It was a surprisingly sunny day in Manchester and as I arrived at the modern offices of Albert Kennedy Trust’s northern outpost, I surprised Darren Batey putting his shoes back on after catching some lunch-time rays in the office’s roof-top garden.
The Albert Kennedy Trust (AKT) is a UK charity that supports young LGBT 16 to 25 year olds who are made homeless or living in a hostile environment.
Young and infectiously enthusiastic, Batey has been working with AKT for just over a year.
After developing a taste for student politics during his university years in Liverpool, Batey then moved to Loughborough to take up the role of volunteer development coordinator for Loughborough University Student Union - a position he held for three years.
Although originally from the stunning but rural Lake District, Batey found life in the small university town of Loughborough a bit socially limiting: ‘There wasn’t really much of a gay scene - any guys I met were living fairly closeted lives which wasn’t what I was looking for.
‘After three years I’d had enough, it was New Year’s Eve when I made some resolutions and decided to hand in my notice. Soon after I moved to Manchester with £800 ($1,250 €1,000) in my pocket - thankfully I soon landed the job at AKT.’
Like many, Batey found the move to a new city a bit of a challenge at first.
‘It took me a little while to find my feet, and my way around. Over time I’ve made some amazing friends and I’m now feeling much happier and loving Manchester. Even though it rains a lot it is an amazing city.’
Batey initially joined AKT as the fundraising and communications officer for the trust’s operations in Manchester and he is pleased with the impact that he’s been able to achieve in this role.
‘We’ve smashed it!’ exclaims Batey proudly. ‘We’ve really put AKT on the map in Manchester - with a big presence at pride; really good fundraising events; and lifting our engagement with the city.'
AKT was originally established in Manchester in 1989 and named after 16 year old Albert Kennedy who fell to his death from a Manchester car park that same year, trying to escape a gang. Batey’s appointment 12 months ago was part of a conscious push by AKT to to beef up its profile in its heartland.
‘We’ve always had a special place in the heart of the Manchester community’, explains Batey, ‘a bit like a favorite packet of biscuits. By raising our profile we’ve been able to help people rediscover the great work that the Trust is doing.’
‘I’m particularly proud of the AKT roadshow - aimed at sixth formers in schools across the region, it’s a one hour interactive session that helps schools develop local actions that they can take to address homophobia. It’s getting a great response - not just in the centre of Manchester but in smaller communities also.’
One year on and Batey’s remit has expanded to become the AKT’s national volunteer and events coordinator.
‘During my time with AKT, I was really seeing a need for national coordination of our volunteer strategy and ensuring that we delivered a positive volunteer experience.
‘As the trust only has 15 permanent staff, our volunteers are essential to our work. We currently have over 250 volunteers actively supporting the trust and our focus needs to be on how we retain and develop this core group.’
‘Our volunteers could be involved in anything from fundraising, events, marketing, administration or working with service providers. Going forward we want to get a bit smarter about identifying what activities we need volunteer support with and then matching the skills and experience of our volunteers to that.’
One of Batey’s first tasks in his new role has been to kick off a survey of AKT volunteers: ‘It’s early days, but the response so far has been fantastic and really shows how engaged our volunteers are with the organization.
'Already we’re seeing a number of trends emerge in the responses - a key area is communication which is an area that we know we can improve, as can every small, community-based organization. Bottom-line though is that everyone is totally committed to the aims and ethos of AKT so that’s definitely something we can build on.
‘Manchester Pride is also a big focus for us this year. We’re going all out - the event’s theme is science (in honor of gay scientist Alan Turing) so we really want to bring that sparkle, light and madness to the AKT float.’
One of Batey’s newer passions is competitive running. He’s recently completed the 10km Great Manchester Run - although not too happy with his time, he admits that having been out late the night before probably wasn’t the best preparation.
‘Next run is in June and then September. I’m running three times a week now - plus Zumba class, everyone should go to Zumba - you sweat but you smile a lot as well.’
Also on Batey’s horizon is the London 2012 Olympics where he will be a volunteer at the diving competition. We worked out that we nearly met at the recent Diving World Cup which was a test event for the Olympic Aquatic Centre in Stratford. As we’ll both be volunteering at the Olympics in August we’ve agreed to try and coordinate our breaks to meet up for a beer.
Engaging company, I could happily sit in the sun and kill a few hours drinking beer with Darren Batey.