Collingwood Learning is a truly international family. It’s not solely the six-strong team at our Yorkshire HQ who bring our projects to life – quite literally – but a whole network of actors and freelance theatre teams, too.

To give you an insight into the talent behind each scene, we want to introduce you to a different member of the family each month. This time, we’re finding out more about Katy May, International Projects Manager and backwards talking runner!

Name: Katy May

Role: International Projects Manager

Start month and year: October 2017

Tell us a little bit about what you do with Collingwood Learning

My role is to support the international roll-out of The Smashed Project, which is Collingwood’s global underage drinking educational theatre programme. Essentially, my job is to set up new projects and to support and report on existing Smashed programmes around the world. This year we’ve had 25 different countries delivering Smashed all around the world so, as you can imagine, there are a lot of systems and spreadsheets involved!

What does a typical day look like for you?

Because we’re working with partners in so many different time zones there’s often emails coming in overnight from the East so I’ll usually concentrate on supporting our projects across Asia Pacific first thing. As other countries start to come online my focus will move to our programmes in Europe, Africa and the Americas later on. Tasks vary widely from day to day; sometimes I’ll be busy researching new regions or sending our information on the programme. Other days I might be interviewing potential partners via video conferencing or holding virtual meetings with sponsors around the world. And then I might put time aside later on to work on preparing evaluation reports for our live programmes or pulling together global statistics on what the programme has achieved during the last quarter.

Things have been a bit different recently as a lot of our current projects have been put on hold due to Covid 19 but we’re still very busy planning projects for next academic year and we’re also taking this time to refresh the branding of Smashed and develop a new online learning version of Smashed for the new year too. To sum up, no two days are ever the same but this is what keeps the role interesting!

What’s the best part of your job?

It’s incredibly rewarding finding new partners to work with as new countries come on board with the programme and to be in contact with people, on a daily basis, from quite literally all over the world. We’re all connected by a love of theatre and by the power of theatre to educate and transform young people and I find that both humbling and inspiring, in equal measure!

Has there been a standout Collingwood moment for you thus far?

I always find it incredibly rewarding seeing the first photos and video footage coming in of a new project in a new country. On a more personal level, I really enjoyed flying over to Milan last year to set up The Smashed Project in Italy for the first time!

Which one word do you think your colleagues would use to describe you?

I enjoy building relationships and I think I’m usually pretty good at connecting with people but I think my colleagues would probably say ‘efficient’ or perhaps, where occasion calls for it, ‘diplomatic!’

What or who would be your dream project / storyline / sponsor?

I’m currently reading a book with my ten year old son called ‘You Are Awesome’ by Matthew Syed; it’s a book aimed to encourage self-belief and a positive growth mindset amongst young people and its inspired lots of conversations in our home about the different ways in which we can perceive ourselves and how we can ‘talk to ourselves’ in both positive and negative ways.

So I think my dream project would definitely be something designed to support the mental (and physical) health of young people. Suicide rates among young people are at an all-time high (the rate among girls aged 15-19 hit a record high last year) and it’s absolutely tragic to think that any young person could genuinely believe they have nothing to live for. Of course, these examples are thankfully still quite rare but I think they highlight the growing challenges more and more young people are facing in terms of their own perception of ‘being good enough’ and believing in their own self-worth and what they can contribute to the world.

What’s really exciting is that Collingwood are currently developing a new e-learning platform in line with the introduction of statutory PSHE in schools in September this year which will look at addressing some of these issues in a powerful and engaging way.

Plus, on a lighter note, after four months of juggling work and home schooling, I’m all for anything that doesn’t involve multiplying fractions or fronted adverbials!

And what word do you think best describes Collingwood?


If one of your colleagues could win an award (industry or office-related) who would it be and why?

I think it would have to be our MD, Chris Simes, as he is genuinely a brilliant person to work for! He is a natural leader, inspiring and challenging in equal measure but he is great fun to be with and he works very collaboratively with us, very much trusting us to get the job done in the best way we see fit. What would the title of the award be? An all-round good egg!

You’re in an industry that tackles a myriad of social issues, but what’s the biggest challenge facing young people in the UK at the moment?

From a young person’s perspective, I think the biggest challenge for young people today is definitely related to finding their place in the world and establishing their own sense of self. Most young people seem to be continually managing this perceived need ‘to be good enough,’ whether that manifests as pressure to look good, pressure to be seen with the ‘right’ brands or the latest gadgets, or a more general pressure to be seen to be living a ‘successful life’. From a parent’s perspective, I think we also face a lot of challenges working out how best to support our children in navigating this rapidly changing world, when we can often be struggling to keep up with the pace of change ourselves!

When you’re not at work, how do you like to spend your free time?

I took up running last year and my new favourite thing is running over the moors at night to blast the cobwebs away – we run over the moors with head torches and must look quite a sight to the odd car or lone dog walker we meet! During lockdown I’ve also been growing vegetables for the very first time and I don’t know why I left it so long – the joy of discovering your first tomatoes and strawberries growing on plants you grew from seed is quite something!

Tell us something that people wouldn’t know when they first meet you (interesting fact / hidden talent etc.)

I seem to have a natural talent for speaking backwards which I discovered when I was ten – and I can speak backwards in two ways – either as words are spelt or as they sound phonetically. I haven’t found a way to make a living out of this yet but it can be a useful party trick and icebreaker!