Two people laughing on a bench

When we worked with Kathy Verges in 2010, she was CEO at Crossroads Care Havering, which had a turnover of around £600k and served a few hundred local people. Kathy retired as Chief Officer in January 2022. After a series of mergers Kathy led the charity on to re-brand to create TuVida, which had national reach and a turnover of £14m. She reflected on her work with Pilotlight:

Our charity had the opportunity to apply to Pilotlight via our affiliation to Crossroads Care National (our umbrella body).

I remember completing the application, listing the specific areas that I believed we would most benefit from expert support. Whilst I was writing the application, I had a ‘head versus heart’ moment i.e., have we got time to do this programme? What was I thinking? We can’t get everything done now and I’m about to increase our workload? At the same time my head was telling me that this was about working towards the longevity and direction of the charity and not the ‘here and now’.

Immediately after pressing ‘send’ I recall going into a complete panic about finding the time to commit to the programme. I had been CEO of the charity for over 13 years at that time, and I guess I was also concerned that either I would be critiqued about my leadership or be challenged on our work at the charity. Both scenarios filled me with dread, but I also knew it was the right time to reach-out.

Our Chairperson and I had tabled the Pilotlight 360 programme with our Trustees over a period of several months before it was agreed to apply. We all discussed that some of the subjects/topics could be challenging for us all, yet, if we really believed in what we were saying about sustaining and developing our charity we needed both the support and the challenge. It was also incredibly important that we informed and consulted with colleagues throughout. Up to this point in the charity’s history there had been little change to the Trustee Board membership and senior staff team. We were all feeling a bit of trepidation.   

We commenced the programme within a few months and at that time we agreed to monthly face-to-face meetings. 

Our charity had grown organically, and whilst we had a strategy and a business plan, we often found ourselves taking a supply and demand stance and this led us to be overwhelmed with the day-to-day operations (and noise that consumes all small businesses). This was about to be challenged and I suppose that subconsciously I was expecting it!  

Our charity had highlighted three main areas where we asked for guidance and challenge. With the team of Pilotlighters we methodically unpicked and discussed each of the topics individually. We had debates and discussions about relevance, productivity, value (all aspects), longevity and realism aligned to our mission and vision, and of course, our financial viability.   

It didn’t take long (approx. three meetings) for me to realise how truly fortunate we were in receiving this depth and breadth of knowledge being so carefully and considerately imparted to us. The Pilotlighters immediately and completely understood how we were all a little anxious (yet excited) about the programme.

Their steer and guidance helped me review each area of concern in-depth. The Pilotlighters (within their specialisms) challenged my thinking on each subject. An example of this was a very ‘delicate’ topic that had been pushed about for a couple of years at Trustee meetings, but as a Board and senior staff group, we were all guilty of not addressing the concern. The world in which we operated (Regulated Care) had and was continuing to change exponentially. We simply couldn’t keep on top of the mass change which was the Personalisation Agenda and changes to contracting/commissioning, but we couldn’t afford to recruit to meet all of these skillsets required. We had to change from within and then decide the ‘what-next’. This meant a skills review of both the Board and our senior team, including myself. A very difficult subject to address for any Board. 

We had a great reputation locally as being a quality provider and a dedicated charity to carers. We were also considered very ‘nice’ people to do business with. We truly had the most amazing team of staff, Trustees and volunteers who would all go over-and-beyond to support the cause. However, we had reached a point where, on the surface, everything appeared business as usual, but below the surface we knew that we weren’t sustainable if we didn’t change our business model, and keep-up with the operating environment that we were trading in. We needed these tough conversations and actions and sooner rather than there being no ‘later’.

Throughout Pilotlight 360 we looked at all areas of our business and addressed them as we went along, or, we prioritised giving ourselves deadlines to complete.

We made some tough decisions along the way, and we made considerable changes to our operating model. The process and decision-making was made easier knowing that we had all re-contracted to focus on outcomes for our beneficiaries for now and for a charity set for a long future.

Without Pilotlight 360 I know that we would not have been so efficient and effective in the changes that we made, and the direction in which we went. After a slow start, and at times some sticky moments, all of the Trustee Board and workforce wholeheartedly bought into the changes and direction by the end of the programme.

These changes worked, and over the next few years we saw growth in our core services, new developments and were more confident in our sustainability.

As CEO I had always felt the pressures to sustain the longevity of the charity against the tsunami of government changes to health and social care, and learn to accept the brutal competition for contracts: yet ensure our charitable work continued to evolve.

The following years saw us confidently and proactively undertake mergers both locally and nationally. The models that we developed during Pilotlight 360 helped us to adapt swiftly to suit the partners that had reached out to us for mergers. We were able to on-board and develop local areas much more effectively with our operating models, yet keep a local presence according to the bespoke requirements of each geographical area.

I can’t succinctly sum-up what I personally gained from working with Pilotlight because my learnings were, and continue to be of a magnitude that I still reflect on all these years later. The programme stretched my thinking but at the same time gave me the confidence to bring forward all of the ideas that at times I thought were bizarre. I had always strived for a ‘happy’ workplace, my personality and previous role as a community nurse leaned towards solution finding and not wanting other folk to stress. But I had to toughen-up and be realistic about the ‘business side’ of the charity: and this was certainly achieved as a direct outcome of our Pilotlight experience. I just wish we had done it sooner.

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