Jonathan Freeman talks about being a trustee and the critical role of the social care sector


Photo: Jonathan Freeman, Field Lane trustee and vice-chair of the Championing Social Care initiative.

How long have you been a trustee for Field Lane (FL)?

I have been a trustee with FL for three years. I sit on the quality committee, which gives me a great oversight into the charity and the people we work with.

Why did you choose FL as the charity you wanted to get involved with?

I didn’t know of FL before being approached to consider the trustee role. However, I had taken on a role of CEO for the Care Tech Foundation, which is an independent grant-making corporate foundation (founded by specialist care provider CareTech plc) and was new to the social care sector professionally. I thought that becoming a trustee would give me greater insight and a deeper understanding of the wider care sector. More importantly, though, FL provides services within my own local community, where I live. Every day, I walk or cycle past one or more of our supported living projects. I feel close to FL’s work, both professionally and personally.

What has surprised you most about working with FL?

The long history of FL really appealed to me, going back as it does to Dickensian times. Whilst facing very different issues to those of its Victorian founders, FL has kept to its core mission and continues to support the most vulnerable people in our society. I think that there are some very important lessons in FL’s journey from originally providing education to children in the slums of the East End to providing social care for young adults today. I regularly talk with staff and meet our clients. The services we deliver and how we deliver them speaks to the very ethos of the charity. There is a close connection between our core mission, how we operate as a charity and the services we deliver on the ground.

What do you wish other people knew about FL?

Everyone involved with FL genuinely cares about doing a great job and delivering the very best quality of care. FL feels like an extended family. The clients in our care are not just the recipients of a service; they are loved by the team members who care for and support them. Our staff are simply amazing.

What are the key challenges currently facing the social care sector?

What the Coronavirus crisis has highlighted is the critical role the social care sector plays in our society. It has been massively overlooked for years, too often consigned to the ‘too difficult’ box. Despite the critical role it plays, caring for the most vulnerable members of our society, young and old, it is seriously under-funded and has high turnover of staff, with thousands of job vacancies every year. The sector also gets treated unfairly, when the rare examples of bad practice are held up by the tabloid media as the rule rather than the exception that they are. There is a huge and growing demand on the sector, critical issues that the government needs to urgently address. The care sector can also play its part, sharing best practice and learning from each other. One key area to focus on is how we look after, nurture and develop our staff. I’m vice-chair of the cross-sector Championing Social Care initiative. Our aim is to shine a positive light on care workers and share widely the stories of these unsung heroes. I think it is essential that we build public awareness by sharing the amazing stories of our fantastic social care sector workers.

What is your hope for the future of FL and the care sector more generally?

FL offers something special and unique. It provides services for a specific group of people much better than most other providers. We want to grow the charity to be able to support even more people but without losing sight of what makes us special – that love and respect that underpins our work.

Care providers are an integral part of our communities; every one of us will be touched by the care sector at some point in our lives. We need to be better at recognising the value of the sector and understanding that residential care homes are a vital part of our local communities.

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