Pastures New…

Pastures New

Allison resigned as CEO of Catalyst in April 2013 to pursue her dream of becoming a full time writer.

You can follow her journey through her blog on her website at

or twitter @writer_agius

or her Facebook page Allison Agius Writer.

You can also sign up to her newsletter on her website.

“Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men” Goethe

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Catalyst’s CEO Annual Address

(This is the transcript of the CEO’s annual address at this years conference on 12th September.)

The Stone Age did not end because we ran out of stone, it ended because a change came.  And similarly, we as a sector are facing radical change.

 So it is timely that the theme of our conference this year is managing change.

 We are in a new exciting era. 

 Structures as we know them are being challenged and are changing rapidly.  Our country is governed by a coalition government, and whether you agree with their policies or not, they are leading our country through partnership.

 This way of working is not unusual in our sector, indeed we could not do what we do as effectively as we do it if we didn’t work in partnership.  But working together is no longer a choice, it has become a necessity for survival and when you consider the bigger picture, it also makes sense.

 In the public and third sector we are not here to perpetrate our own organisations.  We are here, ultimately to improve the lives of the communities we serve. 

 And if these communities are better served by us working closer together in partnership, consortiums or merges, or indeed by closing our doors and passing the baton to more able and better placed organisations, then in all conscious, that is what we must do. 

 Today I want to challenge you to look at what you do and how you do it and ask yourself:

  • What real difference do we make?
  • Can we make that same difference in a better way?
  • Does that better way involve me? 

It’s a question we all need to ask and to ask carefully, honestly, frankly and bravely.

Tribalism, like the Stone Age, is coming to an end and l believe our sector is well placed to take on the exciting new opportunities the age of collaboration can bring to all of us.

But we must move our ambition from organisational growth and pride, from individualism and separatism, from protectionism and ego, to the wider civic benefits we can bring.

And if you can answer yes we do make a real difference, this is how we should be doing it and no one can do it better than us, then you need to fight to keep doing it and Catalyst, I hope, will be there to help.

 We then showed a short film of our achievements in financial year 2011-12 ending April of this year prepared for us by one of our volunteers Anna Jackson.

 You can view the film here

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The Ups & Downs of a Celebration!

The day after a big event: Christmas, those big zero birthdays, a conference and award ceremony, are usually anticlimactic.  The boxes are empty, the speeches have been made, balloons lay as flat as the energy levels and there’s a general hangover feeling – even if you haven’t had a drink!

But today, the day after our annual conference and awards ceremony, I am buoyed and inspired!

I can’t lie, there were times on the run up to yesterday when I vowed I wouldn’t do this again.  Anyone who’s arranged a big event knows how all-consuming it is.  It disturbs your sleep, cuts into your thoughts during out of office hours and, for the final weeks, destroys any peace of mind.  In short, it’s hard work!

And not just for me.  There isn’t one member of staff who isn’t swept along by the sheer terror of the final few days of preparation.  Days of terror it seems that, regardless of how well you thought you’d planned it, cannot be avoided (which is rather worrying given that I have less than eighteen months to plan a wedding and I keep saying with a dismissive wave of the hand ‘oh we have loads of time’).

But today when I reflect back I believe it was all worthwhile.  Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t without its hiccups (mostly mine), but we had some fantastic thought provoking speakers in the morning and powerful moving stories in the afternoon.

To be a catalyst (pardon the pun) to enable the community, service users, staff and volunteers to nominate and recognise the people, groups, community buildings and organisations who have made a difference in their lives is a tremendous honour. 

The inspirational stories; the sheer hard work, grit and determination; the continued levels of commitment from people to make this a better world is breath-taking.  And above all, the delight on the faces of the winners, this made it all worthwhile.

And I know that despite the hard work, the stress, the dwindling sponsorship, the continued strain on our resources and the ups and downs of the day; I know that we have to keep doing it.  It’s not frivolous.  It’s important stuff.  We as a sector need to come together to recognise and celebrate all that’s good about us.

So top of the agenda today…how do we make it more special, more memorable and more fantastic for our shortlisted nominees?

Roll on 2013!

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My last blog was back in March and titled ‘Whirlwind’, which might explain the lack of any postings since then.  I had every intention but then life got in the way or more specifically, the TLI project!

Having just returned from a two week holiday I was able to spend some time in quiet reflection.  It is something leaders of every organisation should diary into their working day but, as many leaders will know, what we should do and what we actually do often differ.

It strikes me that our politicians as leaders of our country might want to practice a little more reflection.  Policy reforms have been coming out of government thick and fast since they came into power. 

Some in my opinion are simply rebranding, which is understandable.  It’s what we all want to do when we start a new job; make our mark, show our mettle, demonstrate we know what we’re doing and are up to the task.  Other reforms I have no doubt will be of benefit and are long overdue.  The rest, well, the rest sadly lie somewhere in between and it could be argued have not been fully thought through.

It is gratifying to see that one such policy, the cap on charitable giving, saw the government make a U-turn this week. It’s rewarding to have played a small part in this as I added my name with other CEO’s in the charitable sector, to a letter sent to the government from AVECO requesting such a reversal.

The welfare reform however, will have a big impact on our communities and is of graver concern to me.  I don’t pretend to be an expert and I understand that some reform and simplification is necessary.  However our members have already identified a number of ‘unintended consequences’ which will strike at the most vulnerable.  We expect more will be highlighted as these reforms bite in unanticipated ways. 

As always our members in the voluntary and community sector will be there to support the most vulnerable in our communities, but given the already stretched resources there is concern that some will inevitably slip through the support mechanisms set up.

I consider this a missed opportunity.  Had the government spent a little more time in reflection and a little less in branding, this might have resulted in a reform that would deliver what we all want; empowered, healthy and happy members of our community and a reduction in the inequalities prevalent in our society today. 

For once I hope to be proved wrong.

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A Whirlwind!

Well we have had a whirlwind going on here over the past few weeks as you’ve probably gathered working through the newsletter!

The stream of good luck has come thick and fast since the middle of January and I’d like to take the credit but in all honesty it has been the consistent hard work and commitment from the team, including our trustees (who often get forgotten in an organisation) and our strong partnership working.

In addition my thanks must extend to our recently acquired volunteers.  We are very proud to host six very talented and committed volunteers who are working hard behind the scenes to ensure we are the best organisation we can be.

These people really take my breath away coming in day after day, week after week.  Supporting us and turning my scribbles on paper into readable documents that can be released into the world.

Speaking of documents it would be remiss of me not to mention that we are currently in the process of reporting our performance against the third sector strategy action plan for 2011/2012 to both the Catalyst board and the Council of Interest.  They are also helping us to draw up the plan for the action plan for 2012/13.  Thanks must be extended to them.  It’s great to have such a diverse range of opinions and viewpoints from all different parts of the sector             contributing.  We hope to have those documents on our website for you to take a look at in April.

This brings me to the launch of our new website.  We’re working on it now and we hope you’ll appreciate the ease with which you can find things in comparison to our current website!  There’s even a nifty little film of last year’s awards put together by one of those gifted volunteers I was telling you about.

I hope the film will inspire you to nominate the organisations and people around you for this year’s awards.  I appreciate that awards ceremonies can sometimes feel frivolous in these austere times but I believe they are even more important.

When things look bleak we need reminders of all the good humanity can do. And we need to come together to celebrate and share in that good.

So it’s been a whirlwind  – action planning for the third sector strategy, writing the end of year reports, planning for the TLIF delivery, organising an internal restructure, preparing for the    nominations, developing the remit of our new Voice role and strengthening our governance through the PQASSO accreditation.  We’re a bit bored to be frank!

On a personal note things are changing too.  My daughter leaves for university next week and there’s a bit of me cheering (oh behave you’d be the same) and there’s a bit of me weeping too (you would so!).

And finally I agreed to marry my partner of three years…when we find the time of course.

Whirlwind indeed!

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Sink or Swim time…

I am sitting at my desk at nearly seven at night for the third evening in a row. Actually if I leave before eight I may even feel I’m working part-time, such is the work load currently on my desk. Everyone wants something and everyone wants it yesterday. I have that ‘swan’ feeling – you know the one – above you’re smiling and looking (relatively) calm whilst underneath you’re paddling away like mad hoping no-one asks you to contribute anything of any worth as you can’t even remember your name at the moment!

I recently read that we should stop work every ninety minutes and take a fifteen minute break. Apparently that way we are more productive. Nah, that just leads to further panic setting in. I can’t stop – if I do I’ll realise just how much more I have to do and end up running screaming from the building.

So, moan over what do I really think when I’m hunched over my desk long after I know that I really should go home? What do I think when I lift my head for a moment and look around?

I. Am. So. Lucky. Really it’s true, and it’s something we forget to remember…if you know what I mean.

I read recently that no matter what you’re doing and how much you don’t want to do it: mopping the floor, ironing a shirt, cooking dinner for the family when you’re tired, scrubbing the toilet, (you may have noticed I’m not keen on housework), putting out the bins, painting a wall, working late…someone, somewhere in the world would love to be doing that.

There are people who don’t have a family to care for; don’t have a home to take care of; don’t have a job to care about. Makes you think…well, makes me think.

And it really came back to me this week with the launch of the ACEVO report ‘Youth unemployment: the crisis we cannot afford’.

The report lays out the stark and shocking facts of the plight of our young people today – especially in the North East. Furthermore, I read in the paper this morning that a politician (who shall remain nameless but she knows who she is) claimed there was no shortage of jobs just a lack of skills and a ‘fear’ of work. Really? Perhaps she might want to read the report before making such claims!

To coin a phrase, they are our future. But with high university fees, high unemployment and DWP contracts which prevent the VCSE sector doing what they’re so good at i.e. reaching those furthest from the job market, I believe we’re letting our youth down. And quite frankly I don’t care if its a labour legacy or a coalition cock-up. I want solutions not excuses.

So I’m sitting here with a pile of work on my desk, an aching back, stiff legs and a strong desire for a G&T. I’m sitting here wondering if tonight I will swim through it triumphant or sink and surrender into a black hole never to be seen again.

But you know what? I am so lucky. So very very lucky.

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A new book!

Recently I launched my third book The Cross Over as an eBook and it’s terribly exciting.  If you’re interested you can download it from Amazon and should you not have a kindle you can even download the software free of charge. 

 Now, before you throw your hands in the air in horror and exclaim ‘good grief has this woman no shame—promoting her book through these pages’ be still, there is a more appropriate point I want to make.

 This launch is the accumulation of four years’ work.  In that time I have moved jobs and set up Catalyst (with lots of help obviously), nurtured five teenage children (well, as much as you can nurture teenagers!), moved house three times, renovated one house including extensive building work, had one major operation, two bouts of flu and an attack of food poisoning, ran one 10k, sat two OU exams, lost a cat and learnt to ride a motorbike (the last two aren’t related in case you’re wondering).  Phew!

 ‘So what is my point?’ The point for me is that being a writer has been my dream since I was a young child.  At fourteen I wrote my first book and at my careers advice interview in my fifth year I told the advisor I wanted to be a writer.  You can imagine how that went down!  For all sorts of reasons I didn’t really believe I could be one and no one around me suggested I could and I regularly missed a lot of school.  I reached the dizzy heights of 60% in one year.  That’s a lot of education.

 My spelling wasn’t very good and because I missed so much school I thought I wasn’t very bright.  ‘People like me’ I thought, ‘didn’t write’.  But I did read, and read, and read and I kept a journal.  And slowly, over time, I gained the confidence to have another go when my first child was born.

 I have now written about eight books, three of which have been published.  The latest self-published.  Which is very scary – no agent or publisher has said ‘yes. We think this is good enough’ I’ve just decided all by myself!

 Now I want to inspire young people with the same message – you can be or do anything you want…with a little self-belief and a chunk of continued effort.  I’m not suggesting they want to be writers, you can apply this to anything. 


When we’re very young we have dreams and aspirations of what we want to do or be.  Unfortunately these can be easily quashed.  It’s important to lead by example and spend a little time every day, week or month, on our dream.


We might not become millionaires; we might not even make enough to give up our day job, but there’s a much bigger reward to be had – the personal satisfaction felt when we realise a dream and a chance, just a small chance, that a young person is watching.

 So, whether it was worth the last four years I’ll leave others to decide but for me as a mum it was.  Oh, and did I mention you can download it from Amazon?


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