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Q&A with Dave Webber, Livability’s new CEO

Dave-Webber-landscapeDave Webber  became Livability’s CEO in July 2013. The interview below gives an insight into what motivates him.

What made you want to apply for the CEO’s role?

My longstanding involvement with the charity means that I am deeply committed to its purpose and ethos. I also know that the workforce care passionately about what they do. I believe that Livability has a very bright future and I wanted to play my part in leading the organisation forward.

How would you describe your style of leadership?

I like to listen and weigh up the facts but then I like to be decisive. I don’t like to back away from difficult decisions. I rely quite heavily on my senior team but I definitely like to lead from the front.

Like many other charities, in the past year we have celebrated a lot of successes but also had to go through some really difficult times. What would you like to tell our staff to keep them motivated and to reassure them that Livability has a bright future?

Livability is built on very firm, longstanding foundations, of both capital asset and Christian ethics, therefore we have the means to face up to the challenge. I think difficult decisions sit alongside good stewardship of our resources and it is inevitable that we will, from time to time, need to take tough decisions to ensure that we are being good and responsible stewards of the resources that we have.

Do you want to share with us a bit about your plans for the charity and the journey ahead?

Our focus for the future needs to be Livability as a whole; residential care, domiciliary care, education and community engagement, etc., all coming together to provide bespoke localised service offers so that Local Authorities/NHS can put together flexible and meaningful individual plans. This means challenging some of the old fashioned “silo” thinking and learning to work together with support services e.g. HR, Finance, Fundraising, Estates, etc., to ensure that we can be flexible, creative and responsive.

You have been involved with social care and supporting vulnerable people for over thirty years. What keeps you interested in this particular sector?

Although the funding, regulating and political positioning of social care have changed many times over the years, the needs of those we serve have remained the same and so it will be for the future. I know that there is always room for improvement and more efficiency and I never have to spend more than ten minutes with one of our service users to be reminded of why I do what I do.

What is the best advice you have ever been given?

I think the most lasting piece of advice I have had was given to me almost twenty years ago – “if it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it’s probably a duck…” It’s really about facing up to things that you know need to be done and not filing them in the “too difficult” box or making excuses because you don’t know how to tackle them.

In general what motivates you in life?

People – I love the Rudyard Kipling quote: “ the people, Lord, Thy people, are good enough for me…” I love a challenge and I love to make a difference but meeting an exciting range of people every day and responding to what that throws at me, is what keeps me going.

Your faith is very important to you. What do you think organisations such as ours, with a strong Christian ethos, need to do to remain relevant and keep engaging a wide range of people while at the same time remembering our heritage and our values?

We must be honest about our ethics and celebrate them. There is nothing about our Christian values that could in any way be perceived as anything other than good. Commissioners and individuals want to deal with honest, trustworthy, “clean” organisations, with a long track record of service delivery. We can provide that without doubt. It is also important that as Christians, we do the listening, to inform our decision making.

Tell us a bit about your personal interests and hobbies?

I like to be busy. Apart from my work, which takes up a substantial amount of my time, I am also a member of the Music Faculty at Newcastle University and tutor there five times a semester on a degree course. I am, and always have been, a working musician, working on both sides of the Atlantic, deeply involved in English Traditional Music. I play keyboards, concertina, guitar and fiddle, and have released six cds over the last twenty years. I am also a keen wildlife observer and photographer, with a special interest in cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and birds.

Are there any leaders, in the charitable sector or others, who you really admire and why?

Without doubt, the leader for whom I have the most respect is Desmond Tutu. I have followed his life and work for over thirty years and had the pleasure of going to “an evening with Desmond Tutu” in 2011; I’ll never forget it. Practical, faith and ethics enshrined in integrity and charisma – a shining light.

In the charitable sector, there are so many good leaders. I have the most respect for those who can make good business decisions without forgetting that we are charities for a reason and with a purpose.

What do you think are the biggest challenges for organisations, including charities such as ours, working in the social care and disability sectors?

Our biggest challenge is to be cost efficient and ensure that we are exercising the best stewardship with our resources. It is also important that the awareness of the Livability brand is raised generally within the sector.

The Paralympics helped put disabled people and disability issues in the spotlight, but what do you think are the barriers we still need to address in terms of inclusion?

I think that the biggest challenge for disabled people is the risk of social exclusion. There is a real danger that as public services and benefits are cut back, many disabled and disadvantaged people will begin to drift into obscurity within their own communities. I have watched this happen with the closure of the big mental health hospitals and the shift to Care in the Community. Many people with long term and serious mental illnesses simply dropped off the radar. We must do all we can to work with other local agencies, including churches, to ensure that people in need do not just disappear into the margins.

Why is Livability different from any other charities?

Without doubt, our heritage and ethos make us quite unique and our range of services is very wide. We work with people from Childhood and have the potential to support them throughout their whole lives. Also Livability does not “give up on people”. We very rarely refer people on when their needs become more complex e.g. end of life care.

What do you think the government should do when it comes to championing the rights and needs of disabled people better?

The Government needs to be much more specific about who they mean when they refer to disabled people. Often statistics are taken from the DWP and relate to the numbers of people claiming Incapacity Benefit. This represents a very wide cohort of people with disabilities at many different levels, and I fear it leads to generalisations that do not properly represent those with very complex needs.

And finally tell us what your ideal day would be like?

OK – my idea of perfect would be…….to get up early, breakfast in the sunshine looking over San Francisco Bay, or one of the harbour ports in Maine or New Hampshire. The prospect of a busy day with lots of people to talk to, and some time to watch or interact with the natural world. There needs to be some quiet time for me to focus. Dinner (probably fish) eaten outside with friends and a chance to make lots of music, topped off with peaceful sleep, content that somewhere in the day I have made a difference.

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