I’m now in my third week as CEO of the amazing JST and want to reach out to thank everyone for the kind and lovely welcome letters, emails and calls I have received from many of our supporters, volunteers, donors and partners.
I’ve joined after a wide ranging career as a campaigning journalist and newspaper editor, managing director, operations director and latterly director of development at the British Library and a number of years as a charity trustee.
I have known and loved the Trust for many years, visited the Lord Nelson, climbed the mast and have followed its journey with the deepest admiration for its mission.
To those of you who know us and those of you who don’t, the Trust was visionary and way ahead of its time in championing diversity and providing disabled people with the same opportunities to experience life changing voyages at sea as non-disabled people when we were founded in 1978.
Since then our ships have travelled almost 900,000 nautical miles (including voyages to every continent on the planet – even Antarctica). We have provided 50,000 transformative experiences. Our work has been recognised around the world, including by the United Nations.
This could never have been achieved without the extraordinary commitment of all staff at sea, on land and all our supporters, volunteers, donors and partners who have and continue to provide great loyalty and commitment to our mission.
Yes, I am, of course, aware of the feelings of people who have reacted strongly to the tough and brave decisions the trustees and staff have had to make to decommission the Lord Nelson and restructure our activities to provide sustainability for our long term mission. I’ve seen the stories, read the posts and heard the views from all sides. I’ve listened and will continue to do so. I understand the issues and respect everyone’s rights to share their views but tough decisions in every walk of life have to be made.
I’m here to lead and to take the Trust forward into the future. To do so, I need everyone’s support to help me.
I want to ensure that our work continues to benefit people with disabilities or impairments, mental health conditions, long term ill-health issues and that we also make a difference for people from other social groups. We know we make a difference to individuals’ attitudes, knowledge, skills and social development, whilst also promoting a more inclusive world, where everyone can contribute and feel valued.
Our work is more relevant today than at any time in our history. Social, economic and political issues in the UK and internationally are creating more barriers and prejudices, more inequality of opportunity and more divided societies. The concerning rise of mental ill health, loneliness and social isolation, the pressures on social care and an uncertain and changing outlook risk making more people feel trapped, uncertain of their place in the world and lacking confidence in their ability and potential.
We exist to confront this challenge. We believe that people gain a better sense of their self-worth, capability and potential when they are released from feelings of being restricted or trapped; everyone, regardless of ability, health, age or background, has the right to feel valued and able to make a contribution; and everyone should be given the opportunity to explore their ability, potential and place in the world.
We want to work to do more and more of this in the years ahead. We have exciting plans and major initiatives and I very much look forward to celebrating the successes.
There is so much good work to build on – and our listing in this weekend’s Sunday Times ‘Ten best accessible holidays’ is testament to this.
In closing I will leave you a selection of some of recent testimonials we’ve received and of which I know there are so many more:
“As a carer I felt worn down. It’s important to feel alive – and that’s what the JST gave me this week.” – Katy who sailed Las Palmas with us.
“He got out of his wheelchair and climbed the mast. That moment will stay with me forever – all of us watching, cheering and holding our breaths with every step.” – Anna who took part in our recent Christmas voyage.
“I can honestly say that going on the ship changed my life. I saw others on board deal with huge challenges. Being in that environment made me think for myself and realise my priorities.” – Michael who sailed with us to Iceland as part of the Dangoor Infinity Programme.