Q and A with Rachel Peacock, new CEO of Making Space

Rachel Peacock became CEO of Making Space in May of this year. Shortly after her appointment we interviewed Rachel to find out more about what motivates her, her leadership style and her vision our future.

What made you want to apply for the CEO role at Making Space?

I had known about Making Space for many years before I came to work here, since I worked in Wigan as a Community Development Worker in the mid to late 1990’s. At that point the organisation was still quite new and I remember at the time it had a reputation locally of being very brave and determined that the people they support receive a high quality service. I came to Making Space in 2013  as a member of the Executive Management Team with responsibility for the growth and development of the organisation. I was immediately struck by the diversity of our services and my memory of a brave and determined organisation from the 1990’s was brought to reality within my first few weeks here.

In 2016 I was asked to act up as CEO and without hesitation I said I would be proud to. I believe timing is everything in life and when I applied to be the CEO here at Making Space it was because a number of factors combined told me now was the time, after being with the organisation for just over 3 years I felt that I truly understood its complexities in depth and on a personal level as my daughters are growing up it was the right time for me and my family for me to move into this new role. But mostly I wanted to be CEO because of the people we support and the people who work here. Every day I learn something new about a service we are delivering or hear about a great success of one of our service users or volunteers and I am reminded why I have always worked in this sector.   

What do you hope to bring to Making Space as the new CEO?

I want to continue the legacy of an organisation that is fearless in the face of change and is determined to be uncompromising on delivering high quality services. I know that we can achieve phenomenal outcomes as I see evidence of this very day so  I want to create a culture where our workforce can bring new ideas to the table and we can try new ways of working together, where we share in the successes and share in the learning when things don’t go to plan. I want an organisation where the people we support and our employees know they can approach me and give me honest feedback about what we do well and what we can improve.

How would you describe your style of leadership?

First and foremost I am a naturally positive person, my glass is half full for want of a better saying! I share that because I think that determines my leadership style which I believe to be inclusive and transparent. I believe in leading from the front, being visible and helping those around me connect with each other. I think people around me would describe me as firm but fair.

You have been involved with social care and supporting vulnerable people for over 20 years. What keeps you interested in this particular sector?

Like most people I started off in social care as a volunteer, I used to work on a health information freephone helpline as a volunteer in the evenings just after I left university. I think what keeps me interested in our sector today is what attracted me to it in the first instance all those years ago – the sense of being able to make the smallest of difference for someone at a time when they need it the most. I have only ever worked in the charitable sector so I can’t imagine working anywhere else. I think the sector can respond to needs quickly and can act as a collective voice for people when they need it the most. Our sector is bursting with creative people who don’t seem to have the word ‘no’ in their vocabulary – I feel at home here!

What do you believe Making Space’s priorities are?

I think the main priority for us is to continue to respond to the changing environment we work in and to ensure we do so with the passion and professionalism for the people we support that we have always had.  I think it’s a priority that we keep listening to what the people we support tell us they want from our organisation and I think that should continue to take very opportunity to be innovative in how we deliver services.

What do you think are the biggest challenges for organisations, including charities such as ours, working in the social care sector?

I think the biggest challenge for the care sector as a whole is making sure that the principles of the Care Act in giving us all choice and control in our care needs are truly brought to service delivery. For Making Space I think one of the biggest challenges for us now is to be able to demonstrate how we can provide services across all of social care as we are still considered by some to be e mental health and carers specialist charity.     

How does your background help you when working with our stakeholders? 

I actually started my social care career answering enquiries as a volunteer on a health information helpline shortly after leaving university, moving into youth work when I was young enough to have some credibility with teenagers and then into community development work just after graduating. I think that early experience helps me to understand the motivations for volunteering and the power and difference that can be achieved in community based services. I then spent a good number of years in a regional grant making and then local commissioning role, so I became the gamekeeper rather than the poacher! That experience means I can understand what pressures are upon our funders and supporters to deliver evidence of the impact their funding makes. One of my ‘best’ jobs was when I was a peripatetic Service Manager in a large national charity. I managed a diverse range of services from youth services, children’s centres, family support teams, young carers services, and large supported living schemes. I think that role gives me some credibility with our workforce as they know I have done the job and understand their day to day challenges. It also taught me that with the right people and a strong infrastructure around me I am prepared to try any new challenge that comes my way.  I moved into business development in about 2008 mainly because I enjoy writing a persuasive piece that gets a service funded and I can draw upon the days when I was scoring business proposals to fund. I understand the highs and the lows of winning and losing contracts and I try to learn from every experience. I never set out to have such a varied career, I just wanted to make things as good as they can be for people when they need some help in the hope that should I ever find myself or my family in need there’ll be someone there who will do that for me and my family.  

Like many other charities, in the past year we have celebrated a lot of successes but also had to go through some difficult times. What would you like to tell our employees to keep them motivated and to reassure them that Making Space has a bright future?

Its certainly been a tough time in care over the last few years. I’m optimistic because at the heart of all of the changes to the sector and the new demands there are two recurring messages: people should have choice and control (and isn’t that what this sector is all about), and the third sector should be playing a greater role in delivering new and innovative services.

What do you think has been a key factor in your success?

I can think of two: the word ‘can’t’ seems to be missing from my vocabulary. If I can think of one good reason to do something I’ll make it work. And I am blessed with a great support network around me, both at home and in work I am surrounded by people who spur me on and tell it to me straight.

In general what motivates you in life?

I think it’s the same things that motivate others. First of all I want my family to be well and know how loved they are by me. I want to do a good job and I respond really well to people acknowledging when I have. I want to keep on learning and have recently rediscovered formal education. I had forgotten how much doing well in an assignment means to me (a lot – ask my classmates!). Having fun, loving what I do and connecting with people who challenge my taken for granted assumptions of the world all motivate me.   

Are there any leaders, in the charitable sector or others, who you really admire and why?

There’s so many! In our sector there are 3 previous workplace leaders who I often draw upon and think ‘what would she do?’ or ‘she’d be proud of me now’. One is the CEO from the place where I got my very first promotion into a Team Leader role in Wigan many years ago. I was taught to believe in my own ability and to be brave in trying all things new thanks to that person. There are also two senior leaders from my time at Action for Children who were just role models in how to treat people with dignity and respect and to accept alternative points of view.

All of the lecturers from the MBA programme team at Liverpool John Moores University have shown me that great leaders are generous with their knowledge and experience to help people continue to learn and develop and also know that they don’t have all of the answers!

In business I am inspired by great women leaders such as Mary Portas, Karen Brady and Anita Roddick because they have been able to carve a place for themselves without losing sight of the benefits being a female leader can bring to a board room.

In history I admire women such as Millicent Fawcett, who at 19 was one of the leading lights of the suffragette movement. I am also inspired by female writers such as Jane Austen, Mary Shelley and George Elliot. All of those writers led the way for women in society in some shape or form. I think that’s probably my English Literature degree having an influence!

In sport of course I admire Bill Shankly for his insight into what makes a leader, and for his great quotes about leadership that other successful managers have gone on to imitate. He had a lot to say but one of his anecdotes that stays with me is ‘Great leaders act like everyone is watching’.  Huddersfield Town's home match versus Cardiff City in October 1959 was watched by 18,367 people. Little did Bill Shankly, manager of Huddersfield Town, know that two spectators who had purchased tickets to ensure that they were sitting as close to the home dugout as possible were Tom Williams and Harry Latham, Chairman and Director of Liverpool Football Club respectively. Despite the fact they watched Huddersfield lose, they also watched Bill Shankly command and cajole his team, encouraging his players to be first to every ball. Bill Shankly did not realise it at the time, but he was making his 90-minute audition to be the manager of Liverpool Football Club. The lesson is clear, great leaders must always act like great leaders - you never know who is watching and who is being inspired...

Why is Making Space different for other charities?

I think it’s that whilst we’ve grown in size and deliver more and more services we’ve still kept the personal touch with the people we support and with our employees. I like to describe us as ‘brave’ in our sector; whilst we will always be safe with the services that we deliver we are not afraid to try something new.

And finally tell us what your ideal day would be like?

My ideal day starts at around 7 a.m. when my husband brings me a cup of tea before he heads off for the day, its not the cup of tea that’s important but that 10 minutes together before we both leave the house and get on with what we have to in work. From there it’s a good start if I have time to do my youngest daughters hair in whatever wonderful combination of braids and ponytails are in fashion this week. I have a longish drive to Warrington so I try to check my emails before leaving the house and avoid the rush hour traffic on the M62. If my morning starts like that the rest of the day falls into place. Once in work an ideal day is one where I have the time to catch up with Gaynor, Wyn and Phil to make sure we’ve updated each other on all key priorities for EMT. The day gets even better for me when the Development Team let me know we’ve won a contract or we have been invited to an interview or shortlisted for yet another award. I try to make time to do some reading about developments in our sector every day, even if it is just for half an hour. One of my favourite things to do in work is to have those impromptu conversations with whoever is at Head office to hear what’s happening for them so I love to spend time with our colleagues who are here for meetings. I try to avoid the rush hour traffic going home so tend to get in about 7ish. I end my day with a quick phone call with my oldest daughter who has just started university. I like to do the whole mum thing of what have you eaten, who have you spoken to, what are you doing tomorrow with her at the end of every day. When I have days likes this (and I do most of the time) life is good!