Five minutes with Gina Rowlands
Bevan Healthcare is a specialist healthcare practice in West Yorkshire that ensures society’s most vulnerable do not fall through the cracks. It provides all the services you would expect from a regular GP practice but exclusively works with the homeless, vulnerable, asylum seekers and refugees. It is also known for its ‘street medicine’ programme, which sees staff pound the pavements, providing disadvantaged communities with advice, medicine and registration support. Below, Managing Director Gina talks about taking people from ‘crisis to futures’, how to stay true to a vision and the freedom afforded by becoming a social enterprise.
- Describe your organisation’s purpose
We offer primary care to the homeless, vulnerable, asylum seekers and refugees. We do everything a regular practice does but take it one step further with our foodbank and street medicine service. The street medicine service does what it says on the tin: we go to the streets, finding people in need who are not registered with the health service. We’ve picked up people who were self-medicating on the street with drugs and alcohol because they were in pain and they didn’t realise they had cancer. With our help, they were able to access the right services and begin to manage the pain properly.
- How would you describe the culture at your organisation and how do you maintain it?
“Health, hope and humanity underscores everything we do.” As a social business, people join us because they want to support us in our mission to change people’s lives for the better.
- How does your organisation prepare for the future world of work?
We are preparing for a challenging, fast-moving, political environment. The nature of what we do means a lot of our work is affected by government decisions around the NHS and international policy in terms of immigration and asylum rules. “There are 60 million people known to be on the move as refugees in the world. Economic climates and the politics of individual countries decide whether that number will fall or rise – all we can do is respond.” In terms of preparing for it, we ensure we’re as flexible and innovative as we can be. Sitting outside of the NHS as a community interest company means we can be just that.
- Does your organisation do any work in your local community?
We’re at the heart of the local community and proud of it. We have strong partnerships with the local voluntary sector, faith groups, local businesses and education institutions. They help deliver our services and raise awareness of what we do to people who may not have heard of us.
With the support of others, we are able to take people from crisis to futures. For example, our connections with local businesses means, when they’re ready, we can find stable employment for those who were once service users.
We want to help with the entire journey: picking people up from the streets, moving through the system, providing housing and education opportunities along the way. Eventually, “we want everyone to be registered with care providers so they don’t suffer needlessly.”
- What is the main thing that attracts talent and retains talent in your organisation?
Our reputation attracts great people – due to the fact we deliver primary care in such an innovative way. Unlike regular general practice, we don’t have problems attracting the best.
- In your experience, what is the best way to build diverse teams?
By recruiting staff based on their attitude not their education. We also focus on employing people who have lived experience as refugees, asylum seekers and being homeless. This builds trust, ensures empathy and creates a sense of loyalty. Right now we have four members of staff who, at one point, would have been deemed ‘vulnerable’.
- What has been the best decision your organisation has ever made?
To form ourselves as a CIC and spin out of the NHS because it let us get rid of bureaucracy that was holding us back and, in doing it, we opened up to the social enterprise world. We have since enjoyed great working relationships with social enterprises, who have offered us support and connections with no strings attached.
As a CIC we can also work with private investors. We’ve found that when hedge fund bankers are looking to do something different, social enterprises are the perfect entities to grab their attention. It’s actually how we secured the investment for the building we’re in now.
- What would you say represents the biggest opportunity for your organisation in the next five years?
We want to work closely with the housing sector. I see us as natural partners: poor housing means poor health. And, by involving ourselves in the social housing sector, we can do even more to prevent poor health in our country.
- What one decision would you go back and change if you could?
We should have bought a bigger building so that we could bring together even more like-minded businesses.
- What is the best piece of business advice you’ve ever been given?
Never lose your vision. Never be persuaded to lose your values. Someone said to me, ‘your reputation will attract investment.’ “This advice has been invaluable when I’ve been tempted to take on work that I knew didn’t quite sit right with the CIC’s values.” Thankfully, the reputation remains intact and we’re doing a great job of attracting investment.
- What other organisation do you admire the most and why?
I admire the social enterprises that have pioneered business models. John Lewis and its employee-ownership, for example. The model highlights how staff are integral to the a business and by giving them ownership, they are more likely to be engaged and care about the company’s wellbeing.
- What does a Vibrant Economy mean to you?
It means rethinking austerity. It means giving people opportunities to go to work and make a contribution to society.