The catalyst for Anna Webster’s career in the charity sector was a talk from a member of Lancaster University’s career staff in her second year.
This talk urged any student not already part of a club or society to go out and join one that day to make themselves attractive to potential employers.
Webster is now working as part of a fundraising team at CancerCare - a charity providing emotional support to families affected by cancer in North Lancashire and South Lakeland - but she remembers the day clearly and how she and her friend went straight from the meeting to join the university Rag charity fundraising team.
She went on to have the chance to become part of the Rag executive, took a post as a Charity Contact Officer and a lead role in organising Rag Week. 'I got such a buzz from it all that I decided that I wanted to do it full time as a career' she remembers. This all came out of taking part in the Lancaster Award - linked to the University Careers Service - which is designed to develop employability skills among its students whilst they study.
The Careers Service suggested she apply for the University’s Alumni Friends Programme, which provided her first professional fundraising experience (whilst still a student) working two evenings a week ringing alumni to persuade them to donate to towards medical research and the student hardship funds in addition to pursuing her academic studies. 'It taught me the scope of charity work and instilled a real sense of responsibility,' she says. 'We raised £100,000 in my part of the campaign. That really shaped my thoughts about my career.'
Brought up and educated in Lancaster, Webster had come to Lancaster to study English, having left a fashion course at University of Central Lancashire, because she missed academic study. She was familiar with the Lancaster campus from visits as a child, but was attracted to study there because of its academic reputation, the welcome she had on an open day visit, but most of all because it allowed her to live at home - for financial reasons, but also to be on hand to see her brother’s children grow up.
Academically she thrived, particularly enjoying her studies in English Language. 'The lecturers were very engaging, they were published and respected in their field. To be finding their names cropping up in references of works we were reading, was very inspiring.'
Seminars were an adventure in knowledge, with students asked for their input rather than finding themselves being lectured at from a PowerPoint presentation. Says Webster: “It was good to be involved in the discovery of the subject.”
She worked hard and came out with a First Class degree and had also enjoyed a good social life alongside her studies through her Rag involvement and singing with the university choir. Having arrived as a shy student lacking in confidence, she graduated with a knowledge that she had a great deal to offer the world of work.
In the absence of any job offers and keen to stay local, she applied for jobs in shops and restaurants to keep her in the area and then found volunteering positions in the charity sector - starting with Oxfam where she organised the Oxjam fundraising Festival. She also volunteered with CancerCare for six months, so was on the spot when her dream job with the charity came up in fundraising. 'Volunteering is a really good thing,” says Webster. “It gives you experience, even if it is not quite in the field you ultimately want to go into.'
She is proud of making her way on her chosen career path and believes she owes a great deal to Lancaster University for making her more self aware and confident of her own capabilities. She says: 'It gave me the chance to try things out and to discover my real passions.'