Stroke player

Jon Barrick, Chief Executive, Stroke Associationon practising 'servant leadership' as he works to raise the charity's profile.

Barrick: 'brand is important when you're not a household name' (Credit: Newscast)
Barrick: 'brand is important when you're not a household name' (Credit: Newscast)

Anyone who criticises large charities with multi-million pound turnovers for losing the 'fire in their belly' should give Jon Barrick a call.

Barrick has been chief executive of the Stroke Association for almost three years, but he still talks about it like an incredibly proud father.

He gets excited about things as small as a Stroke Association car sticker.

When it comes to talking about the Government's forthcoming National Stroke Strategy, which the association played a pivotal role in securing, he can barely stay still in his chair.

The charity's headquarters at 'Stroke House' in London's east end has the buzz of a small community organisation. Barrick puts this down to an unpretentious and concertedly anti-corporate management ethos.

"As a management team, we believe in the concept of servant leadership," he says. "We're here to serve our beneficiaries, staff and volunteers.

I think that's very different from some of the big charities, which have become quite corporate in feel."

Barrick believes in getting his staff together and allowing everyone to have their say, even when it comes to setting national strategy. He says: "If you come to one of our Friday evening get-togethers in the pub, you'll see directors sitting there with front-line staff, listening to stories from the week and sharing ideas of where we might go."

This is a policy Barrick has applied to the stroke community as a whole.

He has used the association's position as a charity to bring all of the competing professional stroke bodies together to see how they can advance research into and treatment of the disease. "All the professional organisations that work in stroke were working separately," he explains.

"We knew that, because we are a voluntary organisation, none of the professional organisations would be apprehensive about an initiative from us to get everybody together."

The first UK Stroke Forum, a meeting of 26 organisations, took place in December last year. The initiative was so successful that all the parties involved have agreed to turn it into an annual event.

This collaborative role is one that other voluntary sector bodies should consider playing, according to Barrick. He says: "I think this is a new role for the voluntary sector - the idea of us acting as a catalyst to bring all sorts of groups together. We can play that role because we're here to change the world, not to make a profit."

Professional attitudes aren't the only ones Barrick is trying to change.

One of the biggest challenges for the association, he says, is to increase public understanding of the condition and its symptoms.

"I think stroke is where cancer was 15 years ago," he says. "People didn't want to talk about it because they were scared of it."

In 2004, the association found that, despite it being the UK's third biggest killer, only 48 per cent of the population knew what a stroke was.

Two years later this has increased to 55 per cent, but it's something the charity is working on. In addition to building up its campaign work, which has won it two awards in as many years, it is preparing to launch its first advertising campaign this summer.

Barrick even shuns the smart leather briefcase that is usually part of the charity chief executive's uniform in favour of a plain polyester bag emblazoned with the name of the association.

"Brand is important to us because we're not a household name," he says. "But we should be, and I want to do all I can to make sure it happens during my stewardship, before I pass the baton on to somebody else."

<> Barrick CV
2004: Chief executive, Stroke Association
1997: Director of community services, RNIB
1992: Assistant director, RNIB
1989: Manager, housing and care services, RNIB
1984: Manager, London Borough of Haringey Homeless Persons Unit

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