This interview was conducted by Kendall Spence, a current Master’s student and Student Representative at HCRI. It is the first in a series of interviews with HCRI alumni about their first career steps following graduation.
Tell me a bit about yourself
My name is Maddy Cutts. I graduated from HCRI in 2022 with a BSc International Disaster Management and Humanitarian Response with Spanish. I now work as a Serious Violence Manager for two London Local Authorities, London Borough of Richmond and London Borough of Wandsworth.
I came into my current post officially in March 2023 but I was acting up into the post from December 2022. I was fortunate enough to be in the right job at the right time to be able to end up in a managerial post less than a year out of university. However, it was also extremely difficult as for much of my job I have been covering the work of four people. Following an interview for my current post I officially moved into the post on a fixed-term contract (which is very common for the field of Serious Violence due to the way funding is split up). I feel lucky to have had managers and heads of service who believed in me and saw potential in my work and worked closely with me and mentored me to help me get the job I am in now.
Can you share a bit about your professional background and how you transitioned into your current role as a Serious Violence Manager?
Prior to graduating from university I worked in a variety of different jobs. When I was in school I worked as a babysitter and a tutor for maths and English as a foreign language. Once at university I was fortunate enough to work as a Student Ambassador and eventually a Lead Student Ambassador. Alongside those paid opportunities I also volunteered in a local hospice in the kitchen once a week (until COVID) and following the pandemic I volunteering fortnightly at a women’s shelter kitchen cooking meals.
Upon graduating I started work at Richmond and Wandsworth Council as a Serious Violence Community Coordinator. My initial role was actually part time at the beginning and because of this I also worked a second job as a care professional for an at home care company for elderly people.
Initially I had not thought I would end up working for a local authority. As I go into detail in the next section, before starting university I was certain I wanted to work for a large Non-Profit or global organisation like the UN or WHO. However, due to the difficulties and challenges of finding a job, including many interviews with rejections, I ended up taking this job as it sounded interesting. My first job out of university as a Serious Violence Community Coordinator, was low paying and did not require me to have a degree. However, the post allowed me to do what I was passionate about and that was helping people, uplifting community voices and building the capacity of grassroots organisations working around Serious Violence.
The general area of community safety, where my job is situated within the Local Authority, is not something which I was aware of prior to getting my job. It is a dynamic area which looks at the local picture of Violence, Exploitation, Hate Crime, Terrorism, Violence Against Women and Girls, Domestic Abuse, Extremism, and Anti-Social Behaviour. This has been a very dynamic and interesting area to work in and pulls together many of my interests, so while it was not what I had initially envisioned I am grateful it is where I have ended up.
How did your degree in IDM shape your career trajectory?
As mentioned previously, before I started my degree I thought I wanted to work for a major global non-profit or organisation. Throughout the IDMHR degree, I was able to recognise the importance of the local and personal work which can be done right on our doorstep. It made me recognise that maybe I wasn’t best placed to help those in other countries but rather help those on my own doorstep.
My dissertation topic looked at public discourse around immigration and the government’s use of specific language to normalise the discrimination of immigrants. While it may not seem directly linked, my initial job application at the council I now work for was working with the Afghani refugee population and ensuring they were settling into the areas in which they had been placed in the boroughs. I ended up being rejected for that job, however was recommended to look at the community safety team as an option due to the similar skill set required.
I still have a major interest in my dissertation topic and also in conflict analysis and management. While the work I do does not look at global conflict it definitely looks at local conflict and I have been able to apply my analytical and critical thinking skills to the local conflict picture, mapping gang dynamics, key nominals in the borough and piecing together how the structure of different systems fits together in the Richmond and Wandsworth landscape.
I have also been able to continue the development of my knowledge in the counter terrorism and extremism area as part of my professional development as I have always found this area fascinating. Additionally, I have been able to work closely in the realm of reducing re-offending, including working closely with the prison and probation service to see how we can better manage offenders to hopefully lower the re-offending rate.
I think in the end my IDMHR degree definitely led me to the role I am in now, even if in an indirect way. I have strategic oversight and work in problem solving on almost a daily basis, using broader knowledge of the global on the local scale. Additionally, I came to realise during the degree and even more so during my work since that the local is so unbelievably important in the success of a population and without local intervention nothing would work at its full potential.
What were the biggest challenges or obstacles you faced entering the job market after graduation? How did you overcome them?
I found it difficult entering the job market as 2022 was the year where many people who graduated in COVID were still trying to get jobs and there weren’t that many posts in the job market due to the funding cuts that many companies and organisations were carrying out.
Additional to this, I knew I didn’t want to work in a corporate environment, while I knew in my first job I wouldn’t get the luxury of having everything I could want in a job that was one thing I was not willing to back down on. This meant that the pool of jobs got even smaller and the public sector is always competitive.
Despite this, I think that perseverance helped me a lot and being open to a variety of jobs, not just the ones I thought I wanted. I ended up getting through the initial application stage in over 20 jobs and was only offered 2 in the end. From there the biggest decision for me was what did I want my work environment to look like and which team I thought I would be able to fit into best.
What steps did you take to enhance your employability and how did they contribute to your career development? I noticed that you did a lot of volunteering, received the Stellify award, and did an internship- were these useful in applications, cover letters, interviews etc.?
I completed the Stellify award and also did an internship as part of my Spanish minor. I think these things certainly enhanced my job applications and gave me tangible examples of challenges I had faced in a workplace environment.
From my experience, and as a hiring manager now myself, I would say that the focus is not so much on the award but what was achieved, taken away or gained from the experience of volunteering. For me it allowed me to engage with vulnerable people, provide evidence that I could deal with high tension situations and disclosures, and that I was able to demonstrate empathy around people who were going through difficult situations.
My internship at IKEA solidified for me that I did not want to work in the corporate sector. While I enjoyed my work at IKEA, and am still furnishing most of my house with their furniture, I realised it was ultimately not a rewarding enough job for me and that became a priority in my job search. However, working in a foreign country, where I was not a native speaker, in a corporate setting, shortly following the pandemic, allowed me to gain lots of experiences which I later referenced in a number of interviews, including the one which allowed me to get to my Serious Violence Manager position today.
How did you come across your first ‘grad’ job? What did you learn from the application and interview process?
I can’t remember exactly where I found my first job in particular, I believe it was through the council website directly. However, most of my job search was on Indeed and LinkedIn, constantly checking for new job postings and applying to as many jobs as I found interesting.
I definitely had to apply for a lot of jobs, as mentioned before. I think this is in part because I started my job search early (around May 2022) and so was unable to start in any position straight away. I also think sometimes it is just about which job comes at which time, if the first job I had had come up earlier I would’ve had to apply to less jobs.
Can you describe a typical day or week in your role as a Serious Violence Manager?
My role as Serious Violence Manager varies day to day and week on week but there are some things that remain constant. The role itself is demanding and requires a lot of time behind a desk and computer, however I quite enjoy my office environment when I do go in so that’s not too much of a bother.
I try to check in with my staff every couple of days (at the moment I manage two agency staff, but will soon be managing 3 members of staff) to make sure they are on track and if they need anything. I usually then spend the first couple of hours of my day answering emails, whether that’s from the Met Police or any of our other partners such as Social Care, Public Health, Housing etc. I also start every day by going through overnight crime reports provided by police, these include any crimes which have taken place over the last 24 hours and I check for any Grievous Bodily Harm crimes etc. as those are what relate to my area of work.
Following my initial tasks I sometimes have team meetings with the other managers or my own team. Or I will have multi-agency meetings or risk briefings, this usually involves the review of highest risk cases related to Vulnerability and Exploitation (usually young people 0-25 who are at risk of or experiencing county lines, gangs, drug dealing, criminal exploitation or sexual exploitation). I chair some of these panels and will prep accordingly by reviewing the cases and ensuring I understand the moving parts to either identify any blockages in safeguarding or see if there is any additional work that can be done around cases. I also attend other meetings which are sometimes check-in meetings with the commissioned services that I contract manage such as our outreach in prison work. Other meetings include panels about specific cases, location based meetings to consider the risk that a specific location poses to a group of specific people, strategic meetings, finances meetings, grant meetings and budget planning meetings. (These don’t always happen but will pop up about monthly). I also meet with Councillors and other political representatives who oversee our work and we support with any initiatives they wish to carry out as part of their political work, however I am neutral in my role and not dependent on which party is in power.
Additional to the meetings I attend I am the strategic lead for Violence in both Richmond and Wandsworth. Essentially that means I am the port of call for all partners in relation to the response to violence, whether that is prevention, reduction or response to violence. I am currently working on our strategic delivery plan which outlines the intended steps for violence reduction, prevention and response in both boroughs. I am also currently leading on a needs assessment which is an analysis of the data relating to violence and exploitation which will allow a better understanding of what needs are being met in the borough and what gaps we need to consider filling going forward.
Aside from all of this, I also am the lead to respond to Critical Incidents. A Critical Incident is an incident which results in either life threatening or life changing injury, or death. If a critical incident is not a domestic incident, as this would go to my colleagues in Domestic Abuse and Violence Against Women and Girls, it is up to me to pull together a response and ensure all relevant organisations are drawn together to coordinate response to an incident following the initial emergency service response. Sometimes critical incidents result in funeral and memorial planning, safeguarding, liaising with bereaved family members, working with Children’s services to ensure young people are protected and mitigating any fall out from an incident (particularly if it involves a gang)
My days are very busy and while I spend most at the office or working from home I also get to go on occasional site visits, either with the police or to visit community organisations to see where the funding is being spent and assist in providing any guidance or expertise around Serious violence.
What skills are crucial for professionals in your field?
Key skills for this role would be:
- Organisation – it is essential to be good at time management and keeping track of all tasks which are happening
- Emotional Intelligence and Empathy – sometimes the work done across the Community Safety team involves dealing with people who are emotionally distraught or sometimes frustrated with the actions of the council or other public services. To interact in an effective and productive way requires a level of empathy and emotional intelligence.
- Critical Thinking/Problem Solving Skills – the roles within the community safety service, and particularly the serious violence team require creative thinking and an ability to solve problems, sometimes quickly. Those problems also involve a wide variety of people with different aims and objectives and it is about thinking about a solution or providing a way in which a middle ground can be found.
- Knowledge – this is broad in the sense it doesn’t always have to be specific to the areas of work covered in the team, but rather a thirst for learning new things and some understanding of the possible dynamics or issues which could be at play.
- Adaptability – The area of work is always changing as are the people we work with, this requires a level of adaptability and quick thinking.
What is most challenging about your role and what is most rewarding?
The hardest part of my role is the amount of work that can sometimes be happening at once. Sometimes it gets overwhelming dealing with so many things at once. Additionally it can be difficult at times if I spend too much time thinking deeply about the content of my work, it involves recognising that work stays at work and home life is separate otherwise it can become overwhelming.
There are many rewarding aspects to my job. I love being able to engage with the community and provide them with the resources and capacity to carry out what they are doing. I have also been fortunate enough to meet some of the young people that have been dealt with at high risk panels (like the one mentioned earlier) who have come out the other side and are actively engaging in trying to move away from whatever behaviour or exploitation they were unfortunately previously involved in. To meet someone who has been at such a low point in their life, many at a very young age, and to see how much passion and drive they still have is incredible.
I also love working with my team. We are a diverse group of individuals truly covering all walks of life, some university educated some not, ex-police officers, retired police, some who have worked for the council for decades and some only a few years. It provides a dynamic work environment that never gets boring to be in.
What advice would you give to current HCRI students looking to enter the job market?
My advice would be to be proactive in your job search but to remember not to be too hard on yourself. The right job will come your way eventually, but sometimes it takes some time to get there. As I outlined in my introduction I ended up in the job I am in now in part by chance, and I never would’ve guessed 1 year ago that this is where I would end up and that I would enjoy it.
I would also say ask questions, ask your lecturers, other students, careers supervisors and alumni what their experience has been and if they know of any opportunities as you never know what jobs might be just round the corner.
On that note please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me if you have any further questions about my career experience or my experience at HCRI!
For more on HCRI’s alumni, visit: https://www.hcri.manchester.ac.uk/study/alumni/