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Steve Swift

Steve Swift on the purposeful road

By Steve Swift

CEO, The Rose Road Association

Steve Swift’s altruistic sense of purpose has been a common thread running throughout his entire career. From his time in Australia coaching rugby at Sydney Grammar School through to over 15 years serving in the police, where he became a Chief Inspector.

That same desire to make a difference led Steve to the charitable sector and the Rose Road Association. As Steve marks his first year as Chief Executive Officer, and Rose Road celebrates its 71st year, he shares how they, and the charity sector, are adapting to and embracing a new future.

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Can you talk us through the work of the Rose Road Association?

It was set up by families and the community for children with profound and multiple learning disabilities to plug the gap in provision in the 1950s when mainstream schools couldn't accommodate their needs and there was a lack of statutory provision or support.

Children could play and their families would have a chance to meet and share their worries and stresses with people who understood what they were going through.

Sadly, that lack of statutory provision still exists today. We still offer those same stay-and-play sessions but we’ve expanded and evolved as the needs of the children and families we support have changed. We now also provide overnight respite care to children and adults, domiciliary care, community outreach, Activity schemes and we support young adults through day services. We also run the local Special Educational Needs Information and Advisory services for Southampton, Portsmouth and West Berkshire.

Collectively, through all of our services, we provide care and support to over 1000 people across Hampshire, West Berkshire and parts of Dorset.

Having a purpose in the work that you do is clearly very important to you.

Rose Road is one of those organisations where you get that feeling that everybody's here for the same reason: everyone gets it, everyone understands the purpose and there’s a collective reason for turning up and doing what we do.

It’s important to me to have that feeling of being connected to the reason we're all pitching in. It's that sense that you're doing good; you're helping people who need support and you’re making that difference.

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"Rose Road is one of those organisations where you get that feeling that everybody's here for the same reason: everyone understands the purpose and there’s a collective reason for turning up and doing what we do."

What are the biggest opportunities and challenges for the care sector right now?

Recruitment is a big issue for the entire care sector. We have 200 staff across the organisation and we’re always needing to recruit. There are almost daily articles in the news about the care sector being in crisis, and it’s true. As a charity, we haven’t got the money to offer the big salaries that some of the commercial care agencies have so we have to rely on the values of individuals and that vocational aspect of them wanting to work at a place like Rose Road.

Recruitment is a challenge and an opportunity. We’re researching the motivators behind why people choose to work for care agencies rather than care providers so that we can try to reduce our reliance on agency staff.

Funding is another massive challenge. There’s a lot of nervousness around the cost-of-living crisis – it affects us because, like everywhere else, everything we’re buying is costing us more money. But it also affects us from a fundraising perspective because people have got less money to spend on charities.

Finance on the whole is a challenge. Approximately 75% of our income comes from commission services from the local authorities, whose finances are already stretched. We have to work to ensure that our cause is high up on the agenda so that we get the fair funding we need to be able to deliver our services.

How are charities diversifying to stay engaged with supporters and those they support?

One of the reasons I’ve joined the Old Bond Store is because I want us to start thinking and acting more commercially without losing that sense of family that you get as a charity. I’m keen to develop partnerships where we can support organisations and they can support us, and I’d love to hear from anyone who would like to learn more about the charity.

Digitalization is important for the charity sector right now. It’s high up on our agenda and is built within one of our new strategic aims. Within the social care sector, particularly within charities, we’re a little bit behind the curve in our use of technology. There are opportunities to maximise its use to deliver a higher level of care, engage and interact with the families we work with, and also the way we support and communicate with our children and young adults.

"Digitalization is important for the charity sector right now. It’s high up on our agenda and will drastically change the way we deliver our services."

Steve Swift - CEO, The Rose Road Association

You’re working in such an emotive environment; what details in your work especially make you proud?

As an association that relies on the values of individuals to align with the values of our organisation, we do inevitably build relationships with the families, children, and young people that we support.

We work with complex individuals who have high care needs – with that comes risk and sadly we do lose people. It rocks the whole organisation: it’s the saddest part of our job, it’s like losing a family member and it’s heart-breaking. The organisation, and our people are crushed as a result and the thing that I’m proudest of is the fact that they continue to pick themselves up and deliver high levels of care during the toughest of times.

I’m also particularly proud of the fact that, due to the complex needs of some of the people we support, we are one of the only organisations (commercial or charity) able to provide the care and support services we do across the areas we cover. Without Rose Road, many of our families would have no where else to turn. This brings it’s own challenges but we work hard in find ways to make it work – it’s certainly not easy! But we manage to make it happen through hard work, grit and determination.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

I love watching rugby. I enjoy going out for meals with my family and friends. I love going for walks around the countryside: one of my main aims this year is to spend at least one weekend a month away with my wife and kids walking somewhere.

Being part of a charity you also get talked into doing things you’re not necessarily comfortable with. Last year I jumped out of a perfectly good plane at 15,000ft (I’m terrified of heights and can’t even climb a ladder). This year I’m taking part in our triathlon this month and I’ve been talked into taking part in the Southampton International Boat Show Swim – an event we partnered with Rees Leisure (OBS member Chris Rees) to deliver for the first time last year. I haven’t swum in a while so it should make for an interesting time. If you fancy joining us for a dip, then head across to our website to find out more.

What are you currently listening to, reading, or watching?

I’m trying to enjoy reading. I’m dyslexic so reading isn’t something I naturally do but a book I’ve read recently has inspired a change of tact in my business outlook. Guerrilla Marketing and Joint Ventures is about how we can achieve our objectives through joint ventures rather than seeing people as competition; changing the narrative and looking at how we can complement each other and work together to achieve a shared outcome.