"This charity - which dates back to 1910 - doesn't get to be this old without doing something right. It is up to use to make it even better in the future."
Michelle Stevenson chair of trustees N-Vision
There are two new faces at the top at N-Vision, the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Society for the Blind - and you could be forgiven for thinking you have seen both of them before...
Together they represent a wealth of expertise which is being brought to bear on a charity founded in 1910 to support those living with sight loss across Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre.
Maria Kirkland has been appointed community services manager – taking over from Judith Harrison who retired after 20 years of service with the resort-based charity in summer.
Michelle Stevenson now heads the charity’s board of trustees after former chairman Clive Hirst stood down after his three-year term of office to focus on his passion for social enterprise.
Both appointments underpin a strategic change of pace for the charity. It offers support to more than 2000 people living with sight loss across all three local boroughs, from coastal to urban to rural communities deep inland. It’s helping others too – including at the Princess Alexandra Home which has extended its reach and client base.
Maria, a Blackpool councillor and Cabinet member, is a champion of community engagement and the crucial role of third sector and voluntary agencies.
She taught and managed public services at Blackpool and The Fylde College for 13 years. As curriculum leader she shaped the programme, oversaw students, managed a team, and established links with public and third sectors.
Maria’s ‘stronger together’ ethos is underpinned by academic credentials too. The research required for her own MA in Community Leadership helped her support the development of the college’s Public Services and Community degree programme – as well as later shape strategies and projects across Blackpool in her council role.
Maria explains: “I have always had a passion for community work and supporting the most vulnerable in our society.
“I have worked with the charity and voluntary sectors throughout my life and have always had a desire to develop my career in this field.
“I am keen to expand our low vision services and increase our volunteer base to ensure every visually impaired person in Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre feels supported and valued.”
Ruth Lambert, chief executive of N-Vision, says: “We’re delighted Maria has chosen to join us. She is very capable and astute. She brings her unique management style and qualities and has quickly settled in to become a valued staff member of the organisation.
“All the services and support we provide continue to thrive and develop; however, it is important that we are mindful of the changing needs of our clients and aware of wider local and national policies and initiatives. Both Maria and Michelle will play their part in that.”
Michelle, who now heads the charity’s board of trustee, has a strong background in legal and governance and senior management. She qualified as a solicitor in 2000 and spent 10 years in private practice- including as a partner.
Michelle is Executive Director (Legal and Governance) of national housing provider, Lancashire-based Progress Housing Group. Outside of work she’s a keen ice skater.
Michelle says: “It’s an honour to chair the trustees – and win their confidence too. I’ve been a trustee for just over 12 months. I got to know and like the charity when my mum started using services – such as the Low Vision Centre - eight years ago. She’s a member of the sight loss support group. It’s helped us all – and I wanted to use my experience to put something back into the charity.
“What strikes me most are the words staff – and others – use to describe the organisation’s ethos: love and care.
“All charities work within a changing and challenging environment – and they also work to change that for the better.
“This charity – which dates back to 1910 – doesn’t get to be this old without doing something right, it is up to us to make it even better in the future.”
CEO Ruth also pays tribute to former chairman Clive Hirst’s “exemplary leadership, calm and wise counsel and unstinting generous support. We would not be the strong and aspirational organisation we are today without his contribution.”
Clive now wants to focus on his passion for social enterprise – but will remain an active member of the society.
He concludes: “I haven’t lost my interest, it’s just the opposite. We need a constant rotation of new talent coming into the organisation, new enthusiasm, new ability. Michelle is capable, enthusiastic, experienced, qualified to do the job, and has the energy to lead N-Vision into the future.”