Wow, 10 years as CEO of Trust Links. Several of my first jobs were only 7 months long and then my longest role previously was at Essex County Council for 4 years. So yes, 10 years in the same role, but it is a completely different job to the one that I started at in June 2011. When I joined Trust Links the charity had been going for nearly 10 years, having established the fantastic Growing Together community garden in Westcliff in a one acre former allotment and a small carers project. There were 6 paid staff, all part-time and a deficit budget of £100,000. The small group of trustees had been having serious discussions about closing or merging with another charity, but decided to go for one last gasp with a new CEO following on from lots of short-term appointments that had not lasted.
Ten years on and we now have more than 50 staff and 120 volunteers, four main sites in addition to the St Laurence Community Orchard, more than 2,000 beneficiaries and a turnover of more than £1m per year. This is against a backdrop of 10 years of government austerity and a global pandemic, a competitive voluntary sector.
So why and how has it worked?
For me, the values are really important. A consistent focus on wellbeing, recovery, grassroots community building, listening and co-production, and environment. Before I started at Trust Links I had organized a Permaculture course at the weekends at Growing Together and the principles of Peoplecare, Earthcare, and Fairshare really resonated with me and the work of Trust Links.
Beyond all of the ‘airy fairy’ stuff, Trust Links is also a company and a business, albeit a social enterprise. As the CEO I have always had to have an eye on the money – principally making money through grants, donations and contracts, but also being frugal with the resources that we have, maximizing every penny and pound. The rule of thumb has been to not deliver anything unless it is funded, one way or another. The other eye has to be on the people – the staff, volunteers and beneficiaries. Looking out for their engagement, development, wellbeing and outcomes.
Whilst looking internally to get the structures, governance, processes and systems as refined and effective as they can be, I have continually looked outwards at potential collaborators, competitors, funders, supporters and system partners. I have been looking out for projects, services and opportunities that Trust Links could do well, responding to the needs of our community.
I could not have stayed at Trust Links for 10 years and progressed with the charity without such a fantastic team. Some have been with me from the outset and many others have joined along the way, adding value, skills and building our resilience. I am lucky too to have a supportive wife, family and network that has sustained and enhanced me. A chance to have a month off to travel with my family around the world gave me a short respite away and I have interspersed my work with various opportunities to study and learn new things.
In terms of my personal qualities I like to think that I am listening and responsive, strategic, collaborative, respect and utilize the skills and strengths of others, enabling and empowering. I will certainly challenge and push people, but hopefully not too hard. I have high standards of myself and others, continually looking and striving to grow, develop and improve.
The management and leadership of an organization is not about continual growth, but the weaving of stories, successes, challenges, and opportunities over time. I hope that through most people’s interaction with Trust Links, they will come away with a positive story to tell, a life changed and better connection with others in their community. I’m pleased and honoured to be in the position to help this happen by creating the spaces and opportunities for these interactions and changes to happen.