Interview: Jan Tregelles

The new head of Mencap has a long history with the learning disabilities charity

Jan Tregelles
Jan Tregelles

When a charity with an income of more than £200m a year looks for a new chief executive, it usually casts the net wide and ends up appointing someone from a similar role at another charity or outside the sector. So it was somewhat unexpected when the learning disability charity Mencap recently announced it had made an internal appointment to its top post: Jan Tregelles, its former director of personal support.

In fact, Mencap's trustees were so sure that an internal candidate would be right to take over from Mark Goldring, who has left to be chief executive of Oxfam GB from next month, that the position was not advertised externally. "Mencap did a huge piece of work with all its stakeholders, from regulators to membership groups, asking what everyone thought we needed," says Tregelles. "It was very consultative. I went through a six-week recruitment process and a two-day assessment centre. I don't want anyone to think that I was not put through the wringer, because it was extensive."

Great benefits

Tregelles says the role was open to anyone working for the charity, including its many members of staff with learning disabilities. And she says there are great benefits for a charity if they choose to recruit internally for the top job.

"You're a known quantity," she says. "People have good insight into your thinking process, how you work, what's dear to you. So it lowers the anxiety for the teams. There's also trust established with the trustees. But I suppose the big one is that you understand the organisation and what matters to it."

Tregelles, whose salary in her new job is £137,000, has a long history with Mencap, having first worked for it in 1983 as a personal assistant to one of its then directors. She left to pursue a career in housing, again working with people with learning disabilities, but returned to the charity in 1997 to set up its housing arm, Golden Lane Housing.

"Mencap's position at the time was that it was a housing agent, almost a subcontractor, with very few rights or responsibilities because it didn't actually own the buildings - so it was a huge organisational risk for it," she says. "It wanted to do something about owning the houses in order to give people living in the services more security."

GLH now provides bespoke housing for 1,500 people and does not rely on any public funding. It recently launched its second bond, aiming to raise £10m, which Tregelles says is doing "really well". This five-year bond issue follows its first 10-year bond in 2003, when Mencap was the first UK charity to launch a bond issue for the public, raising £1.8m. "We are not shy about wanting to push the envelope with geared money," says Tregelles.

But she is tentative about the viability of some other new forms of funding - in particular, payment by results, the model currently favoured by the government and one of which Mencap has experience as a subcontractor for the Work Programme. "Payment by results is very embryonic," she says. "You have to build on the experience of the Department for Work and Pensions and the Work Programme, which - for a number of reasons - was not effective for people with learning disabilities."

Tregelles says one problem with payment by results is that all the risk is pushed onto charities, rather than being shared between them and government. "And we can't make any money out of it," she adds. "When you say payment by results, it's not that - it really means paying your costs by results. It implies there's going to be a margin on the work and there isn't any, not even for the risk."

Fundraising culture

Learning disability is not one of the easiest causes to gain support for, and Tregelles concedes that fundraising has been particularly hard in recent years. But she is hoping to create a "fundraising culture" in the charity by breaking down the silos that can be created between different kinds of fundraised income.

To aid fundraising, she says, Mencap tries to educate people about the needs of those with learning disabilities, before things reach crisis point. "Our approach is to try to get people to understand that there are timebombs waiting for us," she says. "It's about communicating the hidden need."

Mencap is well known for its successful national and grass-roots campaigns, but Tregelles says it would be presumptuous for it to give advice to other charities, which are familiar with their own fields. "But it's about using evidence and real-life stories," she says. "We see Mencap as a platform for people to be able to talk to the world so they can tell the world what it feels like for them. That's how we see ourselves."

CV:

2013: Chief executive, Mencap
2002: Director of personal support, Mencap
1997: Director, Golden Lane Housing, Mencap's housing arm
1988: Development director, New Era Housing Association
1984: Development assistant, New Era Housing Association
1983: PA, Mencap

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