Charities and businesses United

Those of you who know a bit about me will know that I spent over six years working for Sheffield Wednesday, during which time I developed a real affection for the club. So it was a little strange to spend Saturday afternoon at Bramall Lane, for the Blades’ match against Millwall (strictly in a work capacity!)

SUFC’s Vice-President, Martin Ross, had invited me to the game, which they had designated as one of their six charity fixtures of the year, for Breast Cancer Care. The club had really pulled out the stops to help with the fundraising effort. Directors from SUFC and Millwall donated generously to a raffle, players’ wives had been busy baking and collecting funds, and players and fans contributed to the effort in the run-up to kick-off.

Speaking to Sarah, from Breast Cancer Care, after the game, I know she was bowled over by the support they had received from the club, and the initial indications of the amount they had raised. It all reflected very well on United and their commitment to local charities.

Over the coming months, I will be developing Age UK Sheffield’s approach to corporate and charity partnerships. My day at Bramall Lane reinforced my view that charities can’t just go out with their begging bowl to local businesses. We need to form genuine partnerships which benefit not only ourselves, but also the businesses we want to work with. Importantly, their staff must feel connected to the charity they are supporting.

At Age UK Sheffield, we are working to build independent and fulfilling lives for all our great city’s families; I hope that is something that Sheffield United and many other Sheffield businesses will feel they want to support in the future.

Further evidence of the amazing work done by our staff came last Thursday, at my first Age UK Sheffield Board meeting. As we went through the papers describing the services we have delivered over the past few months, one of the Trustees remarked that a case study we had reported had made them cry. It was a poignant reminder that our work in Sheffield is much-needed and vitally important. We have a duty to find the funds to deliver as much of it as possible.

*If you are interested in helpiing us with individual fundraising or a business partnership, please e-mail me:


Learning from the greats

I must start this week’s blog by saying how sorry I was to hear of the death of Howard Kendall at the weekend. I grew up as a massive Everton fan, just at the time he was their manager. He built probably the greatest team Everton have ever had, and is held in great affection by all the club’s fans.

Reading the tributes paid to him over the weekend, I was struck by the number of his former players who were careful to stress what a great manager he was to work for. Perhaps one of the reasons he was successful was because people wanted to work hard and do well for him. Being fair and supportive to my staff is certainly an approach I have tried to adopt in my work.

Because I’m interested in sport I spend a lot of time looking at brilliant sports leaders, reading their biographies, and wondering if there is something really great that they do, that I can apply to my work. There was an iconic 1960s American Football coach called Woody Hayes, whose quotes are well worth looking up. One that really resonates with me is: “I’ve had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven’t run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can’t outwork you, then smarts aren’t going to do them much good.”

On a similar subject, there are three films out at the cinema about flawed leader role models that I really want to see:

“I Believe In Miracles” is the story of how Brian Clough took Nottingham Forest from nowhere to be champions of Europe. From Brian, I’ve learnt that simplicity is often key, and that sometimes you just have to do what you think is right, whether that makes you popular or not.

“The Program” is about the now-disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour de France six times before being stripped of those victories for drugs offences. There is still something about clearly understanding exactly what will make you successful, and methodically implementing it, which tells a tale in Lance’s story.

The third film I’m desperate to see is “SPECTRE.” I’m one of the biggest Bond fans going. But I wouldn’t claim to have learnt anything from 007!

An amazing Christmas story

I’m going to tell you an amazing story about the voluntary work done by my colleague Bluebell Smith and her sister Ruby. Every year, they spend Christmas Day in a local village hall, cooking Christmas dinner for 70 lonely and isolated people, for free.

The cooking facilities aren’t great so they’ve entered a Facebook competition to win up to £5,000 of kitchen facilities. Please would you spend a minute of your time to vote for them? Just click this link and vote for “Crackers and Company”.

On the subject of fundraising, I had my 40th birthday party last Saturday. When I sent the invitations out in the summer, I asked my guests not to bring any presents, but instead put some money in to a Sheffield Children’s Hospital Charity bucket. It wasn’t until last week that I realised the party was on the anniversary of my grandad’s death, and perhaps I should have had a collection for an older person’s charity in his memory instead – someone like Age UK Sheffield.

The thing is that, in Sheffield, there are some really great charities who have become almost a “no-brainer” when it comes to selecting a charity of choice, the Children’s Hospital being one of them.

Since starting here at Age UK Sheffield I’ve seen the fantastic and much-needed work done by our frontline staff, supporting older people throughout the city. To do as much of that vital work as possible, I want us to evolve to become one of those natural charities of choice in Sheffield. At the moment, it doesn’t really seem to be in our culture to ask for donations and fundraising, even though we help 13,000 older people in the city every year. Even if 1% of them (or their children and grandchildren) could raise £100 for us, that would be £13,000 that we don’t have at the moment.

So I’ve made a commitment that, during 2016, I’ll be doing something to raise money for Age UK Sheffield. At the moment I’m not sure if that will be a bake off, a walk or a triathlon. I’d really like it if everyone who reads my blog could think about whether they could do the same. We’ll have information in the next few weeks about how to make that pledge to become one of our army of fundraisers.

Finally, I read over the weekend that Chris Farrell, the Chief Executive of Cavendish Cancer Care in Sheffield, ran the Yorkshire Marathon for his charity last weekend. Chapeau to Chris, I hope his legs are feeling OK this week! You can donate to support his efforts here:

Crooning and contracts

I had been wanting to visit our Wellbeing Centre, at Norfolk Park’s “Centre in the Park”, ever since being appointed to this role.
I finally managed to get there last Thursday and it fully lived up to expectations. After lunch a lady visited to sing some songs to the clients, and staff were nearly in tears as two men who don’t often interact started singing along, and even crooning into the microphone!

These are exactly the outcomes we must strive for at Age UK Sheffield, and they show what a difference we can make to people’s lives.

Unfortunately, we know the challenge to provide our much-needed services is getting ever more difficult. Last week we received letters from Sheffield City Council, giving us notice that two of our current contracts are ending on or around 31 March 2016. Whilst these letters were expected, they demonstrate how difficult it will be for us to plan for our future after this point.

The first of these contracts, for Independent Living Co-ordinator housing support, will shortly be re-tendered, and we are working hard to put forward a successful bid in the coming weeks.

The second area of provision, the non-dementia part of the service at the Wellbeing Centre, will in future be provided for via the Council’s new “Keeping People Well” programme. It seems that this funding will be targeted at local community partnerships, with the bidding opening soon.

There are three key things for us at Age UK Sheffield to understand about these new arrangements:

1) We must be aware of the Council’s growing preference for devolving money locally instead of funding city-wide services

2) Therefore we need to start developing a model of wellbeing provision which does not rely on clients being transported in to a central point – we must find a way of partnering with local groups to deliver wellbeing services in local communities

3) We obviously need to build up as many of these partnerships as possible, if we want to maximise our involvement in providing wellbeing services

Trying to build these relationships is going to be a key part of my work over the coming weeks.

It’s all true

Well my first week has flown by and I’m glad to say all the great things I had heard about the brilliant services provided by Age UK Sheffield are true.

I sat in on a heart-warming meeting of our Independent Living Co-ordinators, who were sharing their experiences and issues, and providing great peer support and advice to continually improve the work they do. I heard about an amazing life-saving intervention by Jamal a few weeks back.

I then spent two days shadowing Sarah and Ruth in home visits to five clients with remarkably different needs – from home adaptations to unpacking and assembling a settee; from changing bank account details for the receipt of benefits to advice on savings. What really struck me was how much those clients needed that support – and the question of who would have helped them if Age UK Sheffield weren’t there to.

Last week we also received confirmation we have been CHAS accredited for our health and safety standards. Further confirmation of the really high quality work taking place here, and well done to everyone involved.

The challenge we face is to be able to continue to provide these excellent, much-needed services in an ever-more-competitive environment. It’s a challenge I’m looking forward to with a great team around me, but we need support (money!) from throughout the community to continue to thrive.

For information on ways to support our work, click here.

The golden thread

Earlier this week, on the first morning in my new role, I gathered together as many staff as were available to outline my aspirations for our behaviours and values as we go about our work. My view is that if we get these things right, we won’t be going far wrong.

What is the culture in your organisation? What behaviours would you prioritise if you were leading it?

The four aspirations I outlined were:

· We are here for our clients and the people who need us, for every minute of every hour we are paid to work here. This is a minimum expectation.

· I will work with managers to set objectives which drive us all to constantly improve what we do. On a day-to-day basis I will try to give colleagues space to focus on doing what they are good at, and trust them to do their best to reach their goals. But I will also encourage us all to reflect on things we might have done differently. I don’t want us to be “just good enough” and will always be looking to keep getting better.

· In trying to constantly improve, we must be a learning organisation which accepts that sometimes the new things we try will fail. But if we fail in pursuit of something we thought would bring improvement, then we shouldn’t blame each other. We should learn from our mistakes, and share the learning with each other so they don’t happen again.

· We are open and honest with each other, as far as we can be. I’m happy for colleagues to ask me anything and I will give an honest answer unless there is a reason why something must be confidential. As colleagues get to know each other I hope they feel they can be just as open with me.

Farewell but not goodbye

In a way, today marks my “farewell” to the world of public relations (PR) and communications after 15 years in roles at Sheffield Wednesday Football Club and South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue. But in another way, as I prepare to begin a new challenge as a Chief Executive, it doesn’t. Because I view excellent communication as a pre-requisite skill for any organisational leader nowadays. And it was the Chartered Institute of Public Relations’ (CIPR) Diploma course that set me on this journey.

If there is one thing that stuck with me from my CIPR Diploma, it was the importance of PR as a management function, which should be central to organisational strategy. It’s the senior communications practitioner in an organisation who is best placed to assess executive values, priorities and decisions, and advise on how those decisions will be received in the real world – the organisation’s “conscience”, if you like.

Applying that concept to our work, how many times as a communicator have you cursed your leader for bringing you in to sweep up the mess after a bad decision backfired, instead of asking for your advice beforehand? Or asked to put a positive “spin” on management behaviour that was wrong all along? A great quote I once saw was: “You can’t talk your way out of what you’ve behaved yourself into.”

Every profession needs specialists in all its functions and, certainly, PR needs to keep demonstrating excellence in story-telling, creativity, media management and handling crises. But over the years I have become occasionally frustrated that I see too much of PR practitioners navel-gazing over some of the technical sides of our role and not enough scrutiny of what it will take for us to become more respected and valued for our strategic input.

Why is it that it would seem perfectly natural for someone from a finance, planning or HR background to become a CEO, but it doesn’t yet for a comms professional to do so? For sure, the answer lies partly in how others view us. But, equally, we need to reflect both on how we present ourselves and our actual career aspirations.

After years spent advising leaders, to varying degrees of success, I’ve taken the view that one way to make sure my world view of decision-making is adopted is to become a leader myself. I’d like to see more public relations and communications practitioners do the same.