Responding to COVID-19: insight, support and guidance

Introducing Christian Evans, CIPFA member and volunteer

The CIPFA South West region has recently gained a new member and volunteer, AAT and ACCA graduate Christian Evans. Read his story below.

Christian Evans ACCA CPFA – my journey

Headshot photo of Christian Evans ACCA CPFAMy journey to becoming a qualified accountant began when I moved from Swansea to Weymouth for the weekend and ended up staying! That was nearly 30 years ago. I was unable to secure a permanent job in Swansea, as unemployment levels were high at the time, so I moved to Weymouth, where I had a connection. It was difficult time for me, as I had to claim benefits for a time until I managed to secure a job.

I managed to secure a job working temporarily at a recruitment agency, then subsequently moved jobs to work for West Dorset District Council (WDDC) in the council tax, business rates and housing benefits teams. I was then offered funding for training of my choice. From that point on, I haven’t looked back.

I chose AAT, studying one day a week at Weymouth College. I really enjoyed the course; it was excellent grounding for my job and my eventual ACCA studies. I then moved to the WDDC exchequer team, followed by a move into central finance. I gained my full AAT qualification in 2001. I was asked if I would like to continue studying, which I was happy to do. I chose ACCA as an excellent all-round accountancy qualification that I could use in any industry. I studied through BPP Southampton on block release. It was a great base, but I needed to study hard outside the classes to fully understand each subject. The hard work paid off when I passed my final exams in 2006.

I remember waking up in the morning and receiving the email. I scrolled down and saw that I had passed my final exams. I didn’t react like I thought I would. It was sheer relief rather than pure elation. It took a while to sink in, but gaining my ACCA qualification is one of my most successful achievements, especially as I would not consider myself to be highly academic; however, I studied hard.

Once qualified, my progression options were limited at WDDC, so a group accountant post became available at Weymouth and Portland Borough Council (WPBC). I applied and was successful. It was a huge learning curve, as I began to manage a team too. I worked for the first time with Jason Vaughan and Julie Strange (CIPFA members). I learned a lot from them over the years.

WDDC and WPBC then became a partnership, followed by the addition of North Dorset District Council, to become the Dorset Councils Partnership (DCP) in 2016. During this period, I thought it would be best to add a few more strings to my bow, so I undertook an APM project management qualification and ILM level 5 certificate, Leadership and Management. These qualifications have also served me well as my career and experience has progressed.

The DCP then joined other Dorset councils through the local government reorganisation (LGR) process to become Dorset Council in April 2019. I became a finance service manager, business partner for the Place directorate. I certainly learned a lot through that period. It was a challenging time for everyone, but the residents of Dorset will benefit from Dorset becoming unitary.

In January 2021, I was successful in becoming a strategic finance manager, business partnering at Somerset County Council, and I have been fortunate enough to again work with section 151 officer Jason Vaughan. I had concerns about joining a new organisation during the pandemic, as everyone was working from home, and doing everything virtually would be a challenge. It worked well, with a comprehensive induction and being proactive about meeting people and working with great teams throughout the council. I am currently the financial lead for Somerset Waste Partnership and Connecting Devon and Somerset and a member of the climate change board. I also work with Sian Kenny to matrix manage the finance team, supporting four directorates – adult social care, children’s, schools and ECI/central services.

Somerset will be a single unitary authority in April 2023. We are beginning work with our district colleagues to ensure the transition to a new authority is successful. Having been through this process at Dorset, hindsight will certainly be a wonderful thing!

Moving to a new post at Somerset County Council seemed a perfect time to apply to become a CIPFA member. I have had great experiences with CIPFA in the past and have attended several very useful courses. I am very proud to say that my application was recently accepted. It sits alongside my fellow membership of ACCA and my experience in the public sector. CIPFA membership will give me further opportunities to network and continue learning.

My advice to students

Find a ‘go-to’ person – it doesn’t have to be a designated mentor, although that would be great, but someone who understands the ups and downs of studying for your chosen qualification. I still have two or three people I go to for advice and guidance.

Use close family and friends – they are excellent motivation.

Mental health and wellbeing – find a stressbuster, especially leading up to exams. I escaped by playing sport, walking or listening to music. It’s great to let off some steam and feel tired during stressful times.

Accountancy is not just about the numbers. As you progress, you tend to become a manager and a leader. Be prepared to manage and lead teams. It can be tough but also very rewarding to see people develop.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. You learn more when things go wrong than go right.

Be open to learning from anyone and be humble!