After six months settling into his new role as Sussex Beacon CEO, James Ledward checks on Bill Puddicombe’s progress to date.
BILL’S first job in the voluntary sector was in 1980, as a care assistant for what was then called the Church of England Children’s Society. He has spent most of the intervening years with a mixture of paid and unpaid roles in charities as diverse as Mencap and the Schoolmistresses and Governesses Benevolent Institution.
“I’ve been here at the Sussex Beacon since the beginning of 2018 and I’m loving it,” he says. “There are challenges and some tough decision to make but it’s a real privilege to be working for this important and necessary service.”
Bill’s career includes spells as Chief Executive at Phoenix Futures, the national drug and alcohol treatment charity, and Equinox Care, who are active in Brighton as part of the Pavilions treatment service for addictions.
He is currently a trustee of four other charities including Toucan, an employment service for people with learning disabilities, and Magalen Community Services, a small charity that works with a community in eastern Uganda.
“The Beacon is a great example of how a local charity can serve a community”, he says, “I’m new to Brighton and it’s inspiring to see how people have got behind the Beacon and recognise it for the great work that goes on here”.
Since arriving at the Sussex Beacon Bill has been concerned that there is a gap between public ideas about HIV and the reality for many HIV positive people.
He says: “There seems to be a narrative that everything is fine now, HIV is no longer a problem and antiretroviral drugs have made everything OK. It’s true that things have improved enormously but there are still many people with significant, life changing problems resulting from their HIV status. That’s the group that needs the services that we provide.”
What is the toughest decision you have made since arriving at the Beacon? “Making the decision to make someone redundant is always a tough. Sometimes, as with this decision, it cannot be avoided.
“Many of the other decisions made themselves. Once I had understood the importance of the in-patient services then the need for their preservation became clear. Seeing the very ill people who stay with us every night of the year made me realise just what would be missed without the Beacon to provide the essential specialist care that they need.”
Have you come up with a plan to ensure the future of the charity? “We have a plan in place for the next three years, which will ensure that the Beacon is a sustainable organisation, providing a combination of hospital and health management services as we do now.
“We will make sure that the services we provide are the right ones for the people who need them and spend time talking to current and potential patients and clients to make sure we understand what is needed.
“We will examine the expenses of the charity, making sure that we only spend what is needed on anything other than direct services to patients and clients.”
“We are also doing much more to recognise the place that the community has in the life of the Beacon, through volunteering in so many ways and through the invaluable fundraising that goes on throughout the year. Committed volunteers are at the heart of the Beacon.”
What are you doing to increase your bed occupancy? “This will be most important if we are to keep all the services going. Firstly, we are making sure that we remind the NHS across Sussex that we are here and always willing to take a referral. We have spent some time defining the different kinds of care that people living with HIV need during their stay with us and made sure that it is in front of GPs, Consultants, specialist Nurses and so on.
“Secondly, we plan to spread our net a little wider and look for a small number of referrals from outside the County. This will allow us to better use the resources available. For this we should bring in some extra funding that will go toward keeping the Beacon available for Sussex.”
“We know these plans will not be easy to accomplish. The Sussex Beacon has great staff, fantastic volunteers and supporters and a group of people living with HIV who need the services we provide. This is an exciting time for all of us.”