CEO Spotlight: Nicky Goulder, Create

What’s Create all about?

Founded in 2003, Create is the UK’s leading charity empowering lives, reducing isolation and enhancing wellbeing through the creative arts. Through individually designed projects delivered by our professional artists, we connect, empower, inspire, and upskill children and adults who face challenges in their lives. Our work raises their aspirations, reduces isolation and enhances wellbeing. Our participants include young and adult carers, disabled people, refugees, people with mental ill health, prisoners, and older adults with dementia.

Why is the work you do important?

Create’s work has never been more important. The Covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the degree and impact of social isolation. Our creative arts projects bring people together in a safe, warm space to build new relationships, skills and confidence. 

By working with our professional artists, our participants learn and demonstrate artistic skills, create beautiful and powerful artwork, and find ways to think outside the box. Creativity allows self-expression, blocks out stress and anxiety, builds up self-esteem and inner strength, and provides headspace. The World Economic Forum rates creativity as one of the top three skills for business, meaning that our projects develop skills for work as well as for life.

The passion, commitment and creativity of an incredible team of staff, trustees and artists – supported by dedicated stakeholders – has so far enabled us to empower more than 43,000 participants; and we were recognised by Charity Times as Charity of the Year in 2020. 

How did you get to where you are today?

The journey with Create began with a chance meeting with a professor, which led me to go to university aged 23. The thesis on arts sponsorship I wrote in my final year led to my first fundraising job at an orchestra in Manchester, which in turn helped me become CEO of an orchestra in London. Then, in 2002, I had a vision that led me to start Create a year later. 

Balancing my day job with voluntary roles has helped me develop new skills and feel more rounded. These are currently: Trustee of Wales Millennium Centre (since 2018) and MYTIME Young Carers (since 2021), and Childline counsellor (since 2021).

Looking back, I recognise that I have stepped into the dark several times, that my glass has been half full, that I have drawn on my creativity, passion, resilience and drive, and that hard work has underpinned everything. I am inspired to get out of bed every day by the incredible participants we work with and the impact that we deliver.

What are your top three values and how do they influence the way you lead? 

Six core values shape everything we do at Create. As the charity’s founder, they are key to the way I lead the organisation, and live my life. So how to choose just three…?!

  1. Value the individual – recognising and nurturing each individual’s unique talents.
  2. Passion – being passionate in our motivations and performance.
  3. Excellence – seeking to attain the highest standards in all activities.

What is the biggest lesson you have learnt on your leadership journey?

The importance of team and the impact of delegation. Leading a team of dedicated professionals who are trusted to fulfil their role to the best of their ability leads to an inspiring, happy working environment. This allows everyone to grow, develop and learn from mistakes as well as successes. 

What leadership development do you think you and your staff need most right now?

With the climate crisis arguably the most significant global challenge over the next decade and beyond, nine of our leadership team and professional artists completed Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership training in 2021. We have since been embedding the learning into Create’s organisational practices and two new programmes for participants. We have also provided training for our artists and Trustees to ensure this underpins our work.

Staff wellbeing is also crucial. During lockdown we provided wellbeing training for our team and artists. Our project team is about to receive Active Listening training to support our debrief process, helping to provide emotional support to the staff and artists who deliver our work on the frontline. Listening and responding to the needs of our people is crucial.

A charity like Create can only truly flourish if diversity, equity and inclusion are at its core. We are privileged to work with a wide range of participants, and we want our people to reflect that diversity. We have just appointed a trustee with passion and expertise in this area. And we have set up a Youth Council to place young people’s voices at the heart of the charity. Listening to, and learning from those with lived experience is crucial.

One piece of advice you wished you’d received 10 years ago?

With the right guidelines in place, hybrid working can lead to a happier, more productive workplace. Since Covid-19, a blend of home and office working is now the norm for so many. This way of working supports a better work-life balance, reduced travel costs and environmental impact, and enhanced wellbeing for many. 

One piece of content you’d recommend

My roles at Create, Childline and as a trustee are broad and fascinating, and I often find myself needing to know – and understand – more about complex issues. Louis Theroux’s frank and revealing documentaries are insightful, shocking, informative and compelling. I admire his honesty, integrity and ability not to shy away from difficult questions.

How can we support the next generation to develop into leaders of the future?

At Create, we mentor, train and coach our people to enable them to thrive. We have an open culture. We encourage all members of our team to use their creativity, contribute ideas and make their role their own. I am particularly proud of Nurturing Talent, the part-time, year-long programme that we developed in 2016. Each year we support six emerging artists to become workshop leaders through training, mentoring, networking and working as supporting artists to our professional artist facilitators. 

Want to stay up-to-date with Create? Follow them on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. And connect with Nicky on LinkedIn.

Related resources


How to create a vision board


Check out this inspiring podcast on Happiness from Dr Laurie Santos


Have you ever thought about what you are bringing to work?