Most Admired Chief Executive: Toby Blume, runner-up

The chief executive of Urban Forum is a strong believer in social change and in the right of individuals to determine their futures.

Toby Blume, chief executive of Urban Forum (right) with Andy Ricketts of Third Sector at the awards night
Toby Blume, chief executive of Urban Forum (right) with Andy Ricketts of Third Sector at the awards night

He was born into a family immersed in the voluntary sector. His mother is Dame Hilary Blume, described by The Guardian newspaper as "the doyenne of charity Christmas cards" for her work as founder of the Charities Advisory Trust. His father is Michael Norton, author, activist and founder of the Directory of Social Change. But Blume says he received no favours. "I'm the only one of three children to work in the sector, so it was far from obvious," he says. "There was never any expectation for me to work in charities."

Blume's family life gave him an instinct for campaign work and paved the way for a career and a reputation as one of the sector's most outspoken leaders. "I was exposed to high-level thinking and the more innovative end of charity from an early age," he says.

Blume served his apprenticeship with small-scale, grassroots organisations, working as a volunteer and then as an employee for several housing and homelessness projects and the campaign group Reclaim the Streets.

He joined Urban Forum - a membership organisation for community groups involved in regeneration - in 2004. "We try to act as a bridge between policy-makers and community members, so we equip our members with the information they need to influence local area agreements," he says. "We also aim to influence and inform government policy-making.

"That means making sure that central and local government departments understand, because there is a huge gap between what departments say and the reality of what our members face."

Paula Hirst, the former chair of Urban Forum, says it's Blume's instincts and leadership skills that are central to the organisation's effectiveness. "He is a passionate advocate of social change and a strong believer in the rights of individuals to be able to determine their own futures," she says. "He helps to create a voice for those who are denied it in policy-making."

Blume describes his shock at finding that government policy- makers are not necessarily well informed. "It is not always robust, or based on rigorous evidence," he says. "There is an element of randomness, which is an eye-opener. What's decided can be based on the interpretation of a civil servant or the observation of someone invited along. But I have to be optimistic, otherwise it would all be too exhausting."

Blume says he is not inhibited by the high office of those he's attempting to influence and aims to speak his mind. "I just do things," he says. "I go out to express myself as I see fit.

Helen Barrett

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