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Chief Executive celebrates 21 years at the helm

A warm welcome greeted Paul Montgomery when he first stepped through the doors of Strode Park House in 2000.

This year, marks Paul’s 21-year work anniversary and we caught up with him to find out what he feels his successes have been over the last two decades, what his favourite parts of the job are and what made him come to Strode Park Foundation in the first place.

Paul has always worked in the health and social care and charity sectors. He said: “My first roles in care were as a voluntary sports coach for people with disabilities (including managerial responsibility for the worst football team in Cheshire and possibly the whole of England!) and then as a carer in a residential setting.

“Subsequently, I have been fortunate to work in several managerial roles in the care sector and charity sector and I hope that I have not forgotten the lessons learned ‘on the floor’ as a volunteer and as a carer.”

Paul was working in London as the Chief Executive of another disabilities charity before moving to Kent to take up his position at Strode Park Foundation. He recalls: “I wanted a role with similar values to mine. A role that would promote the rights and wellbeing of people with disabilities. I also believe that it is unethical for companies to make a profit out of peoples’ disabilities or illnesses so I wanted to continue to build on my work in the charity sector. Strode Park Foundation fitted the bill really well.”

As Paul points out his predecessor was at Strode for around 20 years too and there cannot be many organisations that have had to recruit a new Chief Executive only once in 40 years.

Speaking of overarching objectives Paul says these have not really changed during his time at the helm “At its core it hasn’t changed; it is, was, and always will be about treating people with dignity and respect, listening to their views and convincing commissioners and donors to provide the funds so that individual’s needs and wishes can be met”.

“However, on a day-to-day basis the way we achieve this aim has changed a lot. Things like communications and technology has progressed. And the Foundation has grown significantly. When I came here, we had about 100 staff members we now have almost 400.”

Back in 2000 Strode Park operated from just one site and in the last 21 years it has evolved and developed into what it is today offering services across Kent with new homes, supported living facilities as well as a homecare and day opportunities service.

When asked to describe one of his biggest and proudest achievements at Strode Park, Paul comments that there are so many positive things to reflect on but that the rescue of the Kent Kids charity, which includes Footprints and Redwalls, is a particular highlight.

“Kent Kids was really struggling both financially and from a care practice perspective. The planning, determination and teamwork required to remedy the situation was very demanding and so many people including Laura Pearce (the Footprints Manager), the Strode Park senior management team and the Council of Management worked so hard to turn the perilous situation round. And we succeeded.

“The service was saved, it went from an ‘Inadequate’ rating to a ‘Good’ rating with both CQC and Ofsted and it was transformed into a financially viable service without making any carers redundant. As a consequence, both Footprints and Redwalls are thriving and almost ten years later they continue to provide a wonderful service for young and vulnerable adults and children. That’s one achievement that stands out and makes all of us who were involved very proud.”

Paul says that it is Strode Park’s vision that inspired him to apply for the job. He added: “I didn’t necessarily set out to make the organisation bigger, that was not my ambition. I had an ambition to preserve the values that characterised the charity and to make it better in the areas where this was possible. The growth in the range and number of services that has been achieved is a result of staying true to these values”.

Among his favourite memories over the last 21 years have been the interaction with residents, beating one particular resident at arm wrestling (and losing the return bout!) as well “getting immense pleasure from seeing people with disabilities and those without disabilities coming together to enjoy some wonderful performances at the Theatre in the Park. Paul added that he also really enjoys the musical and dance performances that the Coach House residents put on and especially the enthusiasm and pleasure that the residents and service users bring to their performances which always makes such occasions a joyful experience” he said.

“They are not always a core part of job but these peripheral things really stand out,” he added.

And his worst memory? “Aside from the very personal times when we’ve lost people, it was taking a phone call at 2am when the Green Room was on fire. It was about 10 years ago and the building had to be reconstructed from scratch. The whole thing burnt to the ground. It was devastating and made even more distressing by the fact that the fire was not that far from the Reece Paton wing of Strode Park. Thankfully there were no injuries at all.”

His final words about his role as Chief Executive, he said: “I am privileged to work alongside many talented, dedicated and inspirational people including service users, staff members, the Council of Management and volunteers. We are a diverse bunch, but we remain united by our shared commitment to the empowerment of people with disabilities and the values that underpin all our endeavours.

“It is an honour and a pleasure to lead Strode Park Foundation.”

Paul Montgomery, Chief Executive