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Celebrating Excellence in Leadership

Carren Bell, Chief Executive of Lagan’s Foundation won the Leadership Award at the Markel 3rd Sector Care Awards 2019.

As with so many cherished charities today, Lagan’s Foundation performs a pivotal role within its community.

It offers the hope-less, hope. Involves everyone from the highly-qualified professional to the aspiring administration apprentice. Acts as a champion for its hometown and related businesses. Steps in sometimes where others fear to tread and plugs holes in a state apparatus that is shrinking and, in all likelihood, will continue to do so.

The Markel 3rd Sector Care Award in Leadership marks another step-up from its foundations as a good cause determined to help the families of children with heart defects and feeding issues, to an organisation that provides practical respite support in diverse areas of the country. Britain needs Lagan’s and the profile this honour brings will now move it on apace.

Lagan’s was founded in tragedy; namely, the death of my dear baby daughter from a rare congenital heart condition. Throughout her battle for life, I despaired at the lack of information parents received, the dearth of support they got at home and the inadequate sensitivity shown to mums like me at their lowest ebb. When the worst happened and baby Lagan lost that battle, I decided through the heartache and the tears to honour her by making sure no other parent went through the same situation.

Move the clock on six years and Lagan’s has a team of carers entering the homes of poorly children and delivering the very best support practically and emotionally. The feedback I receive about my treasured team is overwhelming, primarily the relationships they build up with not just the children but the parents, who need some time to recuperate and do the things we take for granted, such as shopping and housework. Those stressed – and sometimes depressed – parents now truly have a shoulder to lean and cry on.

Being independent of the state and free of the time constraints some social care companies put on visits means that we can spend more time building the kind of personal relationships these parents need. As one put it, ‘Lagan’s came to us at a particularly difficult time in our lives. They continue to help me with feeding and care as well as giving me precious time for other things, not to mention reducing my sense of isolation and giving me something to look forward to every week.’

I am particularly proud that our carers also go the extra mile in being advocates and mines of information. So many parents say to us that they are supported throughout their journey in the hospital but, when they return home, it’s nothing but isolation and distress. Not all disabilities are visible (especially when related to the heart) and some of the children we care for fall through the cracks when it comes to gaining practical help such as investigating benefits, managing hospital appointments or even getting specialist equipment at school fitted. If Lagan’s doesn’t act for them, who does?

Despite the good deeds, our small charity faces a daily battle to find funding to provide the care that is so desperately required. Councils are increasingly cash-strapped and, as large machines, are perhaps unaware that bureaucracy around contract engagement and payment can mean serious issues for small charities. I was also intrigued to learn recently that large good causes are enjoying increased giving, chiefly through online marketing and as a direct result of high-budget television advertising. Generosity to smaller concerns is falling, though. Competing in that market is difficult, which is why the profile surrounding this Leadership Award is so important.

Much of the support we do receive comes from our local community. We are based in Bolton, which, like many Greater Manchester communities, has had its difficulties. But the kindness of its people is nothing short of astounding, in terms of fundraising, donations, equipment and volunteer time. Lagan’s-supporting events including football tournaments and cycle challenges have become high-points on the local calendar. Fellow charities and statutory organisations have helped us recruit and manage staff too and enabled them to progress on the road to qualifications and career development.

One plus point of this is that Bolton has taken ownership of Lagan’s – and we have returned that favour by flying the flag for the community at regional and national level and offering training in social care and childcare qualifications plus obtaining Disclosure and Barring Service (DAB) certificates. We are now making progress beyond Bolton’s boundaries and are delivering contracts everywhere from Poole to Liverpool. I like to think that it’s our good name that has opened doors there, but it is also because there are so many people who need Lagan’s.

Our next challenge is therefore one of expansion. We are beginning to run campaigns on issues such as proper mental health care provision for struggling parents and donating to breast milk banks. However, how do we reach the decision-makers in areas where parents are crying out for help? And crucially, how do we gather the wherewithal to provide our service on the next level? Our door is always open to anyone with a solution.

The Markel 3rd Sector Care Awards have at least given us a national platform. My sincere hope is that by receiving the Leadership accolade, more people learn about us; but also, that there is increased awareness that charities like ours are providing such a special service that needs valuing properly.

I am of course also hopeful that it bolsters Bolton. Although the picture is gradually changing, I also wish it to remind women that they can break through the glass ceiling and found and lead an organisation compassionately and successfully.

Most of all, I want it to spread the message that you should take heart that in the wake of tragedy and good can rise. But, for all the demonstrative achievements my team at Lagan’s has given me, the fact that it honours the name of my little girl is the proudest.

To support Lagan’s Foundation, go to

Carren Bell is Founder of Lagan’s Foundation. Email: Twitter: @LagansFoundatio

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