Norwood chief seeks to preserve services

By Barry Toberman, September 27, 2011
Elaine Kerr anticipates difficult challenges at Norwood. "But an opportunity like this comes along very rarely"

Elaine Kerr anticipates difficult challenges at Norwood. "But an opportunity like this comes along very rarely"

At a time of restricted finances, new Norwood chief executive Elaine Kerr will bring to the role invaluable experience of getting the utmost out of a budget.

During her five years in the top job at Chai Cancer Care, the charity has expanded services and experienced almost a four-fold increase in clientele, yet spending has risen only by around 50 per cent.

Ms Kerr previously held an executive role at Hillingdon Primary Care Trust, where she managed an annual £183 million budget and was responsible for commissioning and planning health services.

Replacing the long-serving Norma Brier at Norwood at the beginning of November, she sees great virtue in the charity's brand recognition. "Everyone in the community knows Norwood."

But running through the vast array of children and family and adult learning disability services it provides - among them Ravenswood in Berkshire, Kennedy Leigh in Hendon, the Somers Centre in Hackney and Leonard Sainer in Redbridge - she acknowledges the "complex challenges" ahead. "But an opportunity like this comes along very rarely."

Rachel Anticoni

Rachel Anticoni

Chai receives no statutory funding and Ms Kerr takes particular pride in having seen the number of users grow from 400 to more than 1,550, with its main Hendon centre supplemented by satellite operations in north and south Manchester, Glasgow, Southend, Redbridge, south London and Hackney.

"I don't think need has increased," she reflected. "It's just that people have found us.

"I will always be one of Chai's greatest ambassadors because I recognise the difference it has made to people."

However, Chai's operating costs do not reflect the huge expansion in its operations. Its accounts show that for the financial year ending in March 2006, expenditure was £930,000. For the year to March 2010, spending was just under £1.4 million.

Norwood has been dealing with the consequences of a £4 million loss in local authority funding and, after months of talks, care staff agreed a deal with management in spring on pay cuts.

Ms Kerr will look to explore ways of reducing expenditure without cutting back on services or staff. "I want to see if there is any slack in the system."

As she is serving her final weeks at Chai, she has, to date, been able to meet only trustees, some major donors and a small number of staff.

She has also visited Ravenswood, "meeting residents, which was very important. I am keen to secure a future for Ravenswood and to improve their quality of life."

Ms Kerr looked forward to getting to know many more of the 1,200 employees and 800 volunteers and promised an "open door" policy.

"I want to let staff know they are valued and I support them. And if you find something which can be done differently, don't be frightened to speak up."

While admiring Norma Brier's contribution to improving the lives of "such a disadvantaged client group", she felt Norwood, and for that matter Chai, could benefit from "a trickle of change.

"If you stay in an organisation for too long, you can be a disservice to yourself and the organisation. Sometimes you need a fresh pair of eyes.

"Finding solutions to challenges is what brings me to work in the morning."

Raised in Edgware, Ms Kerr will commute to Norwood's Stanmore headquarters from her home in Radlett. She has two daughters and two stepchildren and is a Shenley Synagogue member.

Chai CHOOSES Anticoni

Rachel Anticoni will be Elaine Kerr's successor at Chai.

Ms Anticoni has spent three years as a management consultant working in the NHS, following six years as director of the Marie Curie hospice in Hampstead.

She is "very excited about further developing Chai's excellent services for the community. I am also looking forward to working alongside its committed and talented trustees, staff and volunteers."

Chai chair Louise Hager said "Rachel is ideally placed to continue Chai's innovation in cancer support".

Last updated: 4:53pm, September 27 2011