Newsmaker: The joys of merger - Carole Easton Chief executive, Clic Sargent

Indira Das-Gupta

'The needs of beneficiaries are more important than the organisation'.

Few people would class the evaporation of their job before their eyes as a positive experience. But Carole Easton, whose position as chief executive at ChildLine became redundant when the charity became part of the NSPCC last year, did so. Not only was the merger the best outcome for ChildLine, she says, but the experience will also be useful in her new role as chief executive of Clic Sargent.

"I'm proud of the outcome for ChildLine and the NSPCC and of what was achieved - there is a lot to be learned from that," she says. "ChildLine made the needs of children the priority above the organisation and personalities. It's a reminder to always keep an eye on the needs of beneficiaries and make decisions according to whatever they might be."

There are also some practical experiences that Easton will draw on in her new role. "Clic Sargent is already a merged organisation, so the experiences of the cultural changes at ChildLine will be really useful," she says.

Clic Sargent was officially formed in April 2005 when Clic and Sargent Cancer Care for Children merged. David Ellis, chief executive of Clic, took up the reins, but left to become director of business improvement at the National Trust after just nine months, leaving finance director Edward Coviello at the helm until a permanent replacement was found.

Despite the uncertainty this must have caused, the merger appears to have been successful. The charity raised £17.5m in its first year - £500,000 more than its target. General public awareness has also grown, from 10 per cent for each charity before the merger to 15 per cent. It has become the biggest provider of services for children with cancer in the UK.

One of Easton's first challenges was the daunting task of considering the charity's annual report and looking at the next year's budgets.

"It meant very quickly having to get to grips with the totality of the organisation," she says. "Without having a relationship with the staff or knowing them and their different points of view, I had to support them and have a point of view myself."

As well as getting to know the charity's staff, Easton is keen to learn from its beneficiaries. "I want to focus on hearing directly from young people whose lives are affected by cancer, the children who are diagnosed and their siblings," she says.

"We already consult some of the children who use our services, although there isn't a formal body yet. I will be talking to people about how to involve our younger users. We also have a former service-user who is now in her 20s joining our board of trustees."

Another first for Easton is seeing the debate about charity involvement in public service delivery from the inside. She followed the debate with interest at ChildLine, but at Clic Sargent she is actively involved: the charity funds or part-funds 60 NHS posts and a further 60 social worker posts, which are located in local authorities. "We have a genuinely interesting relationship with the NHS," says Easton. "It leads to questions about the role of the sector, which is something I'd be interested to debate with other charities."

Easton's most omnipresent challenge, as for most charity chief executives, will probably be that of building her organisation's profile and securing funding. The fact that the charity is better known following the merger is only half the battle. Cancer affects only about 3,000 people aged between 0 and 25 each year, which means it is not at the forefront of most people's minds, according to Easton. "This can make it an isolating condition," she says. "It is not given priority, so it falls off the agenda."

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