Mayday welcomes Alex Fox OBE as new CEO

Mayday is excited to announce the appointment of Alex Fox OBE as its new Chief Executive Officer (CEO), joining the team in early 2022.

Alex brings considerable experience and joins Mayday from Shared Lives Plus, a UK membership charity for more than 6,000 Shared Lives carers, 150 Shared Lives schemes and a growing network of over 25 local Homeshare organisations. Shared Lives is one of the few strengths-based, person-led adult social care approaches to have scaled up to be truly UK-wide, reaching 15,000 people.

During Alex’s career he has welcomed and embraced systems change and strength-based working. He has been proactive in learning from people who use services and in 2018 published a book, Escaping the Invisible Asylum, which calls for a radical change in the relationships between people and the services and institutions within the Social Care sector. Alex is also Vice Chair of Think Local, Act Personal, a national partnership supporting the personalisation of care and support and a senior visiting fellow at Birmingham University. Having led a government review of health and care charities, he recently featured Mayday’s work in Meeting as Equals, a Royal Society of Arts/ National Council of Voluntary Organisations report on building ‘asset-based’ charities.

Alex takes over Mayday’s systems change mission from Pat McArdle, who led the organisation from 2010, before stepping down in August of this year.

Alex said: “Over the years, I’ve admired Mayday’s work and heard my inspirational predecessor Pat McArdle speak about the radical path that Mayday has taken. Mayday is one of only a few charities that I’ve seen truly live its radical values and be willing to be led by what people really want. Mayday has developed an approach to supporting people going through tough times which works, and which has the potential to reach thousands and transform a system which is broken for too many people. I’m excited to be joining such a unique a creative team of activists.”

Julie McEver, Chair of Mayday said: “The Board is thrilled to have been able to appoint Alex as CEO. We look forward to welcoming Alex and supporting him to evolve the work of Mayday and drive the mission forward.”

For more from Alex about joining the Mayday team please read his latest blog, Talking the Talk and Walking the Walk

Talking the talk and walking the walk

Why do so many charities talk confidently about radical change, but so few really try to achieve it?

Alex Fox OBE shares his thoughts on radical change as he takes on his new role of CEO at Mayday Trust.

I’ve spent over ten years working with people who are brave and radical in their own lives. Our members at Shared Lives Plus share their own homes and family lives with people to offer and seek support. Over 15,000 people now live good lives as a result, instead of risking being lost within a social care and health system that does not always feel human, caring and respectful. We have built a UK network and organisation which thinks like they do, demonstrating the kind of social change we call for in the way that we work, and in who gets to do that work.

Over the years, I’ve admired Mayday’s work and heard Pat McArdle speak about the radical path that Mayday has taken. Now that Pat has retired from Mayday, I know that I won’t be able to replace or replicate her unique vision and inspirational style, but I hope to have learned from it.

Mayday is an organisation that changed radically because it listened to what people were saying about what Mayday and other organisations were doing, and was prepared to hear some very uncomfortable messages. The support that people were getting when they went through tough times like being homeless, trying to recover from substance misuse, or leaving prison, wasn’t working for lots of people, and it may even have been inadvertently keeping them locked into those tough times and the services and systems built around them. I wrote a book about some of the things I’ve learned from the people involved in Shared Lives, Homeshare and now Family by Family, with the subtitle ‘Escaping the invisible asylum’, because I believe that even though we talk about ‘community’ services, ‘empowerment’, focusing on ‘outcomes’ and so on, the culture and thought-processes which led us to build asylums, workhouses and other institutions is still deeply ingrained in many of our public services.

In Pat’s final blog for Mayday, she writes that there has not been the radical ‘revolution’ in homelessness support she once dreamed of. But there has been change, and there is no doubt in my mind that Mayday has played a role in that change. Not just dreaming of doing things differently, if only there was enough time, enough money or any of the other things we’ll never have enough of, but showing how to do things differently despite those multiple challenges. In other words, putting the idea of a person-led and strength-based response,  which is at the heart of Mayday’s mission, into the way the whole organisation works. Through the New System Alliance, Mayday and its partners are just starting to model that person-led response to drive change and inform an entirely new system. Like many of the people it supports, the organisation has had to come so far already, just in order to take the first step on a brand new journey towards being the hugely impactful organisation and movement for change that I know we can be.

Pat also says something in her final blog which resonates with me deeply: “My time at Mayday has taught me that my view is one of many and the direction to challenge the failing homeless system needs to be led by people who are experiencing it, who are often trapped within it and who want to act.” One challenge for us in the journey to come will be to be as ambitious as allies, as we are as leaders. If we can realise the ambition to impact thousands of lives, with the humility to stay led by people, we will have achieved something truly radical.

Just say no!

Those of a certain age may have memories of the Grange Hill ‘Just say no’ campaign that came out in the 80’s to encourage the youth of the day to just say no to drugs. It was a clear message, sounded simple and made saying no the cool thing to do.

Little did I know how hard it would be to say no to my peers, to funding, to PR opportunities and generally to a traditionally structured work-life a good few decades later!

There’s so much talk these days about being mission-driven or mission-focused. It’s almost taken for granted that in our sector, this drives everything we do. But when your mission is (and I quote Mayday’s mission) ‘to model a Person-led, Transitional and Strength-based (PTS) Response alongside people going through tough times whilst attracting others to change the current deficit-based systems’, this isn’t as easy as it seems.

I remember the Board meeting where our Trustees gave us the clear direction that we were not to exist for existence’s sake and that we would only do work/ accept opportunities that kept us 100% true to our mission. I also remember the long meeting that followed where we unpicked what this would mean in reality. Cue a whole load of uncomfortable and difficult ‘no thank you’s.’

I heard someone say recently that ‘integrity doesn’t win you contracts’ and thought how true this is. But when winning contracts or accepting certain funding or PR opportunities, which require the showcasing of people’s trauma and mean drifting from your mission and sacrificing the fidelity of your work, tough decisions have to be made. This stance results in hard negotiations, handing back work, losing income, staff being TUPE’d or made redundant, people transitioning to other providers and living in a constant state of uncertainty. The human and financial cost of integrity is real and one we always acknowledge and honour.

Respectfully saying ‘thanks, but no thanks’ doesn’t always feel simple, nor does it feel cool.  

We have heard through our ongoing Wisdom Inquiries, most recently Wisdom from the System with the New System Alliance, the raw and unfiltered feelings of people who are stuck in current support systems and services and those who work within them. It’s not an easy read and having the bravery to listen to what is being said and recognise that we have been (and sometimes still are) part of the problem is something that can either keep you up at night, compel you to ignore it or drive you forward. To know that by saying no to the norm, modelling the difference and carving a new path, you are honouring the voices and experiences of people having the toughest of times and moving toward a better system that works for people makes it much easier to bear the brunt. 

I have come to realise that leading systems change through influencing based on what we uncover through our PTS work at the grassroots, is not an easy job, nor one for the faint-hearted. Taking risks that others can’t, choosing to be small and agile over growth, being willing to be unpopular, challenging what is thought of as sector best practice, standing by the voices of people who have felt voiceless and angry requires a whole new level of nuanced understanding and resilience. Both organisationally and personally. 

But upon reflection, saying no to what didn’t fit our mission, actually opened up a whole new world of ‘yeses!’ 

Saying no to delivering traditional deficit-based work meant saying yes to the evolution of a person-led and strength-based response (the PTS) so that people have a more dignified experience and can transition out of their tough times more sustainably.

Saying no to organisational growth for the sake of it or as the expected thing to do meant saying yes to working with like-minded partners to jointly model the PTS and the mission to bring about change in new areas across the UK.

Saying no to deficit-based contracts meant saying yes to working with ‘enlightened’ commissioners and testing the PTS in partnership to inform a new person-led way of commissioning.

Saying no to providing supported housing* and the income that came with it meant saying yes to becoming a small, focused and agile group of social activists all working to shine a light on what works.

Saying no to pouring energy into bringing down the old system meant saying yes to attempting to model a new person-led system alongside a UK wide movement of amazing and passionate people who believe that paradigm shift is possible.

The era of saying no and moving away from the system has brought so much learning as we have been innovative and attractive to funders wanting to test and grow with us. But we’re embarking on a new era, where the reality of trying to survive in this new world longer term is a stark one. The uncertainty of change and the vulnerability of operating outside of the system is ever-present.

This has also led to the daunting reality of what financial stability means when your way of working isn’t prescriptive and continues to evolve and change from one month to the next. There is both a stark reality and real discomfort in putting a price tag on change and where the outcome and path aren’t rigidly set, it can feel like a hard sell. 

Funding innovation only lasts for so long and traditional charitable means of generating income don’t seem to fit when you’re no longer a traditional charity. Working within and outside of a system whilst trying to evolve a new person-led system is a juggle and seeking funding from a system that you are ultimately moving away from can feel counterproductive and difficult to comprehend. Our approach to funding is having to further shift toward new investment opportunities and individuals that allow us to retain our flexibility and authenticity. 

I’m often approached by sector leaders and practitioners asking how they too can transform their organisations as Mayday has and I’ve come to realise that we have been in a unique position to be able to do this. The radical organisational transformation that Mayday has been through may not be easily replicable, palatable or even possible for many organisations who are ultimately trying to bring about systems change as well as survive in a difficult world and within a system that is still a long way from changing! 

But what we have created and what we can provide is something that others can use to point to as an example of what is possible. We have been able to take the risks, be brave and openly and honestly shared the warts and all learning so that others can save, at least some of the pain, of going it alone and starting from scratch.

So maybe saying no is cool after all! It’s certainly, never simple, and it’s amazing to have the conditions, culture and support to show what’s possible when we stand by what we believe in and go where the good energy is! 

I know there will be many more tough decisions and new opportunities to come, and there is no quick win with this scale of systemic change; but with the mission and voices of people guiding everything we do, alongside the support of our amazing allies, we might just get there and be able to continue to take the risks so you don’t have to!

The slowest, who does not lose sight of their mission, is still more rapid than the one who is wondering without one.

Written by Lynn Mumford, Director of Development and Strategic Partnerships at Mayday. Read more like this?

*In 2020 Mayday said ‘no’ to supported housing – find out why here 

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