International Women's Day

'I'm privileged to see the impact our charity has in Burnley'

By Mark Orlovac 4 Mar 2024
Helen Gurman, Burnley in the Community, International Women's Day

Helen Gurman on her mission to inspire change as CEO of Burnley in the Community

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To mark International Women's Day on 8 March, we have spoken to five female leaders in football to learn about their experiences and inspirations.

We start the series by hearing from Helen Gurman, who was appointed CEO of Burnley FC in the Community in January 2023.

Tell us about your background

I'm Burnley born and bred. After going to university in Newcastle, I started my career in policy development, with a focus on community cohesion, health, and equality, diversity, and inclusion.

After a career break in Malaysia, I returned to Burnley and taught A Level Politics at a local college until five years ago. It was then that an opportunity arose at Burnley in the Community.

I started my role at the charity as company secretary, and have developed through the organisation to my role as CEO. It's been a fantastic journey.

What does your job entail?

As CEO of Burnley FC in the Community, I lead the charity. With a workforce exceeding 100 full-time and part-time staff, our primary objective is harnessing the power of football to drive positive change in the local community.

The charity's efforts are channelled into three key areas: football, sport and education; welfare and inclusion and community facilities. Our diverse programmes cover a wide range of issues including mental health, youth violence, cancer rehabilitation, food poverty and numerous others.

We also run three facilities, a foodbank, an outdoor education venue that allows young people to get their first experience of staying away from home, and a leisure centre. Part of my role is to oversee all these programmes and facilities and ensure we are supporting our community in the best way we can.

Burnley in the Community, Limitless Clarets Disability Project

A large percentage of the participants we work with are avid Burnley FC fans. It is through the power of the badge that we make a significant impact in the community. Appearances from the players can make the day, week, and even the year of our participants, providing them with memories they will never forget.

I work really closely with the club and we're lucky to have such a strong relationship with them. We meet them regularly; we have joint initiatives, and a big part of my role is working with the club and keeping that relationship.

Why did you want to do this role? 

All the stars aligned in terms of my passion of making a difference and trying to have that impact to make Burnley a great place for local people. It's fantastic that this role allows me to combine the two.

Why is this role important to you? 

This role is so important to me because I see every day how significant the change can be. Our key aims are to raise aspirations, to help people live healthy lives and to create a level playing field. If you do those three things, the change can be huge. If aspirations are raised, that continues to trickle down the generations.

One example of this is our youth crime reduction programme. We have a member of staff who works in the custody suite at a police station and when a young person has their first brush with the law, she works with them on a one-to-one basis.

Of all the young people she's worked with in the last year, not one of them has come back into contact with the police. The intervention changes that young person's life. It changes their family's life. It's really powerful that football can have this positive impact.

How do you feel being at the heart of that?

I feel immensely privileged. I feel very lucky to have this role and that I'm able see the impact the charity has. I think we've all had jobs where you have that Sunday night dread, I definitely don't have that.

Who were your inspirations?

My family have been a significant inspiration to me. My parents moved abroad when it wasn't really a thing in Burnley. My dad was the first person in his family to go to university and my parents moved to Kenya when my mum hadn't even been on a plane before.

They inspired me to go out there and try new things, and to challenge myself. My family have also been the cheerleaders to tell me that I can achieve.

Burnley in the Community, Disability Football Festival

It's also really important to have mentors. I've been lucky that I've had positive mentors right throughout my career. Now I try to pass that on to other people.

How important are female role models in football?

Female representation is absolutely crucial. I sometimes talk to young people and they ask me what I do and when I say I'm a CEO, I see a flicker in their eyes. It's good to challenge people's perceptions.

It's good for young people to see women in positions that they wouldn't necessarily assume they would hold. If you look at the women in these positions, they're doing a really good job. That's powerful.

It's about smashing those stereotypes and giving people an understanding of the roles that exist in football. 

How has the landscape changed for women in football?

Opportunities for women in football have never been greater! The women's game is growing hugely, you see huge stadiums selling out and right across football, I see women in strong positions across all levels which is really positive. There will be more and more women coming into football.

Burnley in the Community, Primary Stars and BFC Womens Players
The theme of International Women's Day 2024 is inspiring inclusion, how do you do that in your role? 

There's lots of things we do through our projects to inspire inclusion. In the next month we have our biggest Community Iftar yet, we have a Premier League Primary Stars tournament for girls, a Midnight Ramadan League and so much more.

We are trying to create a level playing field right across our programmes. When we plan an event, we ask ourselves, are we being inclusive? Are we reaching people who we might not normally reach? What are we doing to reach them?

A key strap line for us is that we're one club for all and we believe that we are the heart of the community for everybody who wants to be part of Burnley FC. 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Don't put limits on yourself and don't think that something is not for you. There's a saying, 'if not you, then who?'

l would tell my younger self to be confident, that you can walk into a room and know that you deserve to be in the position you're in, because you've worked hard and got there on merit.

Burnley in the Community is one of more than 100 club charities supported by the Premier League via the Premier League Charitable Fund to create positive sporting, health, personal and education opportunities for children, young people and the wider community.

To find out more about our work, click here.

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