Star Trek and the next generation

When I was a child I wanted to be Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. This had nothing to do with the uniform but everything to do with being able to say ‘Beam me up Scottie’. I had high hopes that by the time I had grown up, someone would have invented something that meant I could be beamed anywhere around the world. Sadly, my little Fiat 500 has no such facility and I spend a great deal of my time sat in traffic jams as I try and circumnavigate the county. It’s while sitting in this traffic, that I listen to podcasts including the brilliant Diary of a CEO from Stephen Bartlett. One of his podcasts touched on the loneliness of CEOs and that’s something that I am thankful to say has not been my experience.

As a Joint Chief Executive, I share the leadership of Wiltshire Community Foundation. In my Co-Chief Executive, Vicky Hickey, I have found my perfect work partner. Over the last 3 years, we have enjoyed an excellent partnership, driving growth of the Foundation in our grant-making and our income, building an organisational culture that puts people first. We are firm believers in a happy team being a more productive team.

Although joint leadership is becoming more and more commonplace, people are intrigued by how sharing a leadership role works. We are often asked if we argue. No. We are both solution focused and work together to find a resolution. Who makes the final decision? It depends on the question. We both have very different backgrounds. Vicky is an Accountant, I’m from a Development and Marketing background. We recognise and play to each other’s strengths. Is it cost-effective? Yes, because we are both full-time and share the leadership role whilst also delivering on our previous Director portfolios. What will happen if one of you leaves? There will still be a Chief Executive in post supported by a strong Senior Leadership Team. In terms of succession planning, can it get any better than that?

Thinking about succession planning, this week marks the 60th birthday of the late, great Whitney Houston. What’s that got to do with Wiltshire and succession planning I hear you cry! Whitney sang the lyrics ‘children are our future, teach them well and let them lead the way!’ And she was right. Children and young people are our future and currently in Wiltshire and Swindon they are being failed. Our most recent needs analysis commissioned from OCSI painted a stark picture. One in four children in our county are living in poverty. One in four! Unthinkable and unacceptable. The proportion of young people suffering from poor mental health is on the rise. Low proportions of state school pupils go on to enter higher education. There are high levels of inequality between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils in Wiltshire and those from disadvantaged backgrounds perform particularly poorly when compared to disadvantaged pupils elsewhere.

We can do more to help but only if we can secure more funding so if you are interested in helping local young people achieve their full potential please get in touch. If we are to succeed in achieving our vision of a county in which everyone has an opportunity to thrive, we need to ensure our young people have the best possible start in life, the chance to build their knowledge and skills and inspiration to dream big and achieve.

The world is a bleak place for many and it’s all too easy to get lost in the impossibility of it all, especially when watching the news. But, working at the Community Foundation doesn’t only expose us to the needs of people in our county, it also shows us that there are solutions out there, being delivered by fantastic community groups, supported by an army of volunteers who give their time to help others and donors who want to target their charitable giving to support these micro, small and medium-sized organisations who are working at the coalface, tackling issues including homelessness, poverty, loneliness, gender based violence and poor youth aspiration. It was a joy to welcome some of these incredible people to a Garden Party celebrating the 15th Anniversary of our Bursaries programme. Sir Arthur and Lady Sarah Gooch very kindly offered us the use of a marquee they had hired for their Diamond Wedding Anniversary. Is there anything that feels more quintessentially British than an afternoon tea in a beautiful garden, whilst dodging the showers? There was certainly plenty to celebrate…

Over 565 young people have been supported with grants since the programme began. Almost £3million has been awarded with the most recent cohort of 65 students receiving £1600 per year for the entirety of their degree course. Many of these students are the first in their families to go on to higher education, some are young carers, leaving home for the first time and some are care leavers. Whatever their background, our team works hard to signpost them to other sources of support which will hopefully alleviate some of the pressure they are under as they take this next step. This level of support has only been possible because of our brilliant donors and the endowment fund that has been built steadily since 1975.

We wish all the students waiting for their A level results on 17th August, the very best of luck. I am hoping that one of these students will go on to invent a ‘beam me up Scottie’ device and my days of trying to cross the A303 will be over!

Fiona Oliver - Joint Chief Executive - 10th August 2023

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