Thursday 4 December 2008

Charity Heroes

2 interesting charity pioneers have died recently ; Richard Corr - Gomm and George Lee . We can learn from them.

Richard Carr Gomm was the founder of the Abbeyfield Society , a charity and housing association which works with the elderly in housing and in social care . The last Chief Executive Foster Murphy was one of the founders of ACEVO and the current CEO Paul Allen is also a member .

The tale of Richard's life is fascinating .When he came out of the army at the end of the war he resigned his commission and used his gratuity to buy a house in Bermondsey to accommodate some lonely pensioners and where he said he would care for them too . It was a great success and soon other South London Boroughs asked him to set up similar schemes .This grew into the large third sector body that Abbeyfield now is.

He later fell out with the management of the Abbeyfield , as so often happens with Founders , though Paul tells me there was a reconciliation later on .I'm afraid the well known " founders syndrome " is a problem in charities. We have seen a recent example of the problem in the sector . It is often difficult for the great founders and pioneers to know the time to move on and to let others develop and grow . It is often the case that those best suited to begin an organisation are not those to take it through the established " steady state " .

In fact ACEVO had Richard speak at a conference on governance and the relations between Chairs and CEOs . He was fairly frail then but fascinating . And in particular he told us about his great friendship with Lord Willliam Beveridge . He said that Beveridge had regretted later how his radical reforms of welfare had pushed the voluntary sector to the very margins of provision and how he felt voluntary sector service delivery was so important . Indeed as i remind politicians he also wrote a marvellous report on " voluntary action ". I gave Ed Miliband MP my copy of the original Beveridge Report as a reminder of the importance of the role of the third sector in public services !

George Lee was the very first General Secretary of MENCAP. This great charity is now one the top 20 largest charities in the country . In 1957 when George took up his post it was no more than a loose network of volunteers.In those days children with learning disabilities would be isolated in long stay hospitals . The term " mongol " was common . In particular George realised that for the charity to grow they needed patronage and support at top levels and so he got Royal Patronage ( Queen Mother ) and relentlessly pursued top people to become involved and show support. He was also involved in the creation of the concept of the charity Christmas card . He was also strongly involved in developing the policy and campaigning role for MENCAP and argued for reform in the law and changes in people's attitudes to disability. He handed over the reigns to Brian Rix who still remains as their active and energetic Life President . Their new Chief executive has recently taken over from Dame Jo Williams , always a source of support and advice to me as an ACEVO member .

It is always worth us celebrating the lives of these great charity pioneers . It reminds us that this is a sector of talent and innovation , and above all sheer determination to do good but also to change the world for the better.

And these tales are a standing rebuke to those who argue that only small is beautiful for sector organisations. Both of these great people started small scale . But they were determined that the work they do had to scale up . And they both knew that campaigning was a core role for the third sector .

It is also a cheering thought that in a recession we should still remember the power of innovation and determination for a Chief Executive.

We should reflect back on our sector's great history and the lessons of our pioneers .


Anonymous said...

Carr-Gomm, surely?

Sir Stephen Bubb said...

You are right! Its changed...thank you