Newsmaker: Onward, Christian soldier

Grooms-Shaftesbury chief executive Mary Bishop is leading the new Christian disability charity formed from a merger.

Mary Bishop
Mary Bishop

Mary Bishop is upbeat about the merger of Christian disability charities John Grooms and the Shaftesbury Society. In fact, she seems to be entirely positive about every aspect of the new organisation.

Having overseen the merger, Bishop assumed the position of chief executive of Grooms-Shaftesbury, the working title of the merged organisation, after senior staff agreed that she would be the best person for the role.

The merger, which was completed at the end of June, was remarkable, Bishop says, not only because of the speed at which it happened, but also because of the low number of redundancies expected to be caused by the coming together of the two organisations.

When pushed, Bishop says she expects that number to be "maybe two or three".

Although few jobs will be lost, Bishop says the charities, which have a combined annual turnover of about £50m, will still be making substantial efficiency savings. However, saving money was not the primary reason for the merger. "We wanted to deliver better services, and we think together we can do that," she says.

Building campaigning muscle was also a factor. The Reverend Michael Shaw, former chief executive of John Grooms, has been taken on in a short-term advisory capacity to work on the new organisation's campaigning and fundraising profile (Third Sector, 9 May).

"We are exploring all the different opportunities," says Bishop. "We believe that it should be directly related to the people who use our services and what they would want us to campaign about." One early test for the fledgling organisation will be how to integrate staff from the two charities. Bishop says that the speed at which the merger took place - initial discussions began last year and an agreement in principle to merge was drawn up last autumn - has helped avoid problems.

"We have done it like this in order to limit the amount of uncertainty for people," says Bishop. "When people know there is change coming, they understandably become nervous about what the future might hold. It has been a lot of work, but I still think it was better to do it quickly."

The organisation is encouraging staff get to know each other. "We had a day when the managers of the units for disabled adults came together and talked about their services," says Bishop. "Everybody made a commitment that they would go and visit a service that they knew nothing about.

"In any merger, developing a shared culture is a challenge. For us, however, the fact that we share the same values has made that easier." Those shared values have meant that Grooms-Shaftesbury courted a degree of controversy after it was revealed that the top jobs at the new organisation would be set aside for practising Christians.

Bishop defends the move. "We have a Christian ethos and a lot of Christians do work with us," she says. "For the senior posts we apply a genuine occupational requirement for people to be Christian, but we have people of all faiths working for us across the organisation."

Asked if there should be more mergers in the sector, Bishop is diplomatic. "Broadly speaking, there is a recognition in the sector that there should be more, but it would not be the right thing for every organisation," she says.

And what has she learnt? "Everybody says there is no absolute blueprint for a merger, and I think that's true," says Bishop. "You have to develop your own solutions for your own organisation."

Bishop CV

2007 Chief executive, Grooms-Shaftesbury
2002 Chief executive, Shaftesbury Society
2000 Senior specialist, Audit Commission
1999 Management consultant
1998 Assistant director, commissioning, Newham Council

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