Paula Kerr, chair of Livability

The disability charity has been busy finding entrepreneurial ways of fundraising, says its chair

Paula Kerr
Paula Kerr

Members of Paula Kerr's board at Livability sign a declaration that they are Christians. It has been a year of change at Livability, the disability charity born from the merger of John Grooms and the Shaftesbury Society in 2007. Last August, it announced that Mary Bishop, the chief executive who had overseen the merger, would step down and, in October, Michael Smith took up the post. Then, in March, Paula Kerr replaced Baroness Howarth of Breckland as the charity's chair.

"The situation could very well have created instability," says Kerr. "But I think we managed to phase the changes quite carefully and slowly. Baroness Howarth stayed in place until we had recruited a new chief executive. When I took over from her, I did so for a three-year term, so the charity's future looks stable."

Kerr, who has worked for the past decade as an independent business development and marketing consultant in the pharmaceutical industry, became a trustee at Livability in 2008. It was her first role in the voluntary sector. "I got involved because a colleague I had worked with on a Christian outreach programme was already a trustee at Livability," she says.

Kerr says all of Livability's trustees and senior managers must sign a statement of faith that says they are Christians. "The Christian ethos is very important to the way in which we carry out our work," she says.

"It means the trustees have great interest in and feeling for the people we serve. Christian compassion is also a strong motivation for people to become involved with Livability."

Kerr stresses that the charity's beneficiaries come from all faiths and none, and that with the exception of senior managers - including the finance director, fundraising director and chief executive - staff do not have to commit to the Christian faith.

Asked whether she believes the requirement for a statement of faith is compatible with equal opportunities and the need for a diverse board, she says: "Equality and diversity have many strands. Our board of 12 trustees has a good balance of men and women and we have a wheelchair user and two or three trustees from diverse ethnic backgrounds. We're a well- balanced group."

She also points to a section of the 2010 Equalities Act that allows employers to apply religious requirements if it is proportionate and there is a genuine need to do so.

Kerr says Livability receives about 90 per cent of its annual £40m income from local authorities and primary care trusts, and this funding has stayed at the same level over the past year despite public spending cuts.

"The statutory funding has been stable because we have worked with commissioners to adjust our care packages and because we run specialist educational establishments that have continued to receive funding," she says.

"Instead, we have struggled with the 10 per cent of our income that we fundraise. We need to improve our fundraising performance by understanding our users' needs and communicating that to new donors."

Livability has also tried to find new ways to raise money, such as setting up new holiday packages that allow people with care needs to pay to spend a week at a care home run by the charity in Bognor Regis.

"It's fortunate that we already have a home in a desirable holiday location," says Kerr. "It's about looking for new entrepreneurial ways of making the most of that."

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