Nick Barnett: Leading with Compassion

Published by Gary Ellis on May 28th 2024, 11:11am

Nick Barnett, Chief Executive of the Caldecott Foundation, has a professional trajectory marked by a dedication to improving children’s lives. 

Starting in children’s homes in Wales and England, a team under his leadership, which he describes as a “fantastic group of registered managers” thrived, dedicated to enhancing outcomes for children. This commitment did not go unnoticed, as Barnett was promoted to oversee ten children’s homes and two schools, a role that brought its share of challenges. Yet, it was Barnett’s proactive approach, working closely with managers to “reduce the decriminalisation of the children,” that led to a staggering 95% reduction in missing from care and police involvement cases. His efforts earned him the High Sheriff’s Award in Herefordshire and the Adult Carers Award.

Nick’s career took a turn when he received a call from the CEO of Caldecott, seeking his expertise to enhance the regulatory performance of homes in Kent. Despite the distance, his dedication saw him commit to a two-day weekly commute, leading to significant policy and procedural improvements. Nick’s role evolved into Change Management Director and eventually the responsible individual for running the homes, during which he expanded the foundation’s reach by opening two new homes in the East Midlands.

The year 2017 marked a pivotal moment for Nick and the Caldecott Foundation. Faced with financial difficulties and the potential sale of valuable assets, Barnett stepped up with a visionary strategy that not only halted the sale of the school but also set the foundation on a path to financial stability. “With an overdraft paid off, we’re now financially comfortable,” Nick proudly states.

His leadership has seen the transformation of the foundation’s properties, the growth of its school to sixty day pupils, and the reclaiming of the fostering service. The Caldecott Foundation’s reputation is now exceeding, earning outstanding ratings and recognition from Ofsted and a significant award from the Howard League of Reform for reducing the decriminalisation of children.

Transforming the Caldecott Foundation

Nick’s leadership has been nothing short of transformative. His hands-on approach and strategic initiatives have not only improved the organisation’s financial health but also its service quality and community impact. “It’s been a roots and branch review,” he explains.

Upon his arrival, Nick dove straight into the heart of operations, working alongside the staff in the homes, a move that was initially met with surprise due to its departure from the norm. “I do sleep-ins and work on weekends,” he shares, highlighting his commitment to being present where the difficulties lie. This approach built confidence and reduced central costs from 17.2% to 11% within 14 months, while revenue soared from £6.4 million to £10.2 million.

Under Barnett’s stewardship, the Caldecott Foundation has expanded its services, opening a primary school and a boarding home in 2018. The boarding home, in particular, supports children on the edge of care, offering them a stable environment during the week while allowing them to return home for weekends.

The fostering service and the school have both flourished, maintaining the continuity of leadership and fostering a positive culture. Barnett takes pride in the fact that the leaders in the homes and business are the same individuals he inherited, contributing to the “real lovely feel about the place.”

As a not-for-profit organisation, the Caldecott Foundation’s fundraising efforts are directed towards additional amenities for the children. Currently, they aim to raise £100,000 through golf days and events for a large treehouse, which will serve as a venue for birthday parties and forest school activities.

Barnett also underscores the strong ties with alumni, who actively contribute to the Foundation’s endeavours. The story of Tony, an ex-pupil who provided cost-price double glazing for one of the homes, demonstrates the lasting impact the Foundation has on its community. “Alumni describe it as food to the soul when they come back,” Barnett remarks, reflecting on the profound connections that have been forged.

Leadership and Team Building

When it comes to his successful leadership, Nick attributes it to a blend of personal commitment and fostering a supportive team culture. “I live my work,” Barnett states, reflecting his seamless integration of life and work. He believes that a leader must be “resilient” and possess a “good sense of humour,” qualities that have helped him build a robust senior management team.

For Barnett, character trumps experience when it comes to team building. He values employees who are adaptable and willing to learn, highlighting the importance of being present and supportive. Above all, every team member, from the finance director to the HR Manager, has a significant role of being involved with the children and ensuring their work directly contributes to improving the children’s lives.

This culture of openness and support allows for a collaborative environment where ideas are celebrated individually, fostering innovation and ownership. Regarding workplace culture, Nick quotes a mantra introduced to him by Mike Lauerman, Chair of the Trustees and a mentor for Nick when he became Chief Executive. “Culture eats strategy,” Mike used to say. Now, Nick holds that phrase close to his heart.

What’s more, Nick exemplifies the essence of positive leadership In the face of adversity. During the COVID crisis, Barnett’s hands-on approach and personal touch were evident as he supported his team. “I was on the phone to our managers,” he recalls, ensuring that each member felt heard and valued during challenging times.

Barnett’s leadership extends beyond mere management; it’s about being present and empathetic. When a manager sounded down during COVID, Barnett didn’t hesitate to drive 180 miles just to deliver doughnuts and share a cup of tea—albeit at a distance. This gesture was more than a sweet treat also shared with the children; it was a symbol of solidarity and support.

The CEO’s energy is fuelled by the children’s progress, and he takes pride in sharing their success stories. Barnett’s philosophy is clear: “It’s not giving up.” He believes in maintaining hope and aspirations, not just for the sake of the children but for the leaders as well. By embodying this positive outlook, Barnett ensures that his team, and consequently the children they support, can “see a bright future.”

Securing a Legacy of Resilience and Compassion

Nick takes the utmost pride in the organisation’s turnaround and its preparedness for the future. “We’re good to go for another hundred years,” Barnett states, reflecting on the financial stability he has fostered as well as the deep history of the foundation. His envisioned legacy is to pass on the leadership to someone with equal or greater drive.

For Barnett, his legacy is also not just about the numbers, but the relationships and the unwavering support he provided. “I’ll always be alongside the team through thick and thin,” he says.

As the foundation embarks on its new strategy, Barnett highlights the three pillars of sustainability, community, and inclusion. These principles are set to guide the continuous improvement plan—demonstrating the dynamic and progressive nature of the foundation under Barnett’s leadership. “That’s what we do, we’re always improving,” he remarks.

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Authored By

Gary Ellis
Senior Editor
May 28th 2024, 11:11am

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