Steve started at SCT in January 2017, as his first CEO role after years of experience in similar charities and social enterprises. Having been with us through some of the best and most difficult times, Steve is stepping down from his role on the 16th of July to take on a combination of new ventures and family responsibilities.
Shortly before his final day at SCT, we had a chat with Steve to reflect upon the last four and a half years.
How did you come to SCT?
I found out about the role because the recruitment company contacted me on LinkedIn, which isn’t that exciting. But what grabbed me was that the role seemed to be a perfect combination of all my past experience, it connected everything and streamlined my portfolio of experience into one job.
What jumped out was being a charity, faith-based (and I enjoy exploring the role of faith-based organisations in public life), and with a focus on social enterprises too, I’d spent about 7 years prior to SCT working with about 700 social enterprises doing social impact measurement. The job description was a perfect fit, it involved working on homelessness, addiction, charity, faith, social impact, and social enterprise. It just brought together everything I’d been doing.
It also happened to be very timely because I’d been juggling this portfolio of roles, doing some work with my church, some consultancy, and a part-time job with The Salvation Army, and there was a natural conclusion to all of those and it just felt right to take the next step into one, all-encompassing role.
Had you come across SCT before then?
I didn’t think I had, but as I began to explore SCT I realised that I had met someone worked there, and when she’d had described her job to me years earlier, I remember thinking it sounded like the most wonderful organisation and the story was incredibly compelling. I hadn’t realised that was SCT until quite a bit later, my memory failed me.
When you started, what was it like? Any first impressions?
So at the risk of sounding really boring, I came to Shoreditch when I first applied, partly just to try out the commute, because I lived quite far out. But once I arrived, it felt like a special place.
Something that stood out to me from the application process was the place-based aspect to SCT’s recovery approach, and the very local, community feel that the charity had. On my first visit and those first days after joining, that became even more apparent, and that’s still something that gets me every time I’m in Shoreditch. That was and still is one of the most special things about SCT; being able to go from the drop-in, to the office, to the Hub, to Paper & Cup, Restoration Station, through the gardens, and bump into people who are colleagues, residents, students, or volunteers, it’s a perfect community space in the middle of the city.
There is something lovely about that space, a lot of people say so.
It does really feel different, even in such a small space. It was surprising to come up to the big city and discover Calvert Avenue and the grounds at Shoreditch Church and immediately feel a sense of peace and calm in a space where I hadn’t expected to feel peace and calm. It feels like a different ecosystem just a matter of minutes from what feels like a very busy city.
What was it like starting your job?
In general, when I first started, there were lots of changes already underway regarding the potential for the whole-person approach* to take the forefront of our services.
* The whole-person approach involves supporting people in every aspect of their lives, in order to achieve long-term recovery. This is a core principle of SCT’s recovery pathway, and it’s the reason why we do so many different things.
The momentum was there and the motivation was evident. One of the first steps was to bring each team closer together, so the shops, social enterprises, supported housing, training, and so on. Because each service provides a crucial part to each person’s recovery journey.
It quickly became clear that developing the multidisciplinary, whole-person approach would be key to ensuring we provide an effective recovery programme.
Did you come to SCT with a specific vision or plan?
I remember saying in my interview that there is a lot to this charity and in my first month I would spend my time listening and learning from everyone there.
I think what became instantly clear was that SCT was already doing something very important and effective, and the charity has a very long history in the area. I wanted to bring an affirming approach and say “we are doing something really special, let’s just do that even more”.
So, for example, bringing the Vision, Mission, and Ethos statement together, and making that central to our work. And hearing members of staff talk about recovery capital*, and thinking “that sounds great, let’s have more of that and bring it to the forefront of our services”. Affirming and encouraging this existing aspect was important to me.
* Recovery capital and the whole-person approach both emphasise supporting various aspects of people’s lives in order to sustain a fulfilling recovery in the long-term. So for SCT, these approaches mean giving careful attention to housing, counselling, employment, mental health, and more, because each aspect is important for recovery.
Do you have any highlights from your time here?
There are so many.
Of course, the most immediate thing that comes to mind is the way that our teams have all looked out for each other and remained so resilient during Covid-19, our WhatsApp groups are so busy, and our friendships have grown stronger.
It’s been a privilege over the years to welcome of the visitors and supporters we’ve had at SCT. Shortly after I started, Prince William came to see what we do, it was really interesting to meet him and show him around and it was really encouraging for staff and residents to talk with him. Dame Carol Black also came to visit, as well as people from the Home Office, Ministry of Justice, and the prison service. When public figures and policy makers take notice of our work and say we’re doing something special, that’s a big highlight.
I know I also sometimes joke about how much I enjoy our “Meet with Steve” meetings, but I really do love them, it’s always a highlight to spend time with people from across the teams and hear what everyone is up to. Especially during the pandemic, while many of us have been working from home, these meetings have been nice opportunities for colleagues to spend time with other colleagues in different teams and share what we’re all working on.
And certainly, during the times I’ve sat in on group sessions*, art therapy classes, or other lessons, I’ve been moved and inspired by the openness and honesty of the people sharing their stories. I’ll remember those.
* Group sessions are a key part of addiction recovery, involving group discussions led by a counselling professional.
Tell us a bit more about that? What was it like as a CEO spending time in the art classes or the groups?
It’s deeply important, and it’s something I’ve really missed during Covid-19, not being around the community and not having the physical gathering, that’s been a real challenge for all of us.
With things like the art classes, firstly, they’re a lovely opportunity to be part of the conversations and understand what we’re doing and why, but also what’s so compelling about the classes is that so many of the students are so willing to give things a go and try something new. I learned a lot from them – I’m not an artistic person, painting and sketching don’t come naturally to me, but suddenly I was in a class full of people who were so open to just giving it a try. That’s a wonderful thing, it takes a degree of vulnerability to say “sorry, I’ve no idea how to use this charcoal to create shadows”, it’s a great leveller, conversation starter, and it’s a challenge more than anything, so it’s humanising to take part. And it reminds you how important it is to do things with people instead of for people.
There is something unique about the group sessions. When I first sat in on a group session, as part of a previous job, I was in awe of how honest and open each person was. Someone spoke about feeling helpless, ashamed, and feeling like nobody else could understand what they were going through, and the facilitator said to the group, “could you put your hand up if you understand what they’re going through?” and everyone did. To sit in a circle of people sharing their most difficult experiences, to see the compassion and solidarity there, that’s just amazing.
As the pandemic began last year, I met with all the residents at Acorn House, and that time really captured the ability of the residents to notice and help each other, they can recognise what would be better for their long-term recovery. The community and the fellowship side is crucial to recovery. I think our community made it through lockdown as well as they did because they had that wisdom and solidarity between each other.
Part of the reason I think this is so profound is because I am a Christian, I’ve spent most of my life going to small groups and fellowships of people who want to improve and be better people. But in thousands upon thousands of hours I’ve spent in Church, I’ve almost never seen the level of solidarity and honesty and vulnerability that I’ve seen amongst addicts who say “I want to be a better person, and I will become a better person by being radically honest and vulnerable with my peers”. In a sense, that’s where I see the best of humanity, and often it’s not related to faith, it just is the best that humans are, and almost always in the humans that society, broadly speaking, thinks are the worst kind of humans.
I want Christians to hang out with addicts because addicts understand accountability and faith (and the Bible) far far better than people who are not in addiction, and who are not poor.
We all need a space like that, a place for radical honesty and vulnerability and solidarity.
And those groups break down the barriers of privilege between us. When we spend a long time with people from similar backgrounds to ourselves, we lose sight of that motivation for social justice and compassion.
So that’s been enlightening and humbling, and a definite highlight for me.
It’s difficult to ask about “greatest challenges” while we’re still living through a pandemic, but what do you think has been the steepest learning curve during your role as CEO?
Some truly heart-breaking incidents stand out and will be unforgettable. At times, in a job like this, you do come face-to-face with the horrific realities of homelessness and addiction, both of which can and do kill people. I know that all of my future work will be informed by those experiences as much as the positive ones. I’ll take away the incredible compassion and love behind the services, and a deep sense that SCT’s work is so very important, it really matters, and it can be the difference between life and death for some people.
More practically speaking, I learnt a lot about the whole-person approach, which was then more often referred to as an integrative approach. What the role of a multidisciplinary team in recovery means, how to make the most of that. I’ve really enjoyed learning about this. For example, I was talking earlier about the gardening classes, and the gardening tutors are just as important to someone’s recovery journey as the senior therapists are.
I also learnt loads about HR and finance and generally running an organisation. I’d had a few substantial roles with management experience, but not something as high-up in leadership as this, so that was a steep learning curve, and I’ll leave it to my colleagues to reflect on how well that went!
I also learnt the value of communication, that’s something I’ve really enjoyed and also probably still have a lot to learn, but clear, concise, confident, and accessible communication has made such a difference to my work. Encouraging responses and participation as a CEO has been really valuable, particularly during the pandemic.
Getting to know everyone on the team and understanding what they’re about, I’ve met every new employee over the past few years. Talking through our work, answering any questions, those have always been very valuable and enjoyable meetings.
It’s difficult to ignore the unusual nature of the past 15-or-so months, but particularly after the initial terrifying/panic/organisational stages, the majority of the pandemic has been about effective communication, how do we make sure people are okay and know what’s going on, how do we navigate this situation with as much certainty and clarity as we can? How do we keep our Vision, Mission, and Ethos present and real, when what we’re experiencing is unlike anything we’ve ever imagined? So this past year has been a real lesson in the importance of communication, and I’ll carry that with me to wherever I go next.
What will you do next?
First, I’m going to have a rest and spend some time with my family. When the summer holidays arrive, if travel is permitted, we’ll be going to Cornwall and Cyprus to see our family who we haven’t been able to see in a long time.
It’s been an interesting year for us all, and soon we’re embarking on some new adventures together as a family.
I’ll still be taking on work within this sector, for example, I’ll be finding a new Trustee position in a homelessness and/or recovery charity, because this is what I really feel is important. I’ll always be part of social justice, community, social enterprise, and faith-based work. And I’ll certainly keep supporting SCT.
From all of us at SCT, it’s been an honour and a joy to work with Steve. We’ll really miss him and we’re all excited to see what he does next. He’s led our charity to a great position with a bright future ahead of us, and we’re looking forward to taking those next steps with Tony.