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It made me realise I can be whatever I want to be

Posted by Ste Bauman, 10 months ago

3 min read

Million Makers is a dragons' den style fundraising challenge, which sees teams of employees from companies across the UK use their creativity and business acumen to collectively raise £1 million for The Prince's Trust. So, who better to find out more from, than two-time attendee, Katie Gardner from Retail Banking in Birmingham.

A virtual team

‘The first time I took part was during the pandemic and, being so grateful that everything was OK for my family and I, I wanted to give something back given the difficulties so many people were facing at that time.’

Entering the challenge during the pandemic meant Katie and her team couldn’t relying on any face-to-face methods of fundraising. ‘We got together virtually, and then pitched our ideas. We did lots of things – a Zoom Santa, a song which we made available on iTunes for a donation to the Trust, charity Christmases quizzes in our branches and many other things. We raised just short of £10,000, which felt great given the circumstances.’

The inspiration to go again

The awards night was the highlight that inspired Katie to return for another year. ‘We all went to London for the awards night at the end of the year,’ she says. ‘It was the first time we’d met face-to-face despite having worked together on Million Makers for more than seven months. It was a great experience and I’ve made friends for life.

‘Watching young people talk at the awards about what they’d had to go through in their lives and what they’d been able to do thanks to the support of the Prince’s Trust, it was amazing and inspirational. It really touched me, and their stories spurred me on to chase my dreams too.’

Katie even managed a brush with royalty. ‘I got to see King Charles – he presented some of the awards and met several of my colleagues.’

The new normal

Reflecting on her experience second time round, Katie thinks it was tougher as pandemic restrictions eased. ‘We were so geographically spread out that we still didn’t meet in person,’ says Katie ‘The second year felt harder as everyone’s diaries were suddenly full again, so we had to be more disciplined in setting aside time for Million Makers.

‘Doing it for the first time in 2021 made me realised that so many people go for their dreams and don’t worry about disappointments. It showed me what I was capable of, and pushed me to do more. First time round, I wasn’t brave enough to pitch to the dragons, but second time I did. It was the first time I’d ever done a pitch and I’m pleased to say we got our seed money of £1,500!’

Learning for the future

Reflecting on her experience of Million Makers across both years, Katie feels she’s learned a lot. ‘It’s been a great experience for me,’ she says. ‘Getting out there and meeting so many people at different points in their career, whom I wouldn’t necessarily interact with working in a branch. It’s really helped me build my network and is a great example of collaboration. I’ve met so many people across the bank who I can now email or pick up the phone to if I need to.’

Her positive experience putting herself outside of her comfort zone with Million Makers also inspired her to step-up, managing a nearby branch. ‘I had the opportunity to do a six-month secondment as Branch Manager of NatWest in Stratford-Upon-Avon. I was managing a team of six wonderful colleagues. It was a great experience, I loved being a branch manager. It was great to have oversight and a view of what it takes to run a branch and lead a team, and it really helped me work out where I want to take my career next.’

Be curious

In closing, Katie reflects on where she was, to where she is now.

‘I used to see other people doing all these opportunities and wonder how they’d found out about them. I realised opportunities wouldn’t just land in my lap, I’d have to go out and find them. I always had a fear of rejection, but Million Makers made me more confident in putting myself out there.

‘It made me realise I’m not just “Katie the personal banker” – I can be whatever I want to be. My Million Makers and secondment experiences have given me that nudge to say, there’s so much out there, just get involved.’

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