that one meeting was immense, unbeknownst to Philippa as she really had a huge impact on me and I immediately developed a girl-crush on her. You see, Philippa is a kick-ass women who embodies “just do it”  – but I will let her tell you:

Hi so firstly could you tell everyone a bit about yourself (day job, special interests etc)

Hello – I currently run a national Partnership between Help for Heroes and The Prince’s Trust. It means that day to day, I work alongside wounded, injured or sick (WIS) service personnel and veterans. This Partnership support them into opportunities at the Trust if they want to work with young people; H4H provides funding for training and a short term salary. I spend a lot of time travelling around the UK, either meeting new WIS candidates or presenting at military bases and recovery centres so key people are aware of this opportunity and can help refer WIS to me. What I tend to find is that this opportunity is magic both for the WIS and the young people – our young learners look up to the WIS and are inspired by their achievements in adversity, and the WIS get a boost to their own recoveries by being able to have a positive influence in someone else’s life. It’s a mutually powerful and reinforcing cycle!

Beyond work, I love getting out and about doing different things. So from singing with the City of London Choir, to cycling, climbing, hiking, wild-camping and sailing etc, I try to create lots of opportunities – opportunities for trying new things, meeting new people, and testing my abilities and resilience.

A couple of examples would be: I found recently that anyone can kayak on the Thames – Westminster Boating Base offers this for £8 on a Monday evening and you can float around for hours (where can you do anything for £8?!); I took some mates and it was completely ace, really interesting to see London from that perspective, on the water at dusk.

On another occasion I had a weekend that I’d kept free for an adventure… none of my mates turned out to be free but what I’ve learnt works for me is not to wait around for other people, but to crack on and do stuff. Mates then join if they can, or I probably meet new people along the way. So with a 48 hour window to fill, I devised a plan to escape London, roughly using a “Time vs Cost vs Purpose” outline to help identify options. I chose a trip to the Malverns (Time = no more than 2 hours travel; Cost = no more than £80; Purpose = hiking, camping, good views, and fresh air). 48hrs later, I had walked 18miles; wildcamped in the mouth of a cave, with amazing views of distant fireworks, bats flying overhead, listening to owls in the trees around; and, with a mug of hot coffee in hand, seen the sun rise (it was honestly like a movie, the sun really did throw its golden rays on the horizon and they crept closer until all the hills around seemed alight with colour!) Brilliant.

I know you have been involved in the Invictus Games and now Help for Heroes, could you share with us how you got involved in military charities and what this means to you.

I was lucky when I was a kid – I grew up toddling around warships, running around parade squares on military bases, and I went to a military boarding school on the east coast (we had to march everywhere and where old military uniforms for “divisions” on Sundays); also both my parents served in the Royal Navy. Probably some of that stuff shaped my affinity to the Armed Forces!

I love that the Services demand of you to be the best you can be, and to put others before yourself. There is something about individuals who have signed up for that, been achieving that, and then find that taken from them when they acquire a physical or mental health injury. The Invictus Games is amazing, it affords these men and women the opportunity to re-challenge themselves, to celebrate achievements in adversity and re-define their own futures by accepting their injury and carrying on regardless. I loved working with the competitors during the inaugural 2014 Games; their banter was epic (limbs were regularly stolen, hidden or tampered with!) and their camaraderie so inspirational.

When I saw this Partnership job vacancy online, I was so keen to put my hat in the ring; it echoed everything I believed in, everything I wanted to support and it bridged two incredible national charities. It is such a privilege to work in this role. I get to support the Trust, helping young people make the best of their lives and overcome challenges. And I get to support H4H, helping WIS make the best of their lives and overcome challenges. It’s different ends of the same spectrum – and they meet in the middle to gain the fundamentals of what most people really want (besides perhaps unending wealth) – a sense of personal value, a defined purpose, and feeling part of a community.

I know you are also involved in other charitable work, including a Sailing project, what drives you to get involved & make that difference?

Very selfishly – I find it interesting, I enjoy giving back to others and I learn a lot at the same time. Probably not winning any altruism awards there!

It’s important to me to keep creating opportunities. Think I mentioned this earlier and it relates to wellbeing and resilience. In seeking new activities, people and challenges, you expand your social circle, you grow your sphere of experience and you surely cannot help but improve and develop personal strengths. And those strengths may be technical (tangible skills like sailing, cooking, engineering etc) or they may be more broad (coping with change, handling challenging behaviour etc). Either way, by giving back to others, you’re also giving to yourself. As we all know, but at various stages sometimes forget, people are at the heart of life – nevermind money, bills, things, jobs etc – it’s relationships and human interaction that strengthens (or weakens) our wellbeing. So by investing your time, experience and passion in others, you are investing in yourself, too. A big “NB” of course, is that it’s necessary and healthy to balance this altruism with genuine selfishness! You’ve got to do stuff that works for you, you cannot always give back or help or do good: it is a balance. Probably the most obvious thing in the world but I’ve only really identified that for myself recently. 

What do you enjoy most about working with Veterans?

I really respect the values that the military demands of its women and men so, generally, it’s great to work alongside people who feel the same. There’s also a familiarity for me about the military way of life – training, deployment, banter, behaviour, routine etc – that means I can more or less empathise with their backgrounds whilst also understanding civilian life, and the differences in transitioning from one to the other. Perhaps as well, it’s that the outlook on life of the veterans I work with is so deliberately positive, so can-do and selfless, despite everything, that it’s just hugely inspiring to be around them. 

What are you most proud of?

Just over a year ago I was given the opportunity to create something new. When the Trust signed its boat over to Turn to Starboard (a charity that sails WIS veterans, operating from Falmouth), in the contract was a statement referring to an overlap of use of the boat, enabling PT young people to sail onboard her still for a period of time. I’m not entirely sure why I got the gig, but people knew I like sailing and I work with WIS! So since August 2015, I’ve worked with Turn to Starboard to set up a Course onboard “Spirit of Falmouth”. Broadly speaking it’s a sailing course – we have 6 WIS and 6 PT young people onboard “Spirit” for 6 days; we sail around Falmouth and they all literally learn the ropes, learn about charts, navigation, putting sails up and down, etc.

More than that, though, it’s about individuals overcoming physical injuries, mental health injuries, confidence challenges, dramas at home and more. Each WIS is buddied with a PT young person during the week and they complete activities together at the start and end of the day; they also work in a Watch system to sail the boat, to cook and clean; and we all eat together in the evening, review the day and chat about hopes/fears/achievements. Candidates learn new skills onboard, meet new people, see new views and just …take a breath. Together, they increase their resilience, joy and motivation. We’ve seen some wonderful, lasting outcomes – a PT young person was so motivated he got a job once he went home; a WIS candidate said it had given him a new lease of life. And lots more. At present I recruit candidates, brief them, support them in joining the boat, meet them onboard, shape the content of the course, co-deliver the course, and provide post-course support, signposting to other opportunities and organising reunions when possible. We have run 6 course so far – and it’s been epic. Such a privilege to get to work with so many inspiring people!

What has been your biggest challenge so far?

Uh, tricky – loads of challenges, but a couple stand out.

On a personal level, this would probably be setting decent and healthy work-life boundaries! I get caught up in my job; I’m lucky that it’s great. But it’s still key to crack on with stuff that is for me, and attach a value to doing not very much at all or doing stuff just because I like it not because it has some wider benefit. 

Professionally, it would be how to work as constructively as possible with a huge range of people – from PT young people; WIS; colleagues; external partners etc. I have my ways of working and my plans/goals etc but they hold no value if I can’t communicate what I mean or want effectively, or to bring others onboard by speaking to their ways of working; it’s an ongoing learning curve : D

Do you feel any extra pressure as a woman in your personal or professional life?

I am so passionate about the achievements of women. About figures historically, and those today pushing boundaries and forcing an imbedded patriarchy to change – or at the very least, think about changing.

I feel pressure on myself to be the best I can be all the time; to play any part possible in endeavours that will help change for the better how women are viewed and treated both personally and professionally. It is an anathema to me how equality of women’s lives to men’s lives has ever – ever – been an issue. It’s illogical, it’s based on straightforward lies, it’s just indefensibly wrong. But what, at a wider level is about power, gets boiled down to stereotypes. So we end up with the whole pink/blue; princess/pirate nonsense. Even now, in adult life, outdoor kit and training kit is all coloured for gender. It’s not at the same end of the spectrum as wage-gap, domestic violence, laws on maternity leave etc but it’s endemic and infuriating all the same!

So do I feel any extra pressure as a woman? I don’t know about ‘extra’ but I definitely feel pressure. I am hyper aware that society tells us ‘x, y, z’; that religion says ‘x & y’; that history teaches us ‘x’ but that it’s on each of us now, today to continue making a difference. We need to support other women, check ourselves on our own preconceptions and judgements, and generally be the best we can be by not ever standing for negativity based on gender. 

If you could spend 1 whole day with someone who inspires you, who would it be?

I take huge inspiration from Freya Stark. Born in 1893, she lived a fierce, interesting and varied life for just over 100 years. She wrote many books, but the one that most captured me about her own life is called “A Passionate Nomad”. I’d definitely recommend it! She travelled in Arabia to places a westerner had never been before – let alone a woman; she learnt several languages; was recognised by the Royal Geographical Society; and her skills were requested by the Foreign Office during the war. She travelled a lot on camelback and stayed with local tribes, recording this work and more via many essays. By all accounts, she was tough, determined, interesting, bright and no-nonsense. I would definitely aspire to those qualities and would love to spend a day with her!

WOW – what an amazing interview, thanks so much Philippa for taking part. I doff my cap to you – you amazing lady!!

G x

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