UMBRA CEO Kate Bright was honoured to be invited back to Burgess Hill Girls School on Friday 8th July 2022 to deliver the end of term Founders’ Day speech and give out prizes. Head teacher Mrs Laybourne was celebrating her last Founders’ Day after many years at the school, including Kate’s tenure as a student from 1990-1997.
Highlights from her speech include:
“There is something really nostalgic and special about being invited back to my old school where I joined in 1990 as music scholar, and left as Yeats House Captain in 1997 – Yeats now having been renamed as ‘Williams’ House, named after one of my favourite tennis players.
“I am really honoured to be here today to speak to you all. What makes it even more special is being here for Mrs Laybourn’s farewell. Believe it or not, Mrs Laybourn used to “encourage” a 14-year-old me to go cross-country running in freezing temperatures and attempt to direct a hockey ball in the vague direction of the goal. All that sports training with Mrs Laybourn came full circle at the Brighton Marathon in April of this year, when, at mile 23 as I crawled to the end, she caught me at a vulnerable moment where I felt a mixture of exhaustion and elation – and that was when she asked me to talk to you all today.
“I’ve been asked to talk about Embracing Change. So, I’d like to share with you 3 significant times of change in my life that has taken me to where I am today. They’ve also been significant in helping me develop my life’s mantra: which is “Look within. Look beyond. Look around.“.
I’m going to take you back now to 1997 when none you were born! One of my first experiences of embracing change came when I didn’t get into my first choice of University. I’d worked hard, but 2 years of illness and surgery 6 weeks before my exams, meant I didn’t get the grades to get into my first choice – Leeds University. At the time I was devasted by the enforced change of another university, but this change led to one of the most challenging and exciting adventures of my life.
“My French course at Royal Holloway, University of London included the opportunity, to spend time on the idyllic tropical island of La Reunion in the middle of the Indian Ocean, which just happens to be a part of France! It was one of the most exciting experiences of my life. And still today, I have many lifelong friends, contacts, and connections from the unexpected turn my life took at that time. Reflecting back, I realise I learnt many other things through this enforced change : determination, focus, standing my ground, saying ‘no’ when needed, accepting the help of others, and perhaps most importantly, self-care – looking after my own physical and mental fitness and building strength and resilience in both. This was the start of my first lifelong mantra – LOOK WITHIN.
“Now I’m going to take you to 2001 (still most of you were not born then either!). After university I became a Personal and Executive Assistant for wealthy, high profile families (including / well known TV presenters and business leaders) eventually becoming a Chief of Staff. This was like being the CEO of a company, where I had to oversee all aspects of my clients’ life, and manage those who worked for them, including those charged with their security. Little did I know at that time, the huge change that was on the horizon. I had the opportunity to do some training which for me, was transformational. It culminated in 2013 with undertaking my Close Protection license training – Bodyguarding to you and me. It also started me on a journey of personal development and lifelong learning, something I truly believe is key to being able to embrace change with enthusiasm and positivity.
“If you’d said to me, sat where you are sat now, that I would have spent last 10 years working as a female bodyguard, set up my own international business, employ people, challenge the norm in an industry that is seen as stereotypically male, deliver a Ted talk about female bodyguards in a man’s world, and become a Chartered Security Professional, as well as progress through the ranks of my industry Livery company to become a Liveryman of the City of London, I would have laughed at you. And I would have laughed too at the fact that the honour of being a Liveryman also allows me the ancient privilege of being able to drive sheep across Tower Bridge!
“What is the part of my life mantra that ties this all together? It is the LOOK BEYOND part. Never stop learning – it is what will bring surprise, success, and joy to your life. And few of us might know what that direction will be. As an 18-year-old I had little idea what I was going to ‘do when I grow up’ going other than from studying French at Uni… and that’s fine too. My advice – just don’t stop LOOKING BEYOND to open yourself up to learning opportunities as they come along.
“And this brings me to the third and final part of my mantra – LOOK AROUND and a more recent experience of embracing change – one enforced upon all of us, one way and another, by the Covid pandemic. So, imagine me, in January 2020 with business booming. I had a beautifully written 5-year business plan that saw international expansion and a huge contract that would take us to the next level as a business. Well, I don’t need to tell you what happened next. With a world suddenly locking down and a contract pulled, I had to draw on all my resources.
“What did this teach me? The power of looking around. Like everyone else, I had no clue what lay ahead when the government restrictions kicked in. I had to look after my team, myself, and my family, without any idea of what I was really doing. After doing some of the usual things like baking banana bread and doing an online family quiz (which I won!), I sat down at the end of March 2020, at my newly christened ‘home working station’, and thought, ‘the one thing that’s still out there are all the people I know and work with’.
“So, I sent an email to every single person in my immediate professional network with two simple questions – ‘how are you? and how can I help you?’. This not only served to start conversations that I will never forget, share highs and lows with my team, and work relentlessly to provide support to our clients, it also enabled me to rework my 5 year business plan more logically, to explore new ventures, and even more exciting opportunities.
“One of the few certainties in life is that Change is inevitable. So go out there and embrace it with open arms. And remember when change leaves you feeling unsettled or overwhelmed, LOOK WITHIN yourselves prioritizing mental and physical fitness , LOOK BEYOND your current situation and grasp those opportunities to learn and grow and LOOK AROUND to find friends, family and colleagues who will support you on your journey.”