Close to my Herts: Valerie Harrison
PUBLISHED: 12:59 12 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:37 20 February 2013
Valerie Harrison, chief executive of Hertfordshire-based charity POhWER, tells Louise McEvoy about the most rewarding and frustrating aspects of her role
Tell us a bit about POhWER.
POhWER is a Hertfordshire-based charity established 15 years ago by a small group of people with disabilities who found it difficult to get the services they needed. Since those early days POhWER has developed into a well-respected charity that provides information, advice and advocacy to vulnerable people across the East of England, London, the South East and the Midlands.
Tell us a bit about you.
I have lived in Barnet for over 20 years and have worked in the public sector in the East of England for most of that time. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, who have to suffer the results of my addiction to TV cookery programmes!
How long have you been chief executive of POhWERand what attracted you to the role?
I grew up in a small village in South Wales where many people struggled to get the care and help they needed. Most of our support came from the community itself. I think, therefore, that finding ways of helping people to get on in life is just part of who I am and where I come from. Its an approach I have tried to take in all the jobs I have done. POhWER is an organisation that is very rooted in local communities and is about supporting people to have control over decisions that affect their lives. It seemed like a natural next step for me. I have been at POhWER for three years and am still enjoying it very much.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
What better job can there be than working with people who share a common aim and really want to provide excellent service? Seeing the impact that we have on peoples lives really brightens a bleak day. If you want to see some examples, have a look at our website at www.pohwer.net
What frustrates you most about your job?
When organisations do not stop to think about how complicated life is for some people. I appreciate that many people work under pressure, but taking a moment to step back and think about something from someone elses viewpoint is not expensive and often gets a result that avoids a lot of frustration for both sides.
Describe a typical day.
I dont think there is a typical day, but my job involves all the following: meeting with people who commission our services, working with government departments to help ensure policy works for the people we serve, meeting with our board to look at future plans and review progress on current plans, meeting with staff groups and meeting with clients. For me, the last two are the best bits!
What is the main aim of POhWER?
We were founded by people who were unable to get services they needed and decided to do something about it. Some of our founders had disabilities, others struggled with English, but through sheer determination they made changes happen for themselves and others. Our aim is to ensure that people like our founders are able to get information and support and have their views respected when decisions are made about matters that affect their lives. We also aim to challenge assumptions that limit the opportunities available to people who are vulnerable and/or disabled. For example, to this day the majority of our board are service users, and over the past 15 years successive groups of trustees have built POhWER to the nationally respected organisation it is today a real Hertfordshire success story.
How would you spend a perfect day in Hertfordshire?
I would take a long walk somewhere like Ashridge, followed by a good lunch and a glass of wine in a country pub. Depending on the lunch, I might just take in a garden centre in the afternoon.
Describe Hertfordshire in one sentence.
A county with lots of hidden treasures you just have to get out and find them.