Sir Tom retires as our Chair: We celebrate his vision and how far Helpforce has come

14th February 2024

Sir Tom with a volunteer

Helpforce’s Founder, Sir Thomas Hughes-Hallett, retired from his position as Helpforce’s Chair at the Board meeting in January. As our Founder, he will remain a vital ambassador for the organisation.

Sir Tom has been our Chair since he started the organisation in 2015. Here we reflect on why he started Helpforce, all we’ve achieved towards meeting his founding vision – and welcome Dr Anna Dixon, who is replacing him as Chair.

Founding Helpforce – the opportunity to mobilise volunteers to make a difference

The kernel of the idea that turned into Helpforce was formed when Sir Tom became Chair of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in 2013. He was stunned by how few volunteers there were supporting patients and staff in the hospital, when he knew the profound positive difference volunteers could make from his time as Chief Executive of Marie Curie.

It struck him that getting more volunteers involved in supporting patients, families and staff would help tackle the NHS’s ever-mounting challenges. Activities on the edge of core healthcare were and remain under pressure: getting people to and from hospital, helping people recover in their homes, or assisting patients and families as they navigate their way through the health service.

As well as volunteers taking on these tasks, more volunteers supporting hospitals would also strengthen the vital bonds between hospital trusts and the communities they serve.

From 2015, Sir Tom consulted widely, pressing ministers and galvanising NHS leaders to support a vision of volunteering making a significant and systemic difference to the NHS and the patients it cares for. After piloting different approaches, the organisation started delivering support to health and care organisations from 2017.

Realising the vision

From the start, Sir Tom recognised that Helpforce should focus on helping health and care organisations build up their own volunteering services, rather than create a parallel infrastructure to recruit and deploy volunteers.

We continue to follow this model, using our experience to identify the optimum ways to work with partners in health and care to establish and scale up volunteering services. And, importantly, we evaluate everything we do so we can spot what isn’t working and needs to change, where successes can be built on and the opportunities for innovation.

Thanks to Sir Tom’s vision, Helpforce has achieved so much and come so far, including:

  • Raising volunteering’s profile

By demonstrating how volunteering can be part of the solution to challenges across health and care, volunteering is now on the NHS agenda at national, ICS and trust level

  • Evidence of volunteering’s impact

We have over 270 sets of evidence of how patients, volunteers and staff benefit

  • Over 400,000 people supported

We’re well on our way to reaching our Back to Health target of a million people helped through the support we give to our partners

  • Bringing new resources into the sector

By building a strong case for support, we’ve helped 50 partnerships raise over £3.5m to develop and sustain volunteering services.

Keeping up the momentum

Sir Tom is stepping back from his role as Chair with Helpforce in a strong position and continuing to build our expertise and evidence.

We are pleased to welcome Dr Anna Dixon MBE (pictured below), who has been appointed to replace Sir Tom. Anna, previously our Vice-Chair, is ideally placed to maintain momentum at Helpforce, having been its co-founder with Sir Tom in 2015 and a board member ever since.  She has a background in health and care strategy and policy at the highest level – including as Chief Executive of the Centre for Ageing Better and Chair of the Archbishop’s Commission on Reimagining Care.  

Our trustee, Jayne Blacklay, has been appointed as our new Vice-Chair in place of Dr Dixon. Jayne is a Special Adviser at South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust. 

Working with our brilliant team of trustees and staff, Anna and Jayne will continue to build on Sir Tom’s remarkable vision.

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