On my very first Face Equality Day as CEO of Changing Faces, we had an evening reception in Parliament. Our brilliant young champions were launching new research about being a young person with a visible difference: some of them were speaking in public for the first time.
We arrived to find there had been a mix-up with our room booking – it was half the size we expected! So, with twenty minutes’ notice, our team assembled posters, power-points, puff-pastries, and welcomed distinguished guests. Somewhere in the fray, I lost my speech. But in the middle of all this, our young people stood up and started, brilliantly, to share their stories. Everyone stopped what they were doing. In the absence of any seating, one of our supporters took the initiative and sat down on the floor to give our young people her full and absolute attention. Lots of others followed.
That image, of our community of supporters sitting on the floor in Parliament and listening quietly to our young people speak with such courage, has been a touchstone throughout my time as CEO. As our wonderful ambassador Nikki Lilly said that day ‘we have to be brave’.
When I took over from our much-admired and respected founder of 25 years, Dr James Partridge OBE, people often asked me how I would fill his shoes. Of course, the answer was I couldn’t possibly – his value and extraordinary contribution was unique. Instead, I have always seen my role as building an organisation that supports hundreds of people in our community to shape our services, tell our story to funders, test our digital approach, appear in the media and speak to the huge diversity of experience of living with a visible difference.
It has been the most enormous privilege to witness the depth and strength of our community and see the difference they have made across everything we do. Changing Faces is their charity.
And, of course, our event in Parliament is a symbol for so many things in a small charity going through a period of change and transition. Things are definitely not perfect. Sometimes they are really tough. There are plenty of mistakes, moments of quite painful learning, and difficult choices.
But from that challenge comes many moments of deep joy and pride. When our services team share feedback from clients about the difference we have made. When someone picks up the phone to our Support and Information Line for the first time and is met with compassion, care and expertise. When two young people – who had never met anyone else with a visible difference – become close friends through our work. When a few words on post-its become a beautiful new website. When you see our campaigners grow in confidence and speak out with dignity. When you see major brands featuring our incredible ambassadors as models. When large organisations commit to building more inclusive workplaces for people with visible differences. When you know that someone who thought there was no help for them out there – discovers we are here.
In a small team you really do live and breathe the high-and-lows of work together – especially over this last year. I am extraordinarily grateful for our talented, kind and dedicated team, and Trustees, who always give so much.
Living with a visible difference can be very tough. Too many people still face the daily grind of prejudice and discrimination and there are not enough specialist services available. Our cause is often overlooked and misunderstood. But that is why it is so very important Changing Faces continues to thrive and prosper – to be there for the people we know need us.
It is not easy to know when the right moment comes to pass over the baton to the next CEO. But I believe it is an exciting time for someone new to steer us through the next phase. So, a huge welcome to Heather. I am looking forward to seeing the incredible things that our team, and community, will achieve together in the future.