“I’m passionate about inclusion and equity. I want people to feel they can access our services whatever their personal circumstances,” says new CEO at Age UK Camden Nikki Morris. Here’s how the first 100 days have gone.
“At 25, I didn’t have a great plan saying I want to be a CEO,” says Nikki Morris thoughtfully. “But I’ve always been driven about making a difference. I love learning new things about people and every job I’ve done is about understanding people. I’m passionate about learning people’s stories and understanding their particular situation. I’m also interested in the voice of the service user, and public, and then hearing if we have indeed met their needs.”
No surprise then that Age UK Camden recruited Nikki Morris as CEO or that Nikki feels Age UK Camden is a perfect job. In a meeting room overlooking Tavistock Square’s Peace Garden, with its statues of Gandhi and Virginia Woolf, she chats over coffee, occasionally taking notes with the sleek fountain pen her mum gave her.
“I’d been looking for a new and exciting opportunity,” admits Nikki who has used her move to Age UK Camden to also make a house move from Norfolk to London. Nikki has had a very full life. She began her career as a nurse at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge before specialising in oncology and gynaecology. She built on this with an OU degree in psychology, MA at the University of East Anglia plus varied consultancy, coaching and mentoring roles before joining the Big C Cancer Charity as operational director in 2011. A great lover of books, she’s also been the director of community bookshop, Ketts, in Waveney, since January 2014.
“I’d been a deputy CEO of a cancer charity and the next step was to be a CEO, but I was very careful about which role I took,” says Nikki. “It had to be one I felt passionate about the cause, and an organisation which was a good fit, with the same ethos and culture that I believe in. My experience in my last role had geographical boundaries, and this is similar – Age UK Camden serves the older population in the borough of Camden, raises money locally and sees the community coming together, that’s really powerful.”
Seeking out the right role in London meant Nikki could also use non-work time to treat herself to the opera, ballet and art shows that she loves. Already she’s a regular at the Royal Academy and has enjoyed Royal Opera House performances of Hansel & Gretel, The Nutcracker and Tosca.
“I did think hard about where I wanted to go, and what I wanted to do. Because my two adult children had left home, I had an opportunity,” she explains in an enviably positive way to facing life’s milestones.
So, by autumn 2018 Nikki had moved to North London and begun at Age UK Camden. “The staff and volunteers at Age UK Camden are excellent – it’s an outstanding team of people,” she says, “that’s been a great joy and you don’t know till you arrive in the job. They’re the people who make it happen.”
Her method is well-honed: “You don’t want to be a leader who does their own thing or goes around and around the same discussions, but is not able to take action. For us at Age UK Camden, as an organisation, it’s how we respond to the ever-growing older population. There are nearly 28,000 older people in the borough, and the need for our services increase year-on-year. We have to ensure we continue to deliver outstanding services in a sustainable way,” she explains.
“I’m passionate about inclusion and equity. I want people to feel they can access our services whatever their personal circumstances. And we know the older population will increase over time and there are a higher number of people living on their own in this borough than others. There is also a very young population who are highly motivated – the majority of our volunteers are younger. Sometimes part of our role is raising the issue: people housebound or alone are not visible. We can be the link between old and young. It’s mutually beneficial,” she says.
“What we must do is know what’s going on. It’s about us working with the community and other providers to deliver the services that Camden needs.” says Nikki. Exploring Camden has meant getting to know Age UK Camden’s two Day Centres, Henderson Court and Great Croft, trips to Age UK Camden’s unique shop in Leather Lane, and in November launching the winter fundraiser, Warm Heart Camden, alongside patron Sir Derek Jacobi, to help tackle fuel poverty amongst older people. She is proud that Camden-based playwright, Alan Bennett (The History Boys, The Lady in the Van, The Madness of George III) explained on video that he happily donated his pensioner’s fuel allowance, “Because it helps people who I often see in the street. It stays local and you feel you help people who you often say good morning to.”
As Age UK Camden launches its #PledgeFor2019 campaign, calling on supporters to make personal pledges to volunteer, fundraise and donate, Nikki observes that: “people are incredibly generous in Camden.” It is clear that Nikki has the drive and vision needed to ensure the organisation meets the challenge of matching what needs to be done with what older people in the borough want.
Good reads for later life picked by booklover and Age UK Camden CEO, Nikki Morris.
Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon is beautifully written.
The Bell Lap: Stories For Compassionate Nursing Care written by Muriel Murch who lives in Primrose Hill. “We’ve become friendly over the years so it’s great to be working within her borough.”
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney – “a treat of a read” says Nikki.
Available in all good bookshops and online.