Get to know Emma Clarke, our CEO, and Niall Baker, our Chair of the Board of Trustees - we join them to hear why they wanted to get involved with Weston Park and what ambitions they have for the charity.
Ruby Osborn: Hello and welcome to the Weston Park Cancer Charity Podcast, sharing stories about our work, what we do and the people we support. From funding life-saving research to providing practical help and emotional support, it's our job to care in every sense for our patients and their families. In this episode, we’re sitting down with our chief executive officer and our new chair of the board of trustees to hear what their roles entail, what they hope to achieve, and what led them to join Weston Park Cancer Charity.
Emma Clarke: I'm Emma Clarke, I’m the chief executive at Weston Park Cancer Charity. I've been here from July 2019, so pre pandemic. So I'm Sheffield born and bred, I'm very proud of where I'm from, and for me, I’m equally proud of being part of Weston Park because it's such an iconic institution in this city, in this region. I don't think you can walk past anybody or you know have a conversation with friends or family who haven't been touched in some way by Weston Park, and it never fails to amaze me what people will do for Weston Park, you know the way that people raise money, the generosity of volunteers, you know it really feels like a huge community effort.
So my role, essentially, is to lead the charity to deliver its strategy. I work with the board of trustees so that they provide direction to us, and I work with the staff team and our amazing volunteers so that we can raise the money that is needed to deliver our services, provide our grants, and we do that as well as possible. In essence we're a charity that supports Weston Park Hospital but more so than that, we support the one in two people in this region who are affected by cancer.
Niall Baker: Hello, and I’m Niall Baker, I’m the chair of the trustees. I have been a trustee I think for nine years but we’re going to check that, and I was appointed as the chairman on the 18th of April of 2022. The trustees are effectively the non-execs, so if you compare it to business, and the charity is a business, it’s in the business of raising money to make a difference for people whose lives are affected by cancer, and so the trustees are those non-execs who are effectively there to ensure that there’s appropriate governance of the charity, it’s doing what it sets out to do, and to assist and help set the strategy.
Well I actually have a full time job that I do, which is that I’m a solicitor in Sheffield. All the trustees are volunteers, all of them do not get paid, and they give up their time and their expertise, and my job is to garner them together to try to ensure that we act as one unitary board with a view to try to deliver the strategy. I spend a bit of time each week working with Emma particularly, to try and provide support for her as the CEO to effectively run the business, and make sure that continues to deliver on its goals. But I would echo what Emma says, there’s a fantastic team here, small but perfectly formed is the way I would describe it.
Well I thought long and hard about it, do I want to be chair? And actually I could make a difference here, and there was a need for some continuity, because within the trustees, it’s very difficult to bring a new chair in externally because the person doesn't really understand the position. For the first two years of being a trustee, you’re finding your way. And so the reason I thought I would go for it is that I thought I had something to offer. I've been chairman of quite a few companies, but obviously it's a very different type of business, you’re in the business of trying to raise as much money as possible to make as much difference, it’s not about profit, it's about making a difference, and so therefore I thought let's give it a go. And Emma was relatively new into role as CEO, and so to a great extent we’re finding out together.
Emma: So for me I applied for a job at the charity, so Director of Services and Grant Giving was the post I came into in July 2019. Why I applied for that was I’d been working in the voluntary sector for about twenty years, and a lot of the work that I’d done was in different parts of the country, and I hadn't really worked in Sheffield. The work that I was doing was outside of, or distant to, what and where matters to me and like the people that matter to me. So yeah, Sheffield born and bred, incredibly proud of it. I come from quite a rough area in Sheffield, so I guess part of my experience of wanting to make sure that the people who are underserved in our population, definitely people from you know where I was born and brought up, got access to good treatment and good care. So when I saw that the role come up, yeah I kind of jumped at it really. I absolutely love it and I've loved it from day one and I think that matters, I genuinely think that matters. I think you've got to put your heart and soul into Weston Park otherwise there's no point turning up every day.
Niall: And you obviously changed your role –
Emma: I did change.
Niall: - to CEO when the previous CEO moved on.
Emma: If I’m completely honest, and this might sound a bit, I don’t know, a bit trite or a bit cliched, I wanted to do it for the people that I worked, with not necessarily for me. And I know that might sound a little bit odd but you know we, we were, as a team we had just gone through pandemic together, we were at a point of reopening our services, establish a transport service, and you know, continuity and stability and all of those things to me felt really important, and that's what I wanted to ensure was available, was there for everyone. Yeah I still do check myself every now and again to think, “ooh, is it really chief executive is the title?” So you're born and bred in Sheffield as well.
Niall: Well I was born in Claremont of all places –
Emma Were you?
Niall: - when the nuns were in charge of the hospital -
Niall: - no longer. And then spent a little bit of time in Rotherham in fairness until my dad decided he didn't want to be in general practice with his brother and sister-in-law any more, and moved to Sheffield when I was four. So I've been in Sheffield since I was four and the reason why I stayed in Sheffield is ‘cause I love the city, and I love the people, and I’m friends with the people I sat and cried with on the first day at school. So I think Sheffield is important and it has a fantastic reputation in the medical world. I'm actually the black sheep of the family being a lawyer, not involved in medicine at all, and we know that Weston Park is one of the very few dedicated cancer hospitals in the country, has an amazing reputation, and the reason I want to become involved with the charity was my mum was treated here. She added double mastectomy, and was treated successfully, as well as my cousin who actually lived in Manchester and was travelling twice a week to be treated at Weston Park because she a particular type of cancer that could only be treated here, which gives you an idea of specialism that’s available in Sheffield and the great skills that the hospital has.
The biggest challenge to people with cancer at the moment is very simple, it's getting the treatment in a timely fashion, ensuring that it doesn't affect their families so much because of the financial pressures, the time pressures, the illness pressures, and therefore people need a significant amount of support. The NHS has limited resources and therefore the charity comes into its own when it’s able to support people in terms of the services and the support that it can give which is over and above strict medical treatment, which is what makes the difference someone's treatment and the way in which they will perceive it and come out of it hopefully on the other side. So there's a lot of challenges for people, but the biggest one, and one of the reasons why we need to raise money, clearly, is when you find out that people cannot come to the hospital for treatment because they can't afford to get there, that's when you realise we've got some societal issues that we really need to sort out. And we can make a small difference, we come out everybody, but we can certainly help some.
Emma: I heard a person speak recently and it really resonated me. What she said was that the hospital can treat the cancer patient, but there's a lot more to the individual than being a cancer patient. And for me that is what you've just described Niall, in terms of people's lives, their finances, how are they gonna tell their children, you know, how are they going to do with the anxiety that they're feeling. There is so much that goes on for people associated with the diagnosis and don't get me wrong, we have, you know, incredibly remarkable medical professionals who are doing their utmost and they've done their utmost through the pandemic, to continue to treat and get the best outcomes for people, but people are human beings and they have lives, and that's where I see the charity coming in and making the most difference.
Niall: This isn’t a, just a take something out of the box and this will sort it out, everybody needs support in a different way and the charity and the support they give, they take the time to understand what that person needs and then try to effectively give them a bespoke service that suits them for their needs.
Emma: Yeah, absolutely. I think we're in a really pivotal point for the charity, so you know it has just, along with the rest of the world, faced one of its biggest challenges which is how to contend with a global pandemic. And we are coming and have come out of the other side of that, but the world, a lot of the world, looks very different, how people want to engage with the charity, how they want to access services, what people feel comfortable with, is very different. So for the next few years for me, it's about understanding what people want from us, being adaptable just like we were through covid, and extending our reach. So supporting more people whether that is through our transport service, whether that is through supporting people in their own communities out across the region, or whether that is investing in more research because we know that the pandemic has had a real impact on cancer research funding.
So we have some important announcements coming soon about the detail of what those are, but the investment will be into research, and also into our work that we do with partners in the community. So you know, I am very hopeful, I’m ambitious for the charity because actually all the people involved in it, everything that I see of them, they put their heart and soul into it, so you know we’re ambitious because we're proud people and we want really to do our best. So yeah I think the next few years for me are really bright for us. It is a massive thank you to our donors, you know there's a whole variety of ways that people raise funds, and that generosity thankfully hasn't stopped, but what they do is allow us to make those big investments to really difference to people’s lives.
Niall: Covid had a massive effect on all charities, fundraising dropped significantly, donations dropped significantly, people were worried for their livelihoods, they weren't sure what was gonna happen at the other side of covid. I'm hoping that we’re getting a little bit out of that side, although it has been a longer journey than any of us anticipate, and that's affected a lot of charities. We are however in good shape. And so in terms of what I hope we would achieve is that I have three years as chair, then I retire. And so my job and hopes, really, is that we, I leave the charity in a better position than it is now, not that it’s in a bad position, but we know that our fundraising dropped, it dropped by seven figures during covid each year, but we also cut the things that we did during the covid period.
We now want to get back to pre-pandemic levels as a minimum of fundraising and spend, that’s what’s really important. What we want to do is to try and help more people, not just in terms of numbers but also in terms of communities, trying to spread the service that we're able to offer and hence the bus which is going to be coming up, which will hopefully give a lot more support to people in their communities. We’ve got to make sure we reach those communities that don't get our services at the moment, so we've got a lot of work to do on that, so if we can make headway into that in the next three years I feel we’ll have had somewhat of success.
Emma: What do I think the public should know about Niall? I want them to know how supportive he is, how accessible he is to the charity. As you said before, all of our trustees are volunteers, they volunteer their time, and Niall gives such a lot of his time, such a lot of his expertise. There's never a moment where I feel I can't go to you, I can't pick up the phone, I can't say we're facing this challenge or can I get some advice on this. And I think that for the public that goes unseen, actually. So trustees are really important for organisations to, for charities to thrive and actually if you've got good trustees and a good chair it can really make a difference to what a charity’s capable of. So yeah, so I guess it's thank you, thank you from me, thank you from the rest of the team, but I think it is important that you know the wider public know the difference trustee volunteers make.
Niall: Well when you were asking me to do this podcast and I said, “do I really have to do it”, it's for reasons like that that I don't really like doing it. I'm not here for accolades about me, this is about the charity, nothing else, so let's turn that on its head. What do I think the public should know about Emma? She's got a very very large heart, and it is very much positioned so that she would always do her best for the charity, look after both her colleagues and all the people that they assist, and I think it’s testament to Emma the fact of how well she is regarded within the charity. I also know that she quite likes a sandwich from Dore Café, and a gin and tonic if we’re really going to be truthful about it.
Emma: Only on occasion. Just the one.
Niall: I said “a”.
Ruby: That was Emma Clarke, our CEO, and Niall Baker, our chair of trustees. To learn more about the charity’s activities, how we can support you, or how you can get involved, please visit our website, www.westonpark.org.uk.
Dean Andrews: Cancer changes everything, but so can we.