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Joe’s Soapbox

author icon author icon 10/10/2022 author icon Joe's Soapbox

On the 9th of October I will have been in post as the National Director/ Chief Executive of All Wales People First for ten years.

This is very significant.

Not because of who got the job but because no one said the National Council could make this appointment work.

People didn’t think it would be possible for a person with a learning disability or lived experience to succeed as a manager.

But we now know that the National Council were right to go ahead with appointing a person with lived experience as the National Director.

The National Council made it work.

They and the Board of Directors worked hard, long before recruitment took place to make sure this worked.

They thought about how to support the successful candidate in the post.

The plan was laid out in the 2012 Business Plan ‘The Way Forward’.

The Way Forward did two main things:

  1. Employ someone with lived experience to head the organisation.
  2. Close the offices so that we could put extra money into member activities.

Both of these things got us a large increase in our grant.

This is because it recognised that times were hard, and we needed to use money better.

We demonstrated we were forward thinking and ahead of the curve.

The original plan was to include a support worker for the National Director and a Business Manager to work alongside the National Director.

Both the National Director and the Business Manager would have equal power in running the organisation.

Yvonne Boxall who used to run AWPF would then do admin work and eventually be out of a job.

Yvonne was prepared to step down even though she built the organisation up.

Before Yvonne Boxall came to All Wales People First the organisation was called People First Wales.

It was in a lot of trouble.

Its grants were frozen.

Yvonne worked hard to turn this around.

The National Council was formed and All Wales People Firsts reputation got better.

After doing all this hard work Yvonne was prepared to step down from her job because she felt it right that someone with lived experience should manage the organisation.

She put the organisation before her own needs.

This is the standard that I want All Wales People First to continue to hold.

The interviews for National Director of All Wales People First took place in Cardiff on the 10th and the 11th of September 2012.

It was a lovely experience.

On the first day nine candidates for the job took part in debates, presentations and were observed in a social setting.

On day two five of the candidates were chosen for an interview.

I was one of those people chosen for interview.

On the panel was:

  • Shirley Lowe (Chair of the AWPF Board)
  • Glayne Walker (member and AWPF Board Member)
  • Tracey Good (AWPF Board Member)
  • Hannah Thomas (National Council member)
  • John Pearse (the Business Manager)

The interview took place in a room called the ‘Bernard room’.

I’d hoped it was a good omen because my life coach Bernard Pearson worked with me at that time.

He was instrumental in encouraging me to apply for the post and was an important part of my own life journey.

I was delighted to be chosen for an interview, but I had one key objective.

I wanted to do a good interview and to do myself justice. Whether I got the job or not.

That evening I was called by Yvonne Boxall who told me that I had the job.

I have loved having this job. Even though some days are easier than others.

As I didn’t need a support worker, we had enough money to run the organisation as equals between Yvonne Boxall, John Pearse and myself.

In 2015 that changed when my grade was made the senior grade.

Yvonne temporarily became my Executive Assistant until AWPF recruited the permanent person.

Yvonne then retired in 2015 and John in 2016.

Since then, the job and the organisation have changed.

Being the National Director/ Chief Executive of All Wales People First has been the greatest privilege of my life.

I have never taken the honour for granted and every day I strive to serve our members in the best way I can.

I would like to think over the last ten years that I have brought something positive and different to the organisation.

That the members have benefited from my appointment.

But the members have given me far more than I have ever given them.

I am not talking about the fact that they gave me a paid job and the nice things that come with that.

I am talking about the fact they show me warmth and acceptance.

The members of People First in Wales have made me feel like I belong for the first time ever in my life.

I value that more than anything.

It inspires me to fight with you during every minute of every day. Whether we win or lose our battles.

But, as I was told by one of my job referees Professor Richard Mills, “a Chief Executive is only as good as the team around him”.

I have never forgotten that. And the importance of recruiting well.

I have an excellent team. A team equally as dedicated as I am to deliver the members vision at a national level.

It is not by luck or by chance they work for All Wales People First.

They work for us because they meet the standards and culture I expect.

A culture of mutual respect, humility, and selflessness. Where the members needs come before our own egos.

None of the organisation’s success could have been achieved without a wonderful team working with me.

We don’t have a magic wand to affect change for the better, but we can fight hard with you to reduce inequality.

That is the only promise I can ever make to the members.

So today, should be a day of celebration.

Although it has been a privilege for me to have held post for ten years to the day.

The celebration is about the job. Whoever got this job means the members vision was a success and continues to be a success.

It is ten years to the day when members made this happen.

The organisation has grown. Our influence is bigger.

But we still have a long way to go.

I am sad that there are not more opportunities for people with lived experience to have leadership roles.

But I still feel the same burning injustices and prejudices that our members feel.

I still feel like a person living in a care service.

My experiences still haunt me.

That keeps me very close to the issues and injustices that affect our members.

But I am not All Wales People First.

I am just another employee of All Wales People First.

And I can only play my part.

We must never be about just any one person.

If that ever happens then we have failed.

The biggest and most important part of All Wales People First is and always will be the National Council.

As long we work together and shine as one All Wales People First will continue to be an important organisation in the third sector in Wales.

Thank you to all the members for your encouragement and support.


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