It has been quite a year for the Dougie Mac and Donna Louise as they merged during a pandemic.
Perhaps it needed a canny Scotsman with a stellar career in financial services and a leadership style which inspires and empowers those working for him to make extraordinary things happen in an extraordinary year.
Mark Brammar catches up with David Webster as he nears five years in the job as CEO of a local institution which has touched the lives of just about everyone in North Staffordshire since its inception in 1973.
How has the pandemic affected the hospice and what is the outlook moving forwards?
“My first thought as the COVID-19 situation escalated last year was that we were going to have to dig deep into our reserves to compensate for the loss of our retail and other fundraising income.
We operate on an annual income of £13M of which only £3M comes from an NHS grant. In simple terms we need to raise £10M annually to balance the books. Our 21 shops bring in an annual income of £3.5M and their enforced closure was set to leave a big hole in the finances.
In reality, we have emerged from lockdown in sound financial health. We were able to benefit from NHS COVID-19 funding because we were able to demonstrate the degree to which we were supporting the local health authority by helping to cut NHS admissions.
We had to reshape and reposition very quickly in March 2020. Dougie Mac looks after more than 2500 patients a year, with a caseload of around 1000 at any time, mostly in their own homes. We immediately set up a 24/7 helpline. We did as much, if not more, by patient contact but just in a different way. It was important that patients and their families did not feel left behind. The conditions were different, but we ensured that the level care did not diminish.
I am very proud of how we have adapted. From a CEO perspective financial stability is the number one priority. Get that right and the organisation will thrive.
We are in a better than hoped for position at the start of lockdown and as we emerge from the pandemic, I want us to be a powerhouse as we move toward or 50th anniversary in 2023.”
What have been the challenges and what are the opportunities from merging the two hospices?
“Merger discussions predated COVID and emanated from the advantages of greater scale for Donna Louise to safeguard the future services for families in need. Then COVID came along, and I did consider postponing any action. However, in hindsight I am glad we pushed ahead as it means we have a very healthy and focussed organisation ready for the post-pandemic world.
Donna Louise cares for around 200 children and their families annually. The funding for children with life-limiting illness is not as high as it is for adults, as the incidence of life limiting illness in children is thankfully rare.
This means that non-clinical costs for small charities are proportionally expensive and the advantages of the two charities having one CEO, one IT department and one fundraising team were obvious. It inevitably led to some redundancies, but the overriding aim was to ensure that the maximum proportion of every pound donated goes to frontline services.
Merging the two hospices we now have an annual funding requirement of £15M. If you take off the £3M core funding, we need to raise a round £1M per month and I know from our track-record that we can achieve this.
Since completing the merger in the summer of 2020, we have become one hospice on two sites, one for adults and one for children.
Donna Louise is a strong brand so we have no need to change the name for now, we will review this in the future.”
How have the team been through lockdown?
I cannot overstate my admiration for the staff and how quickly and effectively they adapted to the change in work practices. I am genuinely humbled to be surrounded by such dedicated and loyal people who deal with heartbreak daily but have an ability to play their part in cushioning the impact on the families involved.
Our shop workers who were all furloughed and our shop volunteers who missed out on the social and community aspect of their work, could not wait to return once we could reopen.
We have a total of 900 volunteers across the organisation, many of our clinical volunteers have had to delay return due to safety issues, but we are all looking forward to their return. We simply could not achieve our success without their selflessness and dedication to caring.”
Five years as CEO – what would you tell David Webster in August 2016?
“I would firstly say that however high his regard for Dougie Mac it would be even higher now!
I am so privileged to have led a team of outstanding people whose tenacity, diligence and compassion knows no bounds.
If they were exceptional before the pandemic, then they are beyond that now.
This job is in a totally different dimension to my many years in financial services. You are dealing with people at the time they need help and compassion more than anything.
However, you cannot deliver what we do without money. This is a business, and you must constantly have an eye on the balance sheet. Sound financial management and business values drive the organisation.
I said when I came here that everyone is a fundraiser and when you are excellent the propensity of people to want to support goes up exponentially.
How important is the local business community to your operation?
It is massive. Our role is to provide a clear menu for businesses large and small. I have been on the other side, so I get the importance of being flexible and adaptable.
There is a genuine parallel between the tailored nature of our care and what we offer business, mixing such options as employee engagement, events, and salary deductions.
2020 was a turbulent year for business which meant charity spend was under threat. However, it provided an opportunity for businesses to demonstrate their corporate social responsibility (CSR) through support of local charities such as Dougie Mac.
The pandemic has sharpened the focus on localism and the community and the part that organisations like ours play in that.
We have a great relationship with hundreds of businesses of all sizes, and I have thankfully seen no sign of this diminishing.
Food – fish
Drink – a cold beer
Book – House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Film– The Godfather
Music – Pretty eclectic as there is so much great music for someone of my generation. I am a big Bowie fan but could give you an endless list of artists and bands.
Best live event – Bob Marley at the Glasgow Apollo in 1980
Team – Team Dougie Mac and Celtic FC
Favourite place – Venice
Me in three words – passionate, demanding, kind.