Penny Collard MBE steps down as CEO after 27 years from Carers Trust Heart of England

It takes a special kind of person to dedicate their life to serving people in need and in the process become a leading figure in their field. After 27, outstanding years Penny Collard has stepped down from her role as the CEO of Carers Trust Heart of England.

Penny joined the charity Crossroads in 1991 after a personal experience involving a family member. Her older brother Graham developed cerebral palsy as a result of the bombing in Coventry. He developed hydrocephalus which led to brain damage leaving him with a physical disability, a learning disability and very little sight. He was 8 years older than Penny and so as she grew up she became a young carer. Her parents were founder members of the Coventry and District Spastics Society and so her life as a child was surrounded by hospital visits for Graham, meetings with other parents of children with CP and supported her parents to look after a very disabled young man. Graham sadly passed away in his 30’s.

Penny joined the Spastics Society in her late teens as a trustee and hence her involvement over many years with that charity, Penderels Trust and Crossroads. In 1991 Penny joined Crossroads when the charity operated out of a back office in Earlsdon Methodist Church. There was just her as the coordinator and approximately 12 care support staff. They had just two sources of income, grants from Coventry City Council and the Health Authority. On her arrival, the annual turnover was £47k and expenditure £48k!

By 1992 the income had increased to £70k and Penny was keenly researching other areas of need which she could persuade the statutory authorities to fund. Her discussions with social workers resulted in a night sitting service and a specialised service for people from ethnic backgrounds. This led in 2000 to the former Nigrani company (Woman’s black cooperative) joining Crossroads (when Salma Jussab joined Crossroads with a number of staff who are still there today) and by this time her services had already expanded into Nuneaton and Bedworth, absorbing the previous Crossroads charity in that area which had faced financial difficulties. It was around this time that Penny and her team moved into a new home in Melbourne Road as a result of a legacy left to the charity by the former treasurer, Brian Cooper. Penny had already embraced the new culture of contracting for care brought about by the change in statutes which enabled Local Authorities to purchase home care from external organisations.

Penny continued to develop services and in 2005 was approached by Rugby and Warwick Crossroads who were facing challenges with their contracts. The two organisations merged and changed the name to Crossroads, Coventry & Warwickshire to reflect the wider area of operation and continued to develop the services winning a major domiciliary care contract in Rugby and winning a number of different contracts in Coventry including Homecare, Dementia care, Stroke rehabilitation service, End of Life service, Short Break service and Cress emergency service. Through active networking Penny also gained funding from a variety of sources including Neighbourhood Networks, Health Lottery and a number of Trusts and other charities.

In 2006 Penny read an article in a local newspaper that mentioned the plight of STARS, a club for disabled children which faced closure and after some discussions with the trustees she offered to support the club financially and with the overall management of the service. During these years Penny was involved in numerous projects in Coventry and Warwickshire including sitting services for carers, home from hospital services, low-level preventative services and services to support people recovering from a stroke.

In 2009 the number of office staff had increased as the services expanded and had outgrown the Melbourne Road premises so the operation moved to Queen Victoria Road in 2009. In 2015 after discussions between the two boards of directors/trustees Crossroads, Coventry & Warwickshire merged with the Carers Centre as these were the two leading organisations in the city supporting carers. It made sense to merge to provide a one-stop service for carers and this decision was very well supported by the City Council. The Carers Centre had already decided to move to the Library and that became part and parcel of the merger together with the change of name to reflect the former two organisations becoming Carers Trust Heart of England.

In 2017 Penny and her team successfully tendered for the Warwickshire Wellbeing service and this was followed by the successful application for a grant for the Coventry Wellbeing service, the Out of hospital dementia service and the Coventry Home care service in partnership with two private home care agencies.

In 2015 Penny began discussions with the Alms-houses to lease the former Old Boys Club which was no longer being used by the Old Boys Association. Close links had already developed with the Alms-houses and had run a series of activity clubs for the residents as well as an Olympic event to celebrate the London Olympics. These discussions came to fruition in 2017 when Carers Trust Heart of England agreed on a 21-year lease on the building and began extensive renovations to upgrade the building. It is now home to the very well established Young Carers services and is also an additional facility for meetings of groups of carers and staff training. Against strong protests from Penny, the board of trustees decided to name the new building The Penny Collard Centre for Coventry Young Carers, to honour Penny’s dedication and hard work she has put into the organisation over the years.

Currently, discussions are underway to extend CRESS (Carer’s Response Emergency Support Service) service to Rugby, to support Warwickshire residents with Telecare (as in Coventry) and a new prevention service in partnership with a private company to prevent/reduce hospitalisation for people with long-term conditions.

Penny Collards leaves Carers Trust Heart of England in great shape, with a number of long-term contracts which will provide job security for the staff for many years to come.

“I would like to say that I have been proud and privileged to work for Carers Trust Heart of England and to have had the support of a fantastic group of staff who are committed to support carers and those they care for. I am confident that under Sonja’s leadership the charity will continue to thrive, serving carers and those they care for throughout Coventry and Warwickshire”. Penny Collard MBE

Penny Collard’s successor, Sonja Woodhouse stepped into her CEO role on the 1st June 2018. Sonja first joined Carers Trust Heart of England in 2017 working alongside Aleron and staff to introduce a new impact management framework. During that time Sonja really got to know the staff and how good the services were.

Sonja said “When the post of Chief Executive came up I knew this was a charity that I wanted to work for, building on the excellent reputation built up by Penny Collard and her team over a number of years.