Story 50 - Blog

Mary's Story

Baroness Mary Watkins of Tavistock trained as a general and mental health nurse. She has a Masters in Nursing, a PHD and has held several clinical and higher education appointments. Mary was appointed as a Cross-Bench Life Peer in 2015 and is now a Deputy Speaker in the House of Lords, as well as a member of the board of NHS England. Mary became Chair of Look Ahead in Summer 2021.

‘I’ve had an interest in people experiencing homelessness ever since I was a young nurse working in Westminster. The issues people were struggling with went far beyond physical health – poverty, mental health, addiction. The same challenges our customers face today. The social and political landscape may have shifted but the same issues -and needs – sadly remain.

I have always held a strong belief that housing is absolutely key to enabling an individual to live a more stable life. It is an invaluable first step to supporting people to get back on their feet. The people Look Ahead work with require far more than simply a roof over their head but it is a fundamental initial foundation.

I joined Look Ahead in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, a truly unique time in Look Ahead’s history and an unprecedented set of circumstances for everyone working in health and social care. Government programmes such as ‘Everyone In’ highlighted just what can be achieved when political will is matched by financial commitment – the most vulnerable were protected, and people were moved off the streets and into safe, suitable accommodation fast.

Four years on, we and other organisations like us, are working hard to ensure that we receive sufficient funding to resource our services properly – a fair cost for care. Without it, we will struggle to provide the high-quality services, staff and homes our customers need and deserve. We recognise the immense pressures local authorities are under, but we can only support those with the greatest needs and still be here in another 50 years with the appropriate support, funding and long-term commitment.

And Look Ahead of course does far more than just homelessness; mental health services, learning disabilities and autism, young people and care-leavers. Today, much of our work is about supporting people to leave hospital and reintegrate positively into their local communities. And much of that work takes place in close partnership with the NHS as we increasingly work with individuals with high acuity or often very complex needs.

What unites all of our services is the personalised support that runs through everything we do. This, we know, is what makes the difference, enabling people to move onto greater independence, and live happier, healthier lives. Nowhere is this more evident than when I am out and about in Look Ahead’s services hearing first-hand the difference Look Ahead’s support makes. Out 50th anniversary event last summer, bringing together customers, staff, volunteers, partners and board members, both current and former, provided a wonderful opportunity for this and to mark all that Look Ahead has achieved.

I am immensely proud to lead Look Ahead’s board, sitting with a group of highly committed and skilled individuals, from different walks of life and fields of experience, who come together with a common goal to help ensure that Look Ahead is governed well, financially strong and fit for the future. It has been my privilege to have played my part in Look Ahead’s 50 year history. I am excited about what it is to come.’