Having attended Manchester University to study social policy with a view to becoming a probation officer, I left it with a brief taste of the Third Sector, following a placement with the Child Poverty Action Group, and remained in it thereafter. After spending a couple of years with the National CAB service in London, I joined Age Concern England – now AgeUK – as one of their field officers in the north west, and ended up when I left in 2004 as their Head of Regional Fieldwork in Northern England. I joined IRIS Vision in Crewe soon after, more as a favour for a friend than as a career move, and have been with them ever since as their Chief Officer.
I was originally recruited to the Visionary Board to represent the interests of smaller sight loss societies, but I have always felt that my experiences with Age Concern could always be useful, for the structure there was very similar – a nationwide network of small independent charities but no coherent national leadership. Many of the issues I confronted at Age Concern we confront now in Visionary – issues of branding, standards, role and purpose – but we operate now in a much more volatile and unpredictable social policy environment, and the answers we had some years ago may no longer be valid. Teasing out what is possible from what is desirable remains an interesting challenge!
Rather like Age Concern, Visionary brings a national presence to a network of essentially local sight loss charities, and creates opportunities for learning and exchanging, but it also has critical responsibilities to give leadership, especially in relation to quality and standards. We had to answer two big questions at Age Concern – why and where should local Age Concern organisations exist, and what issues of quality should be associated with the name? The questions are the same with the Visionary network, but the answers are likely to be different. Watch this space!