Third Sector Excellence Awards 2013: Luke Fitzherbert Lifetime achievement - Baroness Jill Pitkeathley

Awarded to an individual who has shown sustained commitment both to voluntary organisations and to the sector in general during his or her career

Baroness Jill Pitkeathley
Baroness Jill Pitkeathley

A precis of Baroness Jill Pitkeathley's role in the voluntary sector came in her recent speech in the House of Lords, when she recalled a bishop who, asked to speak about sin, stood up, declared he was against it and sat down again.

"If I am asked about civil society, I can say - just as simply - 'I am for it'," Pitkeathley said. "Despite rashly delivered statements about a broken society, civil society is not in decline."

The fact that it is not in decline is due in some measure to Pitkeathley's efforts over the past 50 years, when she has worked in both public and voluntary sectors and often acted as a bridge between the two.

She started as a social worker in Berkshire, where she chaired the Reading Citizens Advice Bureau, was a trustee of the county's community council and ran the volunteering organisation at Reading Hospital.

In 1986 she entered a new phase as director of the National Council for Carers, merging it with the Association of Carers to become what is now Carers UK. "She established caring as a discrete and necessary function in society, and without her it would not be what it is now," says a colleague.

After she was made a life peer by Labour in 1997, she chaired the New Opportunities Fund, a lottery distributor, and the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service. She also sat on the committee that led to the formation of Big Society Capital and chaired the Third Sector Advisory Group in the Labour years.

"She didn't push or grandstand, but quietly got on with it," says the colleague. "She's a silent operator - lots of individual discussions and a hand on the shoulder in the corridor. She can be quite sharp and will challenge ministers, though not in public, and she doesn't burn her boats. She's left-wing, but not in a party political way."

Another colleague says: "She understands the vast differences between local and national charities, and how each requires different policies to thrive."

She is currently a member of the Joint Committee on the Draft Care and Support Bill, and is respected by the coalition government, which in 2011appointed her to the board of the Big Society Trust, which oversees Big Society Capital. She is also a deputy speaker in the Lords, a voluntary post.

A third colleague who has worked with her in various ways for 20 years concludes: "She is a great ambassador for the sector, who has always had its interests at heart while at the same time providing constructive criticism."

Pitkeathley is also an author of non-fiction and fiction, including two recent novels based on the lives of Jane Austen's sister, Cassandra, and her exotic cousin, Countess Eliza de Feuillide.

This award is named after its first recipient, Luke FitzHerbert of the Directory of Social Change, who died in a road accident in 2007.


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