After 15 years at the helm, our outgoing Chief Executive Rob Owen reflects on his time at St Giles and pays tribute to everyone who has played a part in helping St Giles transform so many lives during his time here.
It still hasn’t sunk in that in a few days’ time I will be saying goodbye to St Giles – the charity I have led and loved for the past 15 years.
When I first joined, it was a mid-sized little-known charity largely focused on helping people in and leaving prison. I immediately saw the potential and unique qualities of St Giles’s peer-led approach using people who had “been there” themselves to help others make the same positive journey.
Being around people who were in the process of turning their lives around created a fantastic buzz and infectious energy which was tangible to anyone walking into our HQ. Harnessing this energy and channeling it towards helping our clients delivered fantastic results which enhanced our reputation and expanded our services.
There have been many milestones. We delivered the world’s first ever social impact bond through our peer-led work supporting men leaving HMP Peterborough. Our work helping young people exploited through gangs developed from a small south London pilot to become a nationally recognised model of good practice, largely down to the lived experience of the team who shaped the service and worked with the vulnerable young people who so desperately needed their help.
Our Peer Advisor Programme, the engine room of St Giles which trains and supports people with lived experience to become our colleagues delivering our services, expanded on a national scale thanks to funding from the National Lottery Community Fund and the dynamism and commitment of our staff. This is now helping to generate a change in the sector, from one which had hostility towards people with lived experience 15 years ago to one which is now embracing its benefits.
It has been a blessing and a privilege to work with the team here at St Giles. I am humbled by their skill, care and determination and remain in awe of the transformations they help their clients achieve. I’ve said it before, and it is worth repeating – I stand on the shoulders of giants.
Some things can only be experienced – not taught. This is central to my belief in the power of lived experience in helping others turn a corner. The people we support have often been through traumatic, isolating and dangerous experiences. Only others who have had similar ones can really understand what they are going through and the things that need to happen to make a sustained and lasting change.
As the external landscape in which St Giles operates becomes increasingly tough, our work will be needed more than ever to tackle growing challenges around poverty, criminal exploitation and other social issues. However, with teams offering lived experience and adaptability I’m confident as I say farewell to St Giles that they are in the best possible position to help our clients navigate these complex challenges and create lasting changes.
I would like to pay a huge tribute to the teams, the board and our loyal supporters. Although I will be leaving, I will remain close and never forget the incredible individuals I met on my 15-year journey with St Giles.
Rob Owen OBE
Outgoing Chief Executive