Light bulb moment: Jon Sparkes on how recession led him into the voluntary sector

A key insight into the working life of the chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis

Jon Sparkes
Jon Sparkes

In the early 1990s I was working at a large engineering company in the Midlands. Because of the recession it had laid off about 2,000 people from a workforce of 6,000, and I saw the effects on the local community. There was a tangible impact on the town – higher-end shops were replaced by discount stores, there was a more violent, desperate, atmosphere on a Friday night, and people's health was affected.

It made me see the huge effect on social cohesion and the waste of human talent that such labour market shifts can produce. The company was doing its best to survive economically, but much more could have been done to support the people laid off and the local community.

This sowed the seeds for me joining the voluntary sector years later, and wanting to work for organisations that could produce solutions. I wasn't interested in joining a charity that just picked up the pieces, but in one that made a positive difference- promoting rights, supporting people and tackling injustice. That's why I worked at Scope, Unicef UK and Crisis.

The redundancies at that factory could probably not have been avoided, but much of the damage they caused could have been mitigated, and people's dignity protected better, if there had been a coordinated approach from organisations in the local community – including businesses, the council, and voluntary groups.

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