02 January, 2021:

What does 2021 hold for St John?

It feels as though 2021 is beginning much as 2020 ended with one significant difference – the hope of a light at the end of the tunnel. I know that many St John people have been active over the Christmas period, ramping up their support for communities and the NHS as the coronavirus pandemic has surged once more and it fills me with enormous pride to know that dedication, expertise and commitment to serve has continued. We will continue to do all that we can to help communities stay resilient in their response to the pandemic. I am also looking forward to the role that St John is playing to support the roll out of the NHS vaccination programme, training volunteers to help that programme succeed in bringing communities back together.

St John CEO Martin Houghton-Brown

On your third anniversary with the charity, what are your reflections on the journey so far?

St John Ambulance has long played a vital role in supporting the health of the nation. To build on this heritage, I was recruited in early 2018 by a Board of Trustees that was specifically looking to remedy the charity’s loss of drive and commitment to supporting its volunteers and to rebuild relationships with the NHS and Government that had become dormant. The Board therefore gave a clear mandate for a programme of change that would make the charity more resilient and better able to play its community health role for the future. 

St John’s greatest strength has always been its people, but it was clear in 2018 that change was needed to staff management structures to better support their effective engagement and the delivery of our mission. In consultation we therefore decided to put more responsibility back into the hands of healthcare professionals and volunteers leading to a number of senior management departures through 2018 and 2019. 

That programme of change has already paid dividends in the charity’s level of preparation to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, contributing over 250,000 hours of patient facing care in support of the NHS across the country in ambulances and hospitals, and now supporting the mass roll out of the NHSE&I vaccination programme. There is still more to do but without the changes we made in 2018 and 2019 I am certain that we could not have responded to Covid as we have. We would not have the trust of either our volunteers or of the NHS to deliver the professional response we have. Volunteers were from the outset at the front of the leadership of this.

How has such significant change within the charity been handled?

It is always sad to say goodbye to colleagues and strategic change inevitably creates differences of opinion and difficult choices. We knew when our change programme began that we wanted to develop the organisation to be more inclusive. As a result, we have in parallel sought to foster a culture of transparency, inclusivity and compassion, where all points of view are welcomed. Since my arrival, I have brought in a number of initiatives to advance this. These include appointing a Lead for Inclusion and Diversity, a Director of Governance and a Freedom to Speak Up Guardian. 

In addition, I run regular live open events where St John people can question me directly, as well as employee forums and surveys encouraging feedback, anonymously if preferred. St John also has a robust whistleblowing policy. 

Where next for St John?

I am proud that we can say that our trustee board and executive leadership team are now more representative of the communities we serve and we will continue to build on that. As our programme of change enters its next phase for a post-Covid world, I remain committed to continuing to do our best to ensure all St John people feel heard, valued and included, to allow them to help shape the positive future of a charity that is so important to the nation’s health and resilience. 

My hope is that we will go further still, empowering even more young people to aspire to healthcare careers, building more opportunities to volunteer in healthcare and importantly building our social enterprises to ensure that we can withstand any future financial shocks of the sort we have all had to face during this pandemic.