St John Ambulance earmarks £500k to improve its culture after bullying claims

(Photograph: Jeremy Selwyn/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
(Photograph: Jeremy Selwyn/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The board of St John Ambulance  has allocated an additional half a million pounds to improve the culture of the charity, following multiple allegations of bullying earlier this year. 

Martin Houghton-Brown, the charity’s chief executive, said the work remained a “high priority” for the charity and would be supported by external partners.

Multiple current and former volunteers and employees at SJA had reported a “pervading culture of bullying” and a “cult-like” atmosphere where complaints about bullying were “swept under the rug”. 

In December, Third Sector revealed that SJA had spent £1.1m on severance payments in the past two years, which former senior employees claimed there was a widespread use of non-disclosure agreements at the organisation – which the charity rejected

Current and former volunteers for the charity said their mental and physical health was “weaponised” against them to undermine complaints about the bullying behaviour of senior volunteers at the organisation.

In an interview with Third Sector in January, Houghton-Brown apologised to the staff and volunteers who had experienced bullying at SJA and vowed to do better. 

In response to the allegations, the charity combined its wellbeing and welfare processes into a single programme under the leadership of three trustees, and in January Houghton-Brown said trustees were “actively considering” whether to put more resources into the scheme, known as the “values in action” programme. 

This week, in a statement to Third Sector, Houghton-Brown said trustees had “approved the allocation of an additional £500,000 to support delivery of the Values in Action programme over the next year, building on the ongoing resources we invest each year in our St John people and culture work”. 

He went on to say: “”I fully expect continued investment as much of this work will take several years to embed and realise the vision we have.”

He said the programme was “aimed at supporting positive behaviours and enacting change”, and cited the creation of two new workstreams for Culture and Resolution, to add to the existing  Freedom to Speak Up and Leadership Development streams, as examples of the charity’s progress. 

“This remains a high priority for us and so we are moving at pace,” he said. 

He said the charity had also continued to make progress on its equality, diversity and inclusion agenda, with the launch of a women’s network, a Pride network and the planned launch of multicultural, accessibility and family & carers networks in the next three months.

“As ever I pay tribute to the tireless effort of our volunteers and staff that make this possible. This has been an extremely hard year with our extraordinary contribution to the Covid crisis still ongoing while many other organisations are able to return to their main focus and so the extra energy given to this is really appreciated,” he said.

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