Alma Caldwell is group chief executive at Age UK North Tyneside and Everyday, a professional care services organisation for adults. She grew up hoping that she could have a job that was worthwhile and meaningful, and luckily fell into charity work which lead her to her current position. She had a chat with BQ to tell us a little more...
What is it you do?
I’m group chief executive at Age UK North Tyneside and EveryDay, a professional care services organisation that helps anyone over the age of 18 to live independently in their own home. EveryDay is a social enterprise that’s owned by Age UK North Tyneside.
What is it the company does?
The charity provides a vast range of social and leisure activities to promote positive ageing, physical and mental health and wellbeing. EveryDay personal care services help people with their cleaning and cooking through to end-of-life care and specialist support for people with long-term health conditions such as dementia or mental health issues. The basic idea is to make people’s lives easier and improve their quality of life.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Someone who can motivate and inspire people to be the best they can be. That person also needs to be able to think strategically, have an eye on the bigger picture and plan around that. The best leaders are generally very charismatic, open and honest; this approach tends to get staff on board more than an autocratic style of leadership.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
Making the organisation more entrepreneurial and sustainable so that it can cope with Government policy changes and the uncertainty of the current economic climate. Health and social care commissioned income provides the majority of our funding but the customer can now choose their care provider. We’ve had to promote and sell ourselves in the same way that a private company does, so it has been a bit of a culture change for our staff.
How do you alleviate stress that comes with your job?
I don’t do stress! It’s a waste of energy and utterly counter-productive. I like to think that I thrive on challenges rather than shy away from them. If I get chance to unwind I like to be exploring the great outdoors, especially Scotland; there’s nothing better than being in the Outer Hebrides to make your heart smile.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I didn’t really have any idea of what I wanted to be. I knew I wanted to do something that was worthwhile and meaningful. I was lucky in that through volunteering I fell into charity work. It has given me a great opportunity to help people of all ages living with disadvantages to tackle social injustice and improve the quality of their lives.
Any pet hates in the workplace?
The phrase “I can’t”. It really means “I won’t”. In my line of work, you have to find ways around the blockages and barriers. You can’t just give up.
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Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
In this climate it’s difficult to predict what will happen in five years’ time with any great certainty. At Age UK North Tyneside, we’ve mapped out our 2020 strategy and the main aim is to be a successful enterprise that can deliver great results for people who really need support.
We have to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset and compete alongside the private sector. Unlike the private sector we reinvest all profits from the enterprise back into the charity to provide more activities and recruit more staff to deliver an even better service to our customers and the wider community.
It’s a virtuous cycle. In 2015-16 the charity’s welfare benefit advisors identified £1.55m in unclaimed benefits for older people in North Tyneside. This not only reduces pensioner poverty but we know goes on to be spent in local shops, helping to sustain the local economy.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Invest in your staff. They are your greatest asset. If you do that you’ll get the best out of them. That’s particularly important for service providers like us who need motivated people who can live the company’s values and deliver a top-class service to our customers. Staff won’t stay if they feel they’re not being appreciated.
Where did you start your career?
I started as an administrator at Northumberland County Council and did volunteering in the evenings as a youth worker in Gateshead. That’s when I knew I’d forge a career out of helping other people.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far?
I’ve spent a good proportion of my career working with disadvantaged communities and helping people to improve their quality of life. I was project manager for Stepping Stones, a social enterprise that provided emergency accommodation for up to ten homeless 16-21 year olds in Newcastle.
I then spent seven years at Sunderland North Community Business Centre, another social enterprise that promoted business, employment and training opportunities for unemployed people. I joined Age UK North Tyneside 22 years ago and I’m still here!
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