Iona Ledwidge shares how her passion to help others led her to become a coach for Christian charity Resurgo
I was born in Guildford and, after my parents split up when I was little, my mum, sister and I moved to Salisbury. I grew up going to church at Christmas and Easter; I was the angel Gabriel in our nativity and remember diligently learning the line “good news I bring you of great joy”. I prayed but had no sense that God could talk to me, and grew up focused on the world’s treasures, rather than heavenly ones.
I got a scholarship to a private school (we were the poor kids because we didn’t go skiing every year!) and left there in 1998 to go to Nottingham University to study English, with a plan to go into acting or become a fashion journalist. I was desperate to leave home, discover the world and make new friends.
Finding faith – and a calling
I became a Christian at university, which turned my world upside down. I had a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit at Trent Vineyard church; I had never experienced so much love before. I had taken myself there after visiting my sister’s church, St Aldates, in Oxford when I was 17 and feeling pulled in, convinced the woman speaking was talking directly to me about my life. I remember thinking: “How does she know me?’”
I love seeing people grapple with challenges and come through it with the support and effective partnership of a coach
Then when I was 19, I broke up with a guy and my mum said she had met all her best boyfriends through the Christian Union so suggested perhaps I should go there! My previous experience at my sister’s church struck me again in that moment, and I thought that they might know a similar church. They did, and so a student took me to Trent Vineyard.
After meeting Jesus, I felt drawn to working with street children in Brazil, inspired by Sarah da Carvalho’s book The Street Children of Brazil. I recall watching a video on the poverty in Sao Paulo, and ended up working in Brazil for a summer.
When I returned to the UK, I felt stirred to work with young people here – poverty may look very different in this country, but it still impacts people’s lives dramatically.
It was only when I hit my late 20s (after a stint at drama school and a brief foray into acting) that I found my way into counselling and then coaching, working at Resurgo in London.
Resurgo is a Christian charity with a vision to inspire and equip organisations to deliver ambitious and sustainable social change. What that means in practice is that we partner with churches and businesses to help them think about how they can affect change in the world. For a church, this could look like exploring how they can have focus and effectiveness in their social mission locally.
Coaching is a way of working with an individual or a group of people to help them reach their potential. Through being genuinely curious, asking questions and leaving space for the client to uncover more of their reality and vision for the future, as well as to explore their fears, a coach will raise their self-awareness and help empower them to move forward.
Resurgo’s key employment programme is the Spear Programme, working with young people facing all kinds of barriers to employment – from a criminal record to dropping out of school. I recall working with a 19-year-old guy called Sam whose parents were both addicts – his dad died when he was young, his mum was looking after him and he often wouldn’t have hot water to wash. Working with Sam and coaching him to find work was a real privilege; he got his first ever job at Waitrose and went on to be a team leader.
I love it when people have the time and space to really think for themselves – so often we are quick to resolve other people’s problems, but we really have no idea! It is great to watch people grapple with challenges and come through them with the support and effective partnership of a coach.
I also really enjoy investing in others to help them grow and develop in their coaching, so I have mentored my team through the International Coach Foundation (ICF) accreditation process and many of them are now accredited associate certified coaches.
When I first joined Resurgo in 2008, we had one Spear centre working with young people in Hammersmith. I was in a prayer meeting and had a picture of sparks going out from there all across London.
After that we grew quickly and I went from being a coach on the ground to overseeing the expansion of the Spear Programme. We now have a team of around 40 coaches and twelve centres across the UK, with a 13th due to launch later this year.
To date, over 75 per cent of the young people we’ve worked with have found work and are still there a year later. God had gone ahead of us and spoken about our growth so we could get ready for it.
We also found that other charities and businesses started coming to us to ask about our team culture – how we used coaching to create a strong sense of culture internally. We started offering to run culture programmes for them, and Resurgo Consulting was born.
This is a coaching consultancy leveraging our coaching expertise to support organisations to build a culture where they can give feedback, build trust and deal with conflict effectively. We want to influence workplaces so that their cultures are transformed and people enjoy going to work! The great thing about our business arm is that all the profits we generate go directly to supporting the charity.
God had gone ahead of us and spoken about our growth so we could get ready for it!
When the pandemic hit, I remember being worried that our church partners wouldn’t survive financially and we would have to close many of our Spear centres. When we spoke to other organisations about moving the Spear Programme online, they told us it was impossible as we would never be able to engage young people we didn’t already have relationship with and get them to do an online programme.
But by the grace of God, and with a lot of prayer, we created and piloted three online programmes and brought our team back from furlough to deliver the programme in September 2020.
Our programmes were full and many young people got into work through that time. The success of the online Spear Programme inspired us to develop another online employment programme: Re-Work, for adults facing unemployment as a result of COVID. We have now adapted this to work with Ukrainian refugees as they navigate finding work in a new country; it has been incredible to see the impact this has had on them.
Throughout this journey, I have experienced moments of imposter syndrome; times of self-doubt during which I have wondered: “Am I good enough? Do I really know what I’m doing?” This has happened particularly as I have grown into leadership within the organisation. It’s easy to look back and think that I am still the inexperienced woman I was when I joined Resurgo in my 20s. But God has been so kind and he is my greatest champion.
For more information about Resurgo visit: resurgo.org.uk