Virginia Beardshaw I CAN CEO Eds

A blog to say Farewell and Happy Christmas!

Its been a very long goodbye,  but the moment to say “Farewell” as Chief Executive of I CAN is fast approaching.

I CAN celebrated its 127th birthday on 26 November.  I’ve only been responsible for the most recent ten and a half of those years.

With such a distinguished history, all any one person can do is serve the charity for a time. Above all, as CEO the task is to make sure that I CAN does its level best for the children and families we exist to serve.

And then you hand on the baton.

Here I am lucky:  I have total confidence that my successor, Bob Reitemeier, will be a great CEO for I CAN.

I am proud of the programmes I CAN has developed across the age range which help us to reach tens of thousands of children and families. The continuing emphasis that we put on evaluation, outcomes and impact ensures that they make a really positive difference to children’s language development. And we have established our successful social enterprise based on more than 600 I CAN Licensees working with us to get our programmes out to children across the country, in partnership with early years settings and schools.

I CAN’s Make Chatter Matter campaign in 2006 led directly to the Bercow Review, sponsored by  the Secretaries of State for Education and Health jointly. With the benefit of hindsight I can now see that  this marked a move of speech, language and communication out of its specialist niche, by highlighting its importance as the social and emotional bedrock of child development, essential for learning and forming relationships.

Working so closely together with other communication charities as a founder member and host of The Communication Trust has greatly extended our reach. The Trust’s work since 2007 has brought together what had been previously a very disparate set of charities, and allowed us to raise the profile of speech, language and communication.

The Trust’s consortium now has more than 50 members. There is definitely strength in numbers.  We campaigned collectively around the needs of children with speech and language difficulties, and had a strong influence on the Bercow Review’s findings and recommendations in 2008 and The Children and Families Act 2014, amongst many other policy developments.

And we’ve had fun:  the National Year of Communication 2011 comes to mind, with the inauguration of the Pearson Shine a Light Awards,  the first No Pens Day Wednesday, I CAN’s annual Chatterbox Challenge and world record breaking ‘head, shoulders, knees and toes’ and so many other energising events . Our special I CAN 125th Anniversary Gala held at St James’ Palace was a real highlight as were our Million Lost Voices Appeal gala dinners held at Mansion House, the Savoy, the Long Room at Lords and our recent event at the rotating top of the BT Tower.

Our specialist assessment services, begun in 2007, help parents understand their children’s needs and determine which are the best educational options for them. The I CAN Help enquiry service, founded four years ago, provides skilled specialist support to families and to professionals with speech and language related questions across the country.

Meath and Dawn House, I CAN’s  Ofsted  ‘Outstanding’ specialist special  schools go from strength to strength under the expert leadership of Janet Dunn OBE and Angela Child. I look forward to visiting them for a final time as they prepare for the end of term performances.

It is exciting to know that the Read On. Get On. Coalition, hosted by Save the Children, has initiated a strand of work aimed at behaviour change amongst the parents of children 0-3 which will centre on early language development. As a founder member,  I CAN will remain closely involved in this aspect of the Coalition’s work.

So lots done, but lots more left to do. For one example of unfinished business click here.

Any CEO is conscious that you are only ever as good as your team,  the people who really make things happen. So a profound ‘thank you’ to Patrick Stewart, Clare Geldard, Mary Hartshorne, Octavia Holland, Tracey Morris and Jon Pelluet.  We’ve had fun.

And I never would have got through without  Elizabeth Vallance, I CAN’s fantastic Chair for the most of my time. I learnt such a lot from her style and diplomacy, and from Lesley James CBE , Chair when I arrived and Huw Davies our Chair now. They and a really strong group of Trustees keep  us moving forward and add such a lot to I CAN’s work.

But a different kind of ‘thank you’ goes to my son Laurence, whose struggles with communication infused every moment of my time at I CAN, Thesethrow into sharp relief the central importance of language to children’s ability to survive and thrive in an ever more complex world.

I CAN exists to make a difference for children and young people like him. That won’t change as I move on.

All the very best for 2016.