Life & Living

Judy Dow

Rachel Gilbert talks to another local inspirational woman.

Judy Dow describes an inspiring person as someone enthusiastic, sincere and genuine, amongst other qualities. She said people are radiators or drains, and an inspiring person will be able to leave their ego behind and let actions speak for themselves.

“I don’t see myself as that inspiring person. I try to inspire people to do things differently,” Judy said. “It’s about showing people what’s possible.”

However, in speaking to Judy for an hour, she perfectly embodies all of the qualities described. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and you can’t help but smile when talking to her. I walked away from our meeting energised and motivated.

Judy is Head of Philanthropy for the Norfolk Community Foundation, sourcing funding, opportunities and ideas to support local communities. The foundation gets behind the brilliantly talented people in the community to help them see what is possible and more importantly, help them achieve it. All to build stronger, more vibrant communities for everyone.

“My job is enthusing and inspiring people to get involved,” Judy said. “I speak to such inspiring people every day and that’s what keeps me focused and motivated.” 

Judy isn’t always handling funds — during the pandemic, she saw an increase of people wanting to reach out to their community in any way possible. She said any type of asset can be given to the foundation, and it will be allocated where needed – time, talent and treasure are all welcome!

For example, there was a lady who wanted to donate a vacuum cleaner to a family in need, but didn’t know where this was possible. The foundation was able to start a Facebook group, “Opportunities for Communities,” that has since facilitated many donations of all sorts.

“We want to debunk the myth that you have to be wealthy to give — during the pandemic the desire to give went up most in deprived areas – mainly people wanting to volunteer,” Judy said. “People that have the least, often want to give the most.” 

Judy brought a range of experience to her role, having worked across a number of sectors previously. She said idea sharing between sectors and communities is vital to forming support networks and opportunities. 

Previously, during the first lockdown, 25% of foundation funds were going towards providing food for the community. Recognising the need to offer more sustainable, longer-term support, Judy worked with the national organisation ‘Feeding Britain’ to bring a community supermarket idea to Norfolk. Within three months, a community shop opened in Thetford which now supports over 250 families and individuals to access quality affordable food, and at the same time provides wraparound support. This has formed part of the Nourishing Norfolk Initiative at the foundation which is spreading at speed across the county.

Building trust within the community takes time, and isn’t always a linear process. “People understand if you’re trying to build sustainable communities, it’s often a zig zag path, but remaining focussed on the shared vision will make it happen,” Judy said.

Beyond her work with the community foundation, Judy is a non-stop force of nature. She zooms around on a motorbike with her husband, loves gardening and sings with a local choir — Pop Chorus. Judy said the group is a joyous place to sing — covering artists including Lady Gaga, Stereophonics, Fleetwood Mac and Elton John.

As if she isn’t busy enough, Judy is constantly looking for more ways to help and engage with her community, volunteering for a variety of projects. She is working on a project in Suffolk to partner rescue dogs with veterans living with PTSD, and is a Governor at a Suffolk school.

Judy is also working with a new project ‘Seed of Hope’ – delivering a meaningful and educational horticultural project in prisons. She mentored a man who had been in prison for 23 years and her time spent with him completely changed her outlook on life.

“Turn your spotlight from looking at the past and look to the future, you can’t change what happened in the past,” Judy said.

With a radiant smile and unbridled enthusiasm, Judy exudes positivity. She is able to quote Desmond Tutu from memory, and always has something positive to inject into a conversation.

Judy believes in doing little acts of good wherever you are, and supporting others whenever possible. At the end of the day: “Whatever the problem is, the answer is already in the community.”

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