From Seedling to Blossoming – Sams Story

From Seedling to Blossoming – Sams Story

Tiny Seedling

Better Connect was created in 2007 by a group of forward-thinking innovators from the voluntary and community sector. Its aim was to enable small voluntary sector organisations to work together to deliver large government-funded projects in the area of learning, skills, and employment. It was the first time that the sector had collaborated in this way and there was more than a little healthy scepticism about this new organisation and how it would work. It was set up with 6 months of seed funding and one contract and told to go forth and multiply.

I joined Better Connect in September 2008, joining a team of 4 people based in a single office. We were led by our pioneering founding CEO, Sue Vasey and had a massive mountain to climb to establish this seedling organisation and prove the value of an organisation based on creating partnerships to both voluntary sector organisation and funders. We had (and have) a fabulous Board and have always attracted amazing staff, but it was still something of an uphill struggle, with no track record, not much money in the bank and an untested model of bringing truly holistic, person-centred and multi-partner delivery approaches into the skills and employability world.

These early years were times of rapid growth and change as we navigated a stormy external environment with changes of government and policy, a credit crunch and later a recession. Throughout, we built positive relationships with our “partner organisations” and began to secure bigger pots of funding to deliver more exciting and transformational programmes. I learned a lot in this growing team, being promoted first to Programme Manager, then Finance Team Lead and later on to Head of Operations.

It was also a time of significant personal challenge for me, experiencing a mental health breakdown in 2013 and then a rebuilding my life from the ground up. Learning about what good mental health would look like for me and creating a life with new, healthy habits. I had therapy, started a yoga practise, joined a netball team, changed my eating and sleeping habits and fundamentally changed my relationship with work. I stopped the 60+ hour working weeks and learned to be more efficient. I learned to delegate more and trust my team. When the CEO role came up in 2016, I felt I was ready to take what I’d learned to a new level.


Growing sapling

I became CEO in May 2016 and my promotion created opportunities for lots of my colleagues; with 3 staff stepping up to be part of my new Senior Management Team. We grew the organisation by 30% in the first year, recruiting new staff, working with more partners, and increasing our turnover. We secured our biggest contract to date and have now worked with over 200 delivery partners and supported more than 5,000 people. We have continued to grow and develop as an organisation, securing new projects, rebranding to Better Connect in 2021 and now have a consistent annual turnover over £2m/year. We worked with new funders, gradually built our reserves, and continued to grow our reputation.

During my tenure as CEO, I have also focused on building a strong and supportive culture with values and staff wellbeing at its heart. We have an excellent track record of developing our people and good retention of staff who have built their careers here. This results in an improved service to our delivery partners and great performance on our programmes. We have a strong track record of delivering impactful programmes and a great relationship with our partner organisations. Our culture is one of co-production, empowerment, and trust where everyone has each other’s back.


Blossoming – 2022 and beyond

I feel proud of the legacy I will be leaving when I step down from my role as CEO in spring 2022. Leaving Better Connect has been one of the hardest decisions of my life because I feel so much love for the incredible team and the wonderful partners we work with to deliver life-changing projects. I will miss you all and the sense of family and community I have felt in my role as CEO.

But I also feel that this is the right time for me to move on, both personally and for Better Connect. There is an incredible opportunity for the voluntary and community to support our statutory sector colleagues as we all navigate the new world of post-Brexit, post-lockdown, local government reorganisation, devolution and many more changes to come.

This is a really exciting time for a new CEO to come into post to carve a new path and create diverse opportunities for our partner organisations across all sectors. There has never been such a strong need for an organisation that can offer genuinely local, person-centred, and high-quality delivery of wide-ranging activities, at any scale.

Our quest to find our next CEO begins today. We are looking for an inspiring and visionary leader who can take the organisation into its next stage of growth and change. We are looking for someone who is committed to our vision, mission, and values, as well as someone who will being fresh ideas of how Better Connect can meet the emerging needs of a changing world.

Our new leader will find a strong foundation to build on with an exceptional staff team, 14-year track record of successfully delivering programmes, strong financial management and excellent relationships with partners and funders. If this opportunity gives you an excited tingling feeling, I highly recommend that you check out our recruitment pack and find out how to apply.

Being the CEO of Better Connect has been a genuine privilege and I am so grateful for the support of my Board, the unwavering commitment of my colleagues and the dedication and hard work of our partners in all the work we have done together. Thank you to all the amazing people who have made my 13 years at Better Connect so inspiring, meaningful, and rewarding. I will miss working with you in the role of CEO at Better Connect but am so proud of the organisation we have created and looking forward to finding out who will be taking up the reins for the next exciting chapter.

To find out more about my personal journey and what’s next for me, you can watch the below video..

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