Katie Thiselton has spent a lifetime fighting to give young people a voice, 15 years of which were with us. It is with great sadness that Headliners says goodbye to its Head of Delivery, whilst wishing her the very best of luck on her next career move.

To celebrate Katie and all she ever did for us and those before us, we, the young people of Headliners, gathered our minds and asked her to give us an interview. Together we looked back on her achievements while she took a trip down memory lane, and wished her a safe journey into a new adventure.



Milo: How has Headliners changed you as a person?

Katie: It’s quite hard to say actually because I’ve been with Headliners since October 2005, so that’s nearly 16 years. Through that time, I’ve personally changed; I got married, I had two children, I grew quite a bit and did more adulting than ever before. But Headliners has been with me through that entire time. I’ve learnt such a huge number of things. I’ve had four roles in Headliners – I started off as a Training Officer working with peer leaders. Then I was Head of Programmes, then I was Head of New Development, and now I’m Head of Delivery. So, in each of these roles I’ve had to take on different responsibilities. I’ve worked in Northern Ireland, up in the North-East, in Leeds and Bradford, in Birmingham, and all across London. I’ve met so many people as well. It’s difficult to say how it has changed me but I know it significantly has, both professionally and personally. I’ve grown up quite a bit I guess.

Milo: What made you join Headliners?

Katie: Just before I joined Headliners, I was working in the Philippines with young people who had been displaced by conflict; and prior to that I had been working with young people in China and in America who had very low income and a variety of other barriers. So I was really interested in international issues at that time, and helping people basically everywhere but in the UK. And when I came back, I started recognising how many barriers there were for young people in the country to access programmes, to have people believing in them, to be given opportunities, and so I started looking for organisations that had young people’s rights and voices at their very centre; and Headliners – or Children’s ExPress as it was called then – was one of these organisations. It was the second job I applied for when I came back and I remember walking into this very brightly painted office; it was bright red and bright yellow, with pictures of all the young people who attended the London activities. It was a kind of ‘in your face’ lively, bubbly atmosphere, and I walked in through the doors and thought “I think I could like it here.” And I did and stayed for a very long time!

Milo: You said you worked overseas before joining Headliners – tell us more about your background.

Katie: My background was in youth rights and youth participation. I had trained as an English teacher, teaching English overseas to young people who didn’t have as many opportunities as others. I did a lot of work in international rights and youth participation. At the time I thought I knew quite a lot about the world already, but I think I hadn’t quite realised how much of an impact you can have within the UK. Giving young people a voice has always been the core of what I’ve done.

Kieran: What would you say is the hardest part of your job?

Katie: I’m Head of Delivery at the moment, and that basically means that I manage the managers in each of the areas. I’m responsible for reporting to the funders all the wonderful things happening within the projects. I would say finding time to do all this can be very hard. This year in particular has been extraordinary, there’s never been a year like this – Covid has affected everything, and it has squeezed everybody’s time, slowing down the process of doing all these things they would normally want to be facilitating for the young people.

I do think that one of the hardest things about this job is also that it is quite removed from the young people. The delivery staff meet with the young people perhaps once or twice a week, while I don’t really see or hear about how the projects are going until I meet with them in turn. In all honesty, that can be quite hard because the reason we all manage to get out of bed in the morning and come to Headliners is because we want to make a difference for young people. And so, when you don’t see that very directly on a day-to-day basis, it can be quite a challenge – especially since I haven’t been able to travel to the projects as I normally would be doing because of Covid.

Kieran: Would you say you have been inspiring others in your work and if so, how?

Katie: I’d like to think I have, that people have felt supported and felt like they could then then go on to do whatever it is they want to do. I don’t try to necessarily inspire people but I try to support them enough, give them enough confidence that they can they go out and do the things they aspire to do. I’ve definitely been inspired by all members of staff and the way they’ve responded – particularly this year. They have shown a phenomenal level of resilience in carrying on and turning up every day, keeping smiling and continuing to try and create new programmes for young people. Hopefully I’ve been able to support them along the way.

Kieran: What is your proudest achievement with Headliners?

Katie: My happiest moment will have been when I was Head of Programmes and I had much more direct access to the young people – I was training peer leaders, we were going on these amazing residentials, and I got to travel all around the country. It was brilliant, we also used to have these great conferences where the staff, trustees and young people would all come together. We would have 50 people from Headliners all in the same space and we’d be talking about how the young people could get more involved in what we do. That was always inspiring, and definitely one of my happiest memories.

But the thing I’m actually most proud of… In the past few years I’ve been involved in fundraising. I definitely wasn’t a born fundraiser so I had to learn about it, and then eventually I managed to secure funding for projects that had come from ideas the young people directly had. I was the person who took the ideas, wrote the bids, had conversations with funders, and I was able to recruit people in the organisation and get them to help deliver the projects, which they are still doing now. I’m really proud of everything that’s been happening since, it’ll stick with me forever.

Josh: What particular activity/project did you enjoy the most?

Katie: I will always very fondly look at any young people I used to work with who were peer leaders. They were young people who had been with Headliners for a while, took on additional training and then would take the lead in the induction of new young people, facilitate sessions, that sort of work. And because facilitation is one of the things that I love, I really enjoyed sharing skills and seeing them grow, develop and take on responsibilities, and we also had a huge amount of fun.

Josh: What skills have you acquired during your time with Headliners?

Katie: All kinds of skills actually. I hadn’t done any fundraising prior to coming to Headliners and now I’m at the stage where I’m able to fundraise quite large amounts of money. I have gained a lot of skills around communications – how to communicate with different groups, and how to get information from them. All bodies respond differently, I won’t be talking to a funder the same way I’m talking to a member of staff or to a member of the public who wants to know about us. I’ve learnt a lot about things like strategy, business development, finance; I know much more now about co-participation, co-production, and much more about barriers that young people – and people in general – face in life, just from hearing all the different experiences. I have also gained management skills and learnt how to deal with most of the issues you can think of. I think I was quite good at falling back on my feet before, but I’m even better at it now.

Josh: How did Covid affect you personally in your work with Headliners?

Katie: Covid has affected everything that Headliners does, every way we deliver. But I think Headliners is an amazing organisation because we were able to continue throughout the pandemic. Very quickly we were online and able to work with the young people; while many other organisations, a few months in, were still floundering with that, and we already felt quite experienced by that point. It has meant that we have had to be much more creative than normal, it has meant that there have been many more time constrictions, and we have had to think about spending the money differently as well because we can’t do all the trips and excursions we normally do.

In terms of me, it’s been tough because I have two small children and there have been periods, like right now actually, where they have been home schooled; and we’ve had to take care of that as well as continue doing our own jobs. What it means really, is much longer hours and less sleep (laughs) which isn’t necessarily good for me because I like my sleep!

Kieran: What is your next career move?

Katie: I’m going to an organisation called the Sophie Hayes Foundation, and they work with women who have been freed from human trafficking. Some will be young people, but most are adults. They work mainly in Birmingham and London but they’re hoping to open branches in Northern Ireland, the North-East and other regions as well. I’ll be Director of Programmes and Innovation; I’m looking forward to working much more on the programme side of things again, and helping new projects setting up. It will be a different way of working but a lot of the actual work will probably be similar.

Kieran: A very interesting move, but also a cause very important to you?

Katie: At the moment I’ve almost purposely not read too much about it because I want to arrive with a clear mind and then absorb as much information as I can. But yes, some of the statistics are shocking, the range of people that get trafficked and how far around the world they get trafficked. There is a very high level of women who get re-trafficked as well. They would be freed but then because they are not getting access to the education or training that leads to employment, they end up trying to get work in different means, and that often leaves them more vulnerable to exploitation and they get re-trafficked. It will definitely be a very different subject and a new territory for me, but I’ll bring in all the wonderful things I’ve learnt from Headliners and so this way I won’t be starting from scratch.

Josh: And the ultimate question – would you recommend Headliners to a friend?

Katie: I absolutely would. When I leave, I will continue to be a huge fan of Headliners. There are so many things to praise – the staff are amazing; the young people are amazing. I will be very sad when I leave, but a change is always good.

This interview was conducted by Headliners Foyle members Milo Quigley, Kieran Townley and Josh McGeoghan, with questions brainstormed by the young people of Headliners Foyle and Headliners London. Thank you to Katie Thiselton for giving young people a voice and making these stories possible.