After 8 years, it’s time for Pauline to pass on the baton of Family Gateway’s Chief Executive to the next leader. It’s a sad time but we know that she looks back with fondness and pride at what’s been achieved and with what is still to come.

Pauline said: “I started working with Family Gateway in this capacity in 2013. I only came in for a few weeks to help but, as with most people, the organisation hooked me.

I’m incredibly proud to have been able to take the organisation from what was previously already a good foundation to one that is now known regionally and nationally for incredible impact and for improving life chances for families, children, and young people. It’s been a very hard and long journey that has required tenacity, creativity and dedication but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done by far in a professional capacity.

Pauline Wonders with Locality award

I leave the organisation in a place of stability and security – financially and in terms of its brand. Family Gateway is more than just a company or charity; it’s a genuine cause. It’s a real family.

I like to describe it as an amoeba under an umbrella. An ever-changing, moving and adapting organism, whilst always under the cover of improving lives for those that face the biggest inequalities.

I’m proud to say we have never diverted from our original cause of improving lives for families, children, and young people or from our Barefoot Professional model that delivers such great results in respect of engagement and trust.

During my 8 years at the organisation, it has grown significantly in respect of number of families supported, and the contexts within which we offer that support, including health and wellbeing, social care, education, crime, employability, and much more.

We’ve kept children and young people from moving into care. We’ve supported men and women to escape from the most dreadful circumstances and rebuild their lives. We’ve helped parents and children build resilience to cope with mental health struggles. We’ve improved physical health through range of activities and sport. We’ve improved school attendance and achievement so that children and young people can perform well, and we’ve reduced the attainment gap for those less well off than others. We’ve delivered intensive support to young people on the cusp of escalation to real crime and changed their lives, and those of their families, forever. That’s not to be taken lightly or underestimated – it’s not easy but it’s achievable with the right organisation, the right support, and the right people. It’s only achievable, in my view, with the proven Family Gateway Barefoot Professional model.

All of this is being done in the most challenging of circumstances – working with those with the most significant barriers to accepting help, so engagement is absolutely key. The secret ingredient has been our people. Those Barefoot Professional Family Entrepreneurs with lived experience, who work tirelessly to make sure that other families do not go through what they’ve gone through, and who are wholly committed to making their communities, and those who live in them, safer, happier, stronger, and loved.

Without these amazing Family Entrepreneurs there would be no Family Gateway, that’s the simple truth. They’re incredible. Let’s not also forget to recent element of Howdon Community Hub and the enterprises being developed within it.

I still recall clearly one of those mad moments a few years ago when I said “you can’t condemn that beautiful building! If you’ve got nobody else to run it, we’ll have it.” That led to months of planning, worrying, wondering how we would do it, could we do it, did we have the capacity? … but underneath that, a massively strong commitment from me personally to the people of Howdon – that we’d save and rebuild their building.

It’s now a thriving Hub with so many new activities for everyone and a new beautiful reception and cafe area where our catering business, Howdelicious, is earning a reputation for great nutritious food.

There’s lots more to do, and I say to local people: keep watching! We’ll do it, we’ll transform every aspect of that building.

The income from activities will feed the main charity in the spirit of true social enterprise, all with the aim of improving lives.

So to sum up, it’s been a journey for me; one that has led to many sleepless nights. I often wonder whether I’ll ever learn to have a proper night’s sleep again. But it’s a journey that has been filled with pride and genuine heartfelt thanks for all the staff, stakeholders, and supporters who have placed their trust in me personally and in the organisation.

As I head off into semi-retirement for the next chapter, to care for my husband and to reconnect with family, friends (and holidays, hopefully!) I’ll stay connected and I will offer all the support possible to the new chief executive, Julie Marriott, who will come in to take over the reins and in whom I have the utmost respect and faith to take this wonderful organisation forward.

So a huge thanks to everyone I’ve met on this incredible journey. To the staff, the stakeholders, and everybody who’s helped, but especially to the Board of Trustees who’ve supported me, challenged me, and given me so much of their knowledge, expertise, and time so that we can help local people who, through no fault of their own, face inequalities and who deserve so much more than society and services have previously offered them.

I’ll watch with interest and with care as Family Gateway and its reputation grow, and local people live their best life. Thank you!”

Pauline Wonders at Buckingham Palace

Help make a difference - please share!