This week on the #MYCHARITY series, we speak to Carla Jones, CEO of Allergy UK
Location: Sidcup Kent
Current job: Chief Executive of Allergy UK
One word that best describes how you work: Committed
Current mobile device: Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge
Favourite website: Allergy UK’s www.allergyuk.org
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
Allergy UK is the leading national patient organisation supporting the 21 million people living with allergy in the UK. We are a small team of 25 with a huge footprint. The organisation has been around 26 years but has quietly got on with its work. I became CEO in May 2015 with a task from the Board of Trustees to drive our mission – raising the profile of allergy – and our vision – for everyone affected by allergy to receive the best possible care.
As a social scientist, my career and interests have focused on how society can work collaboratively to improve the quality of life for all. My interest in allergy and the need to raise awareness of the rights of those living with an allergy comes from a personal place. My own family includes food allergy, atopic eczema, allergic rhinitis, allergic asthma and anaphylaxis – so when I saw an opportunity to lead Allergy UK three years ago I just had to apply. The severity of the allergic disease is still not understood in our society and I want to be a part of raising awareness so that society recognises this serious long-term life condition and the impact it has on quality of life for those living with it.
I haven’t taken a structured pathway in one field of work but have gathered knowledge and experience along the way. I have worked in local government, leading community, social and physical regeneration of socially deprived areas. My earlier academic career involved research and lecturing on topics associated with early years, psycho-social aspects of health and the evaluation of government initiatives aimed at increasing life chances for young children. I have worked in healthcare, including managing a specialist palliative care hospice, working with University students with specific health needs, and nursing in secondary care. This was all preceded by working in the private sector in purchasing, retail and banking. So a mixture of experience which, for a CEO helps – as you need to know a bit about most things with experts in your team to support.
Take us through a recent workday.
I am up at 5.30 am most days, feed the dog, and then have a 90-minute drive to work. Coffee on arrival with a quick refresh on the important list of actions for that day. I usually touch base briefly with the service managers in case they have something they wish to update me on, need to discuss any communications about allergy in the media or raised by our supporters. There are 21 million people in the UK living with allergy and each person’s allergy is different, so Allergy UK covers the breadth of allergy which means we have a wide range of focus on, food allergy, respiratory allergy, pollen allergy, skin allergy, venom allergy, drug allergy, and anaphylaxis. We have multiple projects running at any one time – with a UK wide-reach and a busy team of only 25 staff – we multitask!
Allergy UK is connected to various national, European and global networks and groups that share our objectives. I can be attending a cross-partner meeting with healthcare professionals involved in allergy in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales or England, at a meeting at Westminster with MPs from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Allergy, or in Brussels as I sit on a European Board representing patients with an allergy which seeks to influence European policy.
Other parts of my day are focused on our charity’s exciting plans for the future and trying to work out how we might raise the income to be able to achieve more for those we are here to support.
How do you discover new ways to innovate in your working day?
It varies. It might be something I’ve read in an article or book, a comment made by one of the team, a call we’ve received to our Helpline from someone living with an allergy which our Helpline Advisors mention because it’s sparked an idea or something posted on Linkedin. I am lucky as we have a team which shares new innovative ideas all the time. Finding time to think is not always an easy thing – because we are such a small team covering such a large area each day is really busy – but we do bounce ideas off of each other continuously.
What is the next big thing in the charity sector?
As our society evolves our social interaction adapts to new technology and ways of connecting. Historical ways of volunteering, donating and expectations from charities for that donation are changing and our sector needs to be able to continue to provide the excellent work that we do to support others whilst finding innovative ways to raise income to enable us to continue to do this.
Allergy UK has always sought to find diverse ways to raise funds and we raise some of our funding through our own endorsement schemes, the Seal of Approval and the Allergy-Friendly Products. These are independently and scientifically tested products which may be of benefit to people affected by allergy. There is currently no cure for allergy, so our endorsements provide advice to people about useful products which might help alleviate some of the pain and pressures associated with living with allergic symptoms.
However, we still rely on donations to enable us to continue to support those living with allergy. Our Helpline receives 10,000 calls a year and costs Allergy UK £15 an hour to provide this service – so any donations we receive enable us to continue services such as this much-needed advice line.
For us and the charity sector as a whole it’s important we find channels to raise awareness of all the work that we do and people can see why we might need their donation.
How do you measure success?
Our mission is to ensure everyone living with allergy receives the best possible care and a key part of our work is consistent campaigning and networking in the background, meeting with key influencers to try to make changes in society which will help those living with allergy have a better quality of life. So, for me, when this work makes a difference – that’s a success.
Allergy UK led the research and played a key influencing role in the recent changes to legislation which from October 2017 now allow schools to now hold adrenaline auto-injectors. This took nearly three years to achieve – but for children with anaphylaxis this could save their lives in they have a severe allergic reaction at school which requires adrenaline. Success is improving the quality of life for those living with allergic disease.
How do you recharge? What do you do when you want to forget about work?
I am a self-confessed workaholic – especially if I am passionate about something. But everyone needs rest time and I spend mine walking the dog with my husband, losing myself in non-fiction science fantasy genre books – or hanging out with my running buddies.
What are you currently reading, or what’s something you’d recommend?
I sometimes re-visit books that I’ve read before to refresh my thoughts. I’m reading Jim Collins ‘Good to Great’ again – to remind me of the key messages he has on how to move a good company to be a great company.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _____ answer these same questions.
Loads more charity heroes – so we can learn from each other
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Whatever you can do or dream you can begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it”.
Attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I find it motivational. Whenever I question myself and my abilities – it always comes to mind.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers?
Our Helpline is led by allergy and immunology specialists so please do contact us if you have any concerns or suspect you may have an allergy 01322 619898 – as we are here to help.
I admit to being hopeless at keeping up with my LinkedIn – but at least I have one ……. https://www.linkedin.com/in/carla-jones-889213135
The WeGiveIt #MYCHARITY series asks heroes, experts, and flat-out productive people to share their ambitions, routines and more. Have someone you want to see featured, or questions you think we should ask? Email Sara