NEWSMAKER: One-man publicity machine - Victor Adebowale, Chief executive, Turning Point


Victor Adebowale is one of the more high-profile chief executives in the voluntary sector.

Frequently quoted in the media and nominated earlier this month for an Emma (Ethnic Multicultural Media) Award alongside Bill Morris, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, he was also appointed to the House of Lords last year as a People's Peer.

His critics have accused him of being a self-publicist but Adebowale maintains that he has not engineered the coverage he has received. "Maybe it's because I'm a six-foot black guy and there's not many of us around in the public eye. Or perhaps it's because I've got a big gob."

He continues to say that it is mainly because of the organisations he has been involved with that he has frequently appeared in the media. Previously he was the chief executive of homelessness charity Centrepoint for six years, before joining Turning Point eight months ago. "I've been lucky enough to be involved with organisations that run some innovative projects which attract media attention."

He is unapologetic about his profile, though, and considers promoting the organisation a vital component of a chief executive's job. He believes that communicating with the media is an important part of ensuring the transparency of an organisation, although he feels there is a tradition in the sector of keeping a low profile and not speaking out. "The sector is too shy and as a result people vastly underestimate what it does. Our leaders have a huge challenge to make it more visible.

He adds: "I do spend quite a lot of my time avoiding the media because I do have a large business to run."

Adebowale is anxious to raise Turning Point's profile as a social care charity as part of a new strategic plan launched last week. The charity is predominantly known for its work with substance abuse but he believes that the new five-year plan will help raise awareness of its programmes for people with mental health problems and learning disabilities.

"We have to say we're here and this is what we're doing."

Drugs have been high on the political and media agenda, which has led to the charity being frequently quoted on the issues surrounding it. But the organisation is less well known for its work in the areas of mental health and learning disabilities and Adebowale is keen to address the imbalance. He point out that these problems are often interlinked, someone with a substance abuse problem will often also have a learning disability or a mental health problem, or vice versa. "People don't fit into neat boxes.

Care needs to be more integrated,

he says.

One of the first steps of the strategic plan is to recruit a new communications team to work in its London head office.

At present only 20 people are employed there, with the remaining 1,500 staff working across 200 locations around the country. The charity also plans to invest in new policy and research staff. The proposals will also see Turning Point increase its focus on influencing policy. Since his appointment, Adebowale says he has travelled the country talking to staff and discovered a sense of frustration that Turning Point has not made more waves in policy.

The organisation has already initiated the establishment of the mental health providers forum which is heavily involved in lobbying the Government on mental health issues. "We need to work with government to make sure our clients get value because at the moment they certainly aren't.

He adds he has been shocked by the experiences of people with mental health problems and learning disabilities. "There are a lot of people affected. If an equal number were a race there would be outrage at the way they are treated,

he says.

In order to finance the broader remit, the organisation aims to increase its fundraising activity and bolster its fundraising team. At present 90 per cent of Turning Point's income is derived from contracts with the health service and government and Adebowale feels that increased fundraising will allow it to set up more innovative projects. He is keen to develop an arts programme for beneficiaries, building on the charity's existing art gallery in Manchester. He would also like to be able to develop more intermediary businesses, which would employ beneficiaries from the charity.

"We do already have some projects in this area. Including a fantastic worm farm,

says Adebowale.

But Turning Point has encountered problems in the past with fundraising.

People do not find the cause attractive. "I have been taken aside by people in the past who have said: 'We'd like to help but we don't want to give money to people with drug problems, shouldn't they be helping themselves?'"

Investing in new head office staff will mean that initial costs increase but Adebowale argues that the new team will soon start to generate more money and make the organisation more effective. He has found that other staff are concerned at the outgoings involved in employing new staff. "They see an ad offering a communications manager £40,000 a year and they need to be reassured that these new posts will add value."

But Adebowale feels that it is vital that Turning Point continues to develop. He believes it has reached a stage in its growth where it must take the risk of investing in infrastructure. "We have to start operating like a large organisation. We see a lot of people who deserve to have their stories told."


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