CEO of vital Hertfordshire family support charity stepping down

PUBLISHED: 14:00 23 October 2018 | UPDATED: 09:26 24 October 2018

Lara Norris, former CEO of Home-Start Herts. Picture: Home-Start Herts. Picture: Scott Photography

Lara Norris, former CEO of Home-Start Herts. Picture: Home-Start Herts. Picture: Scott Photography

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For two-and-a-half years a domestic abuse surviver has worked tirelessly to lead a local charity through some of its toughest challenges, all the while supporting hundreds of families in need around Hertfordshire.

Lara Norris, former CEO of Home-Start Herts. Picture: Home-Start Herts. Picture: Scott PhotographyLara Norris, former CEO of Home-Start Herts. Picture: Home-Start Herts. Picture: Scott Photography

However, Lara Norris, CEO of Home-Start Herts, is now stepping down from her position.

When she started the charity was facing a funding crisis of epic proportions. Herts County Council had withdrawn all support for the home-visiting service in order to save £400,000.

Under Lara’s expert eye, six smaller charities in Stevenage, Dacorum, St Albans, North Herts, East Herts, and Welwyn Hatfield were merged to draw together resources. Throughout this tumultuous period, the charity has never dropped the ball – supporting the same number of families from beginning to end.

The 45-year-old said: “I am really proud. It is really hard and it is still hard every day, but we are here and we still support the same number of families on that reduced money and staff and everyone here still believes in what we are doing, loves being a volunteer or working here and the families had no idea we went through that.

Lara Norris, former CEO of Home-Start Herts. Picture: Home-Start Herts. Scott PhotographyLara Norris, former CEO of Home-Start Herts. Picture: Home-Start Herts. Scott Photography

“Behind the scenes so much has changed, but in the family living room it’s exactly the same as 40 years ago.”

The chair of the trustee board, Pauline Kellett, said: “[Hiring Lara] was without doubt the best decision we made. At a time when fundraising has never been more challenging, strong leadership is essential – not only for organisational development, but for supporting staff and volunteers, without whom, the service could not continue.”

Lara knows first hand how important the service is. At 20-years-old, seven months pregnant and with a 14-month-old baby, she was forced to flee from an abusive partner in the middle of the night. She recalls how she went to a women’s refuge: “I experienced some tough times and there was an opportunity for my family to get support – or fall into a pit of despair.

“It was very scary. We have been through a hell of a lot and it was really hard. To ask for help is difficult, it’s why I think that families are as much of the heroes as our volunteers for coming to us for help. They are saying ‘we really want to change’.”

Lara Norris, former CEO of Home-Start Herts. Picture: Home-Start Herts. Scott PhotographyLara Norris, former CEO of Home-Start Herts. Picture: Home-Start Herts. Scott Photography

Lara accepted help from three charities – Home-Start, Women’s Aid, and Shelter.

“Because I had that help I know how important this is,” she said.

“They helped me go back to school, and from then I knew I wanted to help other people the way that Home-Start and other charities had helped me.”

Many years later, having worked in charity consultancy and at Westminster for Luton MP Gavin Shuker, Lara received a call.

Lara Norris CEO of Home-Start Hertfordshire. Picture: Supplied.Lara Norris CEO of Home-Start Hertfordshire. Picture: Supplied.

“When the job opportunity came up, I got three different phone calls from three different people saying ‘Home-Start are looking for a CEO and it’s right up your street,” said Lara.

“I came for six months and stayed for two-and-a-half years, because it is the best place to work.”

Describing one moment which stood out, she said: “It’s a really little thing but it is important. We went on a trip to Willows Activity Farm, and took lots of coaches from people across Herts. Among them there was a family which had been through terrible things because one of the family members had a terminal illness.

“We helped them come to the event and she said she felt like it was a toothpaste commercial, because it was the first time she had smiled in ages.”

Lara is leaving to fulfil a lifelong dream of owning a glamping retreat in France. She will move close to Normandy exactly 24 years on from the day of her first date with her now-husband, when they discussed a mutual love of camping in France.

Even though she is moving to quieter shores, Lara has ambitious plans for Home-Start Herts. “I would like to see that every family who needs us, gets to use us,” she said.

“I want to see Home-Start become a bigger part in the community than ever, because parents need supporting and it is a really difficult job. The most important job is what we do for our children, because it is setting the foundations for our future in our community.”

She added: “I want to thank every single volunteer, member of staff and family. They have made my time here amazing and I am so lucky to have been here.”

To apply for the CEO role before the 5pm deadline on November 1, email admin@home-startherts.org.uk. Candidates must be proactive, innovative, and a positive leader. It is a 15-hour, part-time contract and interview dates are November 12 to 13.

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