Wednesday lunchtime at BarnsleyA4e, and everyone – the A4e manager, a local end to end parter and a specialist intervention organisation – is talking frankly and passionately about how the Work Programme is working. And the person listening, taking notes and asking questions is A4e’s charismatic chairman, Emma Harrison.
I was not even supposed to be there yet, my meeting was after lunch, but having arrived I was told to pull up a chair and join in. What Emma wanted to know was; how it was working? Was it making a difference? What could A4e do better? She clearly hates jargon, welcomes plain speaking and was not afraid to challenge people or ideas. But at every turn, for each person, she had time, advice, connections and stories that she shared.
Then it is my turn – a 45 minute discussion, that expands into the offer of a car ride back to Sheffield and an invitation to join her on a visit to a homeless support project based at the Cathedral. She has worked with them through her foundation FSI. Again she listens, takes interest and offers ideas on fundraising, PR, making suggestions of how to make better contacts, and how to grow partnerships.
And all the time Emma’s Executive Assistant Anna is efficiently making notes, sending texts, arranging photographers and getting the names and numbers so that the connections can be followed up.
If I sound a bit starstruck, I was. Emma is clearly driven and passionate about what she does. But she is also funny and forthright. And I came away from the day very motivated to do more, do it better and make a difference.
Thanks to everyone at FSI and A4e who organised the day.