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My passion for what we do, my pride in my team – and my true belief in the difference transport makes for local communities

April 28, 2021

My passion for what we do, my pride in my team – and my true belief in the difference transport makes for local communities image
Double act: ECT chief executive Anna Whitty MBE pictured with husband Vernon, enjoying working together at the World Para Athletics Championships 2017

In her last week as CEO, Anna Whitty, shares her highlights, challenges, personal reflections and hopes for the future after 33 years at ECT Charity

 

Q: Why are you retiring?

Anna: Essentially, it was the right moment to step down, for the charity and for me. I’ve worked without a career break for the past 44 years and I’m mindful that my father died at 57, looking forward to a retirement that never happened. I have two young grandchildren and another on the way and I want to retire at a point when ECT is in great shape and while I’ve still got the energy and health to enjoy life!

Q: What have been your most challenging and exciting achievements?

Anna: I will pick three:

  • The first was in 2008, when ECT was going through very difficult times. The organisation had to be restructured and we were left with a bunch of clapped-out minibuses, a railway company, a health centre – and a lot of debt! I took over as CEO at this point and together we brought ECT back from the brink, day by day, penny by penny. The team, and our late former chair Revd John Wilmington, stood by me and had faith that we could turn things around. It sometimes felt like an impossible task but we did it – and we are now a stable, sustainable, successful organisation creating strong social value and stepping up to support others in our sector and in the local communities that we serve.
  • The second was being asked to deliver accessible shuttle transport for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. ECT had a terrific reputation and London 2012 only wanted the best. I was also determined that the wider Community Transport sector could benefit and they became our partners in delivering this massive transport operation for people with mobility difficulties. It was a really big deal for the professional reputation of the sector and for ECT – laying the foundations for us to provide accessible transport at several other special events since.
  • The third is the huge licensing issue that started in July 2017 and for almost four years threatened to undermine the future of the whole Community Transport sector. The status of Community Transport operations had been challenged at government level by a small number of private operators. But we were quick to act and in August 2017 ECT helped to form the campaign group Mobility Matters, which I chaired, to argue our case at the highest level. We succeeded in winning a judicial review which secured the future of community transport to operate into the future, as well as gaining better understanding in government. I promised I would see this issue out before stepping down, and I’m pleased to say that recent guidance by the Department for Transport has enabled the licensing to continue. Community Transport operators can now continue to operate in a way that benefits the community and delivers added social value as charities.

I received a lovely message about this very recently from another CEO in the sector:

“Enjoy a well-deserved, new lease of life with a focus on what makes you happy in life… The sector has a lot to be thankful for when it comes to your commitment and dedication. I know you will not be expecting a big thanks but if it weren’t for you Anna the sector would be broken and having to operate on a commercial level and the benefits of our added charitable and added value contributions lost… You can retire knowing that you did make a massive contribution to making many people’s lives better and more bearable, not just while you had the stewardship of ECT but well into the future.”

Q: What did you do before joining ECT and how did you become CEO?

Anna: I’ve got a maths degree and after university I joined British Airways on a graduate training scheme, so transport has always been in my blood. When I first joined ECT I was asked to help with inputting log sheets when my children were very little. Never in a million years did I expect my role to grow to what it is, let alone be a CEO!

In 2008 when the former ECT Group was broken up and restructured, I was the last person standing and the board members at the time asked me if I would take it on. At that point I saw myself as a good operations director but I had no governance knowledge so I took it upon myself to learn all the best practice in governance to make sure something similar never happened again.

Q: What drives you and where do you get the dedication from?

Anna: My passion for what we do, my pride in my team – and my true belief in the necessity of door-to-door transport and the difference it makes for local communities.

As I have got older and as our reputation has grown through our achievements and awards such as my MBE, I have got to a position where I have felt I can also make a difference at a national level.

My family have always been involved in volunteering and charitable activities, from the time when they were refugees. My grandmother set up a school for Polish girls in Palestine who had been deported to Siberia and later rescued Polish orphans on behalf of the Red Cross, and I recently found out that my grandfather saved thousands of Jewish people by faking documents during the war. So, fighting for people who don’t have access to the support they need seems to be in my DNA.

Standing up for Community Transport itself has always been important to me – I’ve always viewed our sector as the ‘hidden hero of transport’, never taken seriously enough by those in positions of power. The work we did on the Social Value Toolkit is an important example of this: I suppose I was driven to this almost out of desperation in making my point about the value of Community Transport and realising that anecdotes and case studies were not enough!

Particularly in recent years, with the austerity agenda, every charity has had to fight for its existence and prove its worth. The toolkit has been an important way for us and for other CTs to be able to prove our true value in a world where finance/costs have become all consuming.

Q: What’s been your approach to growing and developing ECT?

Anna: I have never been focused on growing or increasing our turnover for the sake of it but we have always been interested in exploring new opportunities if they were a good fit and we could create social value. These have included a series of special events where we have been approached because of our reputation for high-quality, professional services, as well as the opportunity to deliver local authority transport contracts in Milton Keynes, Cheshire, Dorset, and Cornwall, which have given us the chance to provide a wider range of community transport services that fit our social mission.

When you deliver services in different parts of the country you need the right people, and I’m very proud of my staff who keep the show on the road on a daily basis. We enjoy a fabulous reputation in all the communities we serve, and the credit has to go to our local General Managers and their teams.

Q: What are your happiest memories?

Anna: Without doubt wearing ECT uniform, working as part of a team at the heart of operations – notably during special events. Whilst London 2012 was in its own league, the ‘Summer of Athletics’ in 2017 was very special. Delivering transport so well in public view has given me so much pride in my ECT family.

Q: What will you miss most when you leave?

Anna: The people – each and every one. It’s always been about the ECT family, and I will miss the times when we chat, or staff stop by my office to just say hello or share a story about the day they have had and the people they have supported. They all do such an amazing job and I can’t thank them enough.

Q: What are you going to do next?

  1. Catch up on my sleep.
  2. Catch up on jobs I’ve been putting off at home.
  3. Spend more time in my garden.
  4. Spend more time with grandchildren – two babies and one more due later this year!
  5. I hope to volunteer in my community and help out wherever I’m needed.
  6. Spend more time with my long-suffering husband (Vernon retired from his role as flight crew manager at British Airways 12 years ago after 40 years – he’s also a casual driver at ECT) and travel.

Q: What do you wish for the future of ECT?

Anna: I wish our new CEO John Chesters every success and I wish everybody good luck and the very best for the future. As a local resident in Ealing or on my travels I look forward to seeing the green minibuses on the road, and I will feel proud that ECT continues to do amazing work.

 


Categories: ECT Charity

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