‘We want to offer support, not create a dependency’

By Darryl Danielli, Monday 15 August 2016

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Becoming chief executive and secretary of The Printing Charity after heading up the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, might seem like trading in the Ferrari for a safe and sensible Volvo, in terms of excitement and profile levels at least.


Lovell: "How do you eat an elephant? You eat small parts"

But Neil Lovell will hear none of it. He sees his role as one that’s full of potential and while the charity’s foundations may be stable, that doesn’t mean he’s afraid to shake them a little if it means he can raise its profile and help more people.

He joined the not-for-profit sector in 2009 as director of fundraising and external relations at the now infamous Kids Company before becoming chief executive of the foundation started by the UK’s favourite chef and food campaigner (sorry, Hugh) in 2012.

And while his love affair with print might not have fully blossomed until after Valentine’s Day – he joined the charity on the 15 February – he’s not a complete stranger to print, having previously held marketing and communications roles at firm’s including T-Mobile and the RAC.

Darryl Danielli When the interview is published you will have been in the job for exactly six months, what have you been up to? 

Neil Lovell I’ve been spending some time getting to know what we do as an organisation and talking to as many people as possible. Now the structure has changed I can start to think about things and embed that. That’s the new boy’s job really: you come in, you’re asked to look at everything and come up with something and move on with that.

Is that how it worked then? Because initially your appointment was described as interim, was that from both sides so that you could get to know each other.

Well yes, because I didn’t really know The Printing Charity – as I’ve since discovered neither do a lot of other people – so it was due diligence on both sides really.

And an exciting time, I imagine, because you have a marketing background so you must have known a bit about the industry already?

A little. But the last time I went into a print environment was probably News International in Wapping in the early 1990s, and certainly my early experience of print was that we had a print buyer, a print manager, we went to the repro houses – everything was quite contained. So I had some knowledge, but packaging, not really, and the rise of digital passed me by. So when I went to Drupa I was blown away.

You went to the show?

Just for a day, unfortunately. Everyone kept telling me I should go, but I was right in the middle of things – so while I thought I should go, I could only go for one day. I walked and walked – the scale of the show was incredible, and the international presence was really interesting. The Asian market was clearly buying, but then it seemed every market was. It was a different world from the one I thought the industry was inhabiting.

Not bad for a dying industry is it?

[Laughs] Exactly. How do we change that perception. People say it’s not innovative, but it is, it has always innovated.

You’re preaching to the converted here. 

I think consumers just don’t realise how many places print touches their lives. My awareness is much higher now, so I’m seeing it in a completely different light.

And in terms of the charity, what have you found?

Skills has got to be a key area for us. Print Futures has real potential, we’re almost at the point where we could look at categories, we had someone from De La Rue this year, Daniel, who clearly just loves what he is doing and is already looking at the next step in his apprenticeship. But we only had one or two people come in from industry, the rest were from colleges, which is fine, but we should probably be approaching the sector about an apprenticeship category or something that recognises how employers are bringing in young people – that might also highlight the gaps and the challenges they face.

Particularly for the smaller companies that might perhaps love to take an apprentice, but need help and support.

And the levy is going to be a problem, and paying for training. You’re right, if they take on a young person they need a programme, a mentor, someone who’s going to train them, and I guess that falls to the local enterprise councils and the training bodies.

But small companies probably need help setting those partnerships up, because if you’re a small business with half a dozen staff then the thought of having to approach those organisations, while still doing your day job, can be daunting, I imagine?

I think there’s a role for us somewhere there, I’m not sure what it is right now, but if there’s a problem there and the majority of the market is dominated by smaller businesses, which it clearly is, and they don’t have the capacity to bring people in, then maybe there’s a way we can help – let’s see.

You’re clearly enjoying the role and already looking at other ways to support the industry.

I am, I like finding out new things and my inner geek comes out when I go out and see people and find out what you can now do with print. I love the fact that it’s this creative space too. And when you combine that with, say, the things we do with the Prince’s Trust, having the opportunity to talk to our residents, which is always a real eye opener, and listening to the heart-wrenching stories from the other people we’ve helped, when you combine all that then it’s incredibly rewarding.

Is your biggest challenge still raising the profile of the charity so that more people can benefit from your help?

It is. I think part of that is being really clear about what we’re doing. The main reason for restructuring was to make it clearer that what we do is welfare and education; we’re true to our aim of relieving poverty and all our other charitable aims, but actually welfare is helping people, and the education piece is supporting industry talent – if we’re clear on what we do then it will be easier to engage with the sector.

What was the restructure then?

Previously we’d had a number of what I think we called ‘cornerstones’, but when you took away the names of those services that we were providing were really welfare and education. sheltered housing and grants were welfare, Print Futures and the work we did with the Prince’s Trust were really about encouraging education, but they were split across a number of areas. I’m a real believer that you need to have a person responsible for an area to develop it. So if we divided activities into those two clearly defined areas, then we would be able to start to put a real strategy behind them. So the main change was really to say have those two core areas and having a person heading each one up. Then I had to look at a lot of the support-related functions, things like marketing, fundraising, governance and IT.

In terms of how they worked?

Marketing: wasn’t traditional marketing; fundraising: we weren’t doing strategic fundraising; governance: we are pretty good at; IT: we’re a small organisation, so did we need to do all of those things in-house the same way? My conclusions were that we didn’t and that we could outsource or do things differently. Which meant streamlining and losing four roles and, unfortunately, four people. Then I looked at how we support the two new areas, welfare and education, where we need truly brilliant systems and processes and they’re the roles that we’re recruiting for now.

So it wasn’t just streamlining to cut costs?

It didn’t start with cost cutting, it started with: are we running in a way that is sustainable and helps us meet our objectives and reach more people? My conclusion was no. That wasn’t a comment on how things where done previously. I just did what any new chief executive would do in any organisation: review the operations and come up with a strategic view. We do always need to be mindful of costs, but that wasn’t the driver. The team were great going through the transition. It’s sad and hard to go into any organisation and make changes, but it needed to be done.

But what attracted you to job in the first place? You’ve worked at the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation, the Kids Company – which are a little more perhaps, dynamic.

You’re never going to find an organisation that has as recognisable figureheads as, say, Jamie or Camila [Batmanghelidjh, Kids Company founder] – who became even more well known for all the wrong reasons.

After your time though?

After my time. But they were both very driven individuals and you can learn a lot from that, it’s a very different mindset. Coming to The Printing Charity is very different, because of its history. Perhaps it has this sense of not being as colourful as, say, the Jamie Oliver Foundation, but that doesn’t matter, we can shout a little louder about what we do and highlight the great things we do, like Print Futures – which is a vibrant, bright, wonderful initiative connecting with people in education and engaging them with the sector. That could be as loud as you like, supporting the homes can give you a great, warm feeling as an organisation. There are some really challenging issues that people are facing every day, from bereavement and loss, to mental health issues and financial hardship and we can help. So what attracted me was that I was able to try it first, try before you buy if you like, and so were the trustees, and with every conversation I had it became more engaging and interesting and that grabbed me.

And you can make your mark, rather than being in someone else’s shadow?

I have to be mindful that the Trustees are there ultimately to make sure it’s steered in the right direction, but yes, there’s absolutely an appeal in being responsible for it.

So what are your ambitions?

To start with get the new structure bedded in, recruit the new people we need and implement the procedures and systems we need, talk to the industry and find out what the key challenges are and deliver more knowledge around the impact we have.

How do you mean?

The key thing for me is that I think we should be exploring what impact our support has on individuals, what difference does it make to their lives, how important was it. Because if we’re going to engage with industry in a different voice, then we need to be able to show the impact we have so that the sector feels it would like to help us to do more.

So it’s not the helping 2,000 people a year by 2017 goal of your predecessor?

That’s still there, and by June this year we had helped nearly 1,000 and last year it was 1,100 in the whole year, so the momentum was there a long time before I joined and that’s a credit to everyone else. Those numbers we can get, but reporting the depth of the work we’re doing and the impact it’s having I think is harder and that has to be the real measure of success for us. It’s interesting that as an industry we’re also at the mercy of what’s happening in the broader world, and this year alone we’ve already helped around 450 people impacted by unemployment, which is twice what it was last year. We’re confident that we can reach more people and do more things to support the people in the industry, but like everyone our resources are finite - we’ve got a great resource pot, but we can’t rely on that for ever.

I seem to remember previously that fundraising was more about raising profile than raising funds though, has that changed then?

At the moment the driver is not raising money, it’s raising awareness and creating more links and connections and reaching people in a tangible, positive way, which is a very fortunate position to be in. Which is why things like your support with the PrintWeek Awards are important.

Happy to help. You mentioned doing more things to support the industry, what sort of things?

There’s a really interesting project out there, which we haven’t committed to yet, but we’re looking at, through the Prince’s Trust called ‘Get into’ [which helps 16-25 get work experience and receive training in a specific sector with a view to finding a job]. The perfect grouping would be for us to match-fund working with the Prince’s Trust to provide the initial training to get young people work-ready and work with employers who agree to take them on as apprentices after the four-week placement. That would be a really wonderful thing to get off the ground.

Sounds great.

There’s some working out to be done, but there’s definitely potential and I want to look at new things, as well as building on what we already do.

Did you not look at taking on the PrintIT! schools scheme?

We were offered the chance to get more involved as were a number of people, and it’s found another home now, which is good. But our focus is more on the 16-year-olds and older, who will be joining the workforce in the near future. There has to be a link between training and employment and we need to focus on areas where there’s a really clear pathway.

Is the focus on education and training fairly new though, because other than the Print Futures I didn’t realise it was such a priority?

Yes, and no. It’s come about because of new eyes on it really and listening to what people are saying about there being a skills gap that is only going to get bigger. We’ve got Print Futures and we’ve got this relationship with the Prince’s Trust and we also have a relationship with [career transition specialist] Renovo, for when we’re supporting people that have lost their jobs. But education has always been important to the charity, it used to be called education of printers’ children I think. It’s an area I’m really passionate about, as I am about dignity around later life or the challenges that anyone can face, not of their own making.

In terms of delivering support are partnerships crucial?

We are absolutely always looking for partnerships. We’ll have partnerships that help us signpost, many of which are already in place anyway, but there are more we can get – so that if someone has really complex needs we can point them in the right direction, maybe fund some of that help. It’s about picking your partners well.

And signposting is important, as I imagine when people are vulnerable they often don’t know who to turn to?

It’s about assessing need too. If you look at organisations like SSAFA (The armed forces charity); they interview everyone that needs their help to make sure they identify the right support. I think it’s a great model, but they have a network of volunteers they rely on, we don’t have a volunteer workforce, but perhaps that’s something we can look at in the future. We want to partner with printing and packaging businesses too, asking how we can get involved or help them, even if it’s just by finding out what skills we need to encourage.

Is that a longer term goal though?

It will be, but I love that side of things – building the connections between the charity, employers and individuals so that we create mutually beneficial, lasting relationships. It can’t be just about supporting people with money, it’s about tangible things, impact, wellbeing, social return on investment.

Is that something you picked up from your previous role?

It’s something we did with the Fifteen guys at Jamie’s, where we could show that for every £1 that supported the programme £30 was returned in social value across a whole range of areas.

You said you started the role by talking to people, but it sounds like you’ve got an awful lot more people to talk to in the coming months?

I do, but how do you eat an elephant? You eat small parts. I can’t profess to try and change the world overnight, but we just need to have a plan and we’re really fortunate the doors are already open thanks to the team before. My job is to build on that and that’s got to be around the impact we can have, across all the things we do. I would love us to be more recognised and for people to know about us. And possibly for the sector to engage with us on fundraising – so we can do even more.

Won’t that be a whole new challenge though? Because the charity has always been perceived as not really needing to raise funds thanks to its investments, so you could simply carry on as it is for another hundred years without additional funding.

Perhaps it could, but the people we’re helping are in the industry, so it’s for the industry to help us help them. It’s about creating the connections and narrative around it. We have to give people a reason to help us, so that we can do much more than we do today. We don’t want to create a dependency, we want to offer support – and that has to work both ways because there are way more people out there that need support than we have the resource to help. We can’t do it on our own, and we definitely need the industry - but we’ve been doing it in one way or another since 1827 and the industry’s been around for far longer, so we’re both certainly stayers – we just need to work together for the future. 

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