By John Baron
To say Helen Hart knows Barca-Leeds inside out would be an understatement.
Helen has been with the West Leeds-based organisation in a variety of different roles for the past 21 years – since she was a student, in fact. She’s worked her way up through virtually every role in the organisation.
It’s no surprise to those who know Helen that she now sits in the chief executive’s seat at the organisations headquarters in Wyther Lane, after taking over the reins from previous incumbent and founder – Mark Law – earlier this year.
Mark took was part of the team that formed the original Bramley and Rodley Community Action (Barca) project and decided to take early retirement after 27 years. Helen is quick to acknowledge the impact her predecessor has had in West Leeds’ communities.
“Mark has helped to take Barca to another level over the years and support so many people in our communities. They are big shoes to fill,” she admits. “But Mark and I are different people. I have a brilliant team behind me who love to come to work and help turn people’s lives around. I’m humbled and blessed to be at this organisation and in this position.
“I always think that I’m never more than a few steps away from being in such need myself. I am always asking myself ‘how would I like to be spoken to’ if I was in the same situation as some of the people we help. This is something I’ve carried with me for a long time and I hope it’s embedded in Barca’s staff.”
Barca’s ethos revolves around listening and responding to the needs of people in our communities, and work with them to deliver outstanding services to improve their wellbeing.
Helen has been part of the senior management team at Barca a for a decade now, allowing her to observe staff and partners over that time, but the pandemic has also helped shape her strategy for Barca moving forwards.
The past 12 months have seen a 51% increase in requests for support, whether it’s addiction, family support or issues to do with isolation or people needing food support. Barca has also helped distribute more than 800 food parcels and over 2,000 items of PPE.
“We’re already seeing the current economic environment but the pandemic has shown that when lots of people come together amazing things will happen,” Helen adds.
“I want Barca to be working with partners who are doing brilliant work across the community, to bring about lasting change and support vulnerable people, it’s not just about us. We’re already doing this with our youth work.”
Barca currently runs around 19 different services and employs 170 staff and Helen – who is also a trustee at community led Bramley Baths – adds: “I want to be able to say ‘this is what we do’ and then measure this across the organisation. We need a really clear identity.”
In recent weeks, Barca has released its new strategic plan to steer and direct its focus for until 2025.
The organisation has consulted a wide range of individuals across the city, including people they work with, staff and volunteers and partners and stakeholders. All have been integral in contributing creative ideas in developing this plan, helping to shape the future direction of Barca.
The plan sets out Barca’s principles, including partnership and celebrating diversity and inclusion to achieve its vision of making society a better and fairer place.
It includes Barca-Leeds’ new theory of change and impact measures, whilst retaining the best elements of its previous strategic plan. You can read the plan in full here.
Demand for Barca’s services are growing, and its new chief executive is determined to meet the challenges that lie ahead.