Position: Chair. Originally from London, I now live in Southsea with my wife Jane and we share our home with our three dogs and two cats. I have three grown-up children and a granddaughter.
My early work experience on leaving school was gained in food retail management for the Portsea Island Cooperative Society, where I worked for seven years. I then had a number of driving jobs until I returned to full-time education as a mature student in 1993.
After a year at Highbury College, I progressed to studying History at the University of Portsmouth and graduated with a First in 1997. During my time at the university, I was elected to the position of Chair of the History Society and, together with the committee, developed the membership of the society to become established as the largest academic society at the university.
Following graduation I started work for a housing association in a customer services role for a year prior to leaving and starting my own private hire business. I returned to a housing management role with the same housing association three years later as an Area Manager. I stayed with the same organisation for thirteen years, eventually progressing to a senior management post (Head of Community Investment and Resident Involvement) prior to taking redundancy in a national restructure in 2014.
During my time in affordable housing my passion for equality of opportunity was nurtured as I worked closely – and later more strategically – with a number of vulnerable client groups.
In my first role I worked directly with residents and their families in supporting them in sustaining their tenancies successfully. This involved helping them manage their finances, providing ways to look after their properties and assisting them in being part of a sustainable community. It also increasingly meant supporting initiatives towards reducing worklessness. I went on to manage the service delivery team in carrying out the same duties, across the whole of the Borough of Havant. At the same time as I was managing this team, I studied for a post-graduate diploma in housing management.
In 2005 I moved on to manage a charitable multicultural resource centre that the housing association owned (the Portsmouth Friendship Centre). I stayed in this role for four years, working with the local Black and Minority Ethnic communities; refugees and asylum seeker groups and a number of other service providers working with similar client groups. During this time we provided advice and guidance services; ESOL classes; IT training; art classes; job skills; cultural events and much more to local residents. We provided management support to some groups that we hosted at the centre and other projects were managed directly by us when we were successful in securing funding. As well as managing a small team of paid staff at the Friendship Centre, I also managed a team of volunteers.
Whilst I was managing this facility, I was also elected to the position of Chair of the Portsmouth Multicultural Link Group (MCLG) for three consecutive years. The MCLG is an organisation where service providers who worked with similar client groups could share good practice, identify available funding, resources and information. The membership consisted of approximately 25 organisations at that time.
Whilst managing the Friendship Centre I secured a new role as Head of Community Investment and Tenant Involvement in 2008. This was a senior management role which entailed managing a dispersed team of managers and officers based in seven locations across the SW of England. My team was responsible for various community development initiatives and worklessness activities, and social enterprise projects. We were also tasked with empowering tenants and supporting them in getting involved in the local, regional and strategic management of the organisation. I set up the organisation’s very first Residents’ Scrutiny Group – one of the first to be working with an affordable housing provider in the country – where residents could speak to (and question) organisational heads of services and members of the Executive Team in order to improve the services that residents received.
After being in this role for nearly four years, I developed eye-problems linked to type 1 diabetes and started to lose my sight. A number of operations on both eyes followed over the course of the following three years, my sight was eventually saved but at a greatly reduced level. During this challenging time I continued to work when I could by structuring my work accordingly and then took time off to recuperate where necessary. Eventually I was offered a redundancy package by my employer and I reluctantly took it in 2014. Trying to adapt to a disability as well as to the world outside of work took its toll and my mental health suffered as a result.
Fearing that, as a disabled man approaching 50 years of age, I may never work again, I started to write. I had previously written a couple of history books in the late 1990s and had always said that I would write fiction one day. Encouraged by Jane, initially I used this simply as a cathartic, distracting and creative outlet in order to improve my mental health. Yet I found that I still had something to say and, with that in mind, I wrote my first novel. I self-published in November 2016 and my book received a good number of positive reviews, which was pleasing. Spurred on by this modest success, I am now part-way through writing my second book. I also play in a local band which helps to keeps me busy.
More recently I carried out some voluntary work for an art charity, ‘Outside In’, which is based at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. The charity works with marginalised groups who find it difficult to access the art world due to disability, culture or mental health. Primarily I took on this work to help me practice my writing skills. I assisted the Communications Officer by posting on the various social media platforms they use to publicise their work, as well as some blog writing and newsletters. This work led to the start of a ‘new career’ in social media and I am now assisting the Key Recruitment Group in Portsmouth with their social media feeds.
I hope this personal statement is of interest to you and I hope it says enough (and not too much!) about me and the experiences I could bring to Toucan Diversity training if the opportunity arises.
Den Barry (March 2018)