Chris Fields, Managing in Health & Social Care, 2006
St George’s Crypt has been serving the homeless and vulnerable of Leeds for 90 years.
While the charity has expanded and contracted since its conception in 1930 it has always stayed true to its core values: to support homeless and vulnerable people in Leeds to achieve stable and positive lives.
The charity runs a range of health and well-being activities, a drug and alcohol recovery project, and independent supported flats working with alcohol dependents on a reduction programme. The charity has an attitude of acceptance and engagement, working with clients to ensure they achieve the best possible outcomes no matter the time-frame.
Graduate Chris Fields has been working with the Leeds charity for 21 years following an already successful career in the hospitality industry. When he first joined St George’s Crypt he was responsible for looking after 10 men with alcohol addiction issues before being promoted to Operations Director and then CEO.
On taking on the role of CEO Chris, and the board of St George’s Crypt, wanted to further his managerial expertise through study. This was in order to observe the workforce and analyse any training, communications, relational and interpersonal gaps that could benefit from a structured training and development strategy.
"We searched the internet and wanted to keep it local and possibly not distance learning. Leeds Beckett were offering a course in senior management skills which fit the bill. We already had a great relationship with Leeds Beckett so this just added to that.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect having had lots of training with my previous employer and therefore would we ‘just be going over old coals’? The course itself offered a more scientific and theoretical way of dealing with people on an individual basis to get the best from them whilst growing their capacity to improve themselves on the job. It had the best mix of discussions, lectures and written work (with research and study) to satisfy anyone who was new to adult learning.
“The dissertations were challenging and trying to manage the study, writing and a full time job was ‘interesting’ but manageable with appropriate time planning and determination to complete. We had a good cohort of people and the lecturer was great at pitching to all levels of ability regardless of where the students were in their learning and careers. I especially liked how the university were actually interested in our progress and the fact that they in turn shared our journey. I have kept in touch with some of the students to this day and one has become a very good friend and has become CEO for her own agency.”
Under Chris’ leadership the Crypt has grown from a staff of 20 to almost 90 in the last 10 years. Chris’ role is to secure a well-managed and safe environment for residents, clients, staff and the public.
He says: “I spend a lot of my time in meetings with departmental heads looking for new innovative ways to lead the pack in making Leeds a great city where people are cared for, respected and loved regardless of status, ethnicity or gender. We deliver many services for the homeless, those in addiction, those out of addiction and the general public who need a lot of support.
“I love being a part of something that does good without being a do-gooder. Everyday sees a new challenge a new face and the opportunity to engage in a way that many don’t see. Since the course I have enjoyed seeing the workforce grow in their ability to manage independently of micro-managers and therefore we grow stronger and more capable of taking on new challenges, and in doing so leaving a legacy of care, compassion and meeting the need for others to follow when our time is done.
“One of my proudest achievements is setting up the Growing Rooms which is our residential therapeutic treatment project and seeing it turn lives around fills me with such joy. From having an idea to purchasing five houses, a meeting and training facility within three years and seeing up towards 30 men so far recover and go into full time work having lost everything to addiction has been a joy and honour.
“My second is planning and seeing to fruition our residential building programme. We saw a need for social housing and have raised over £5million in partnership with Leeds City Council to build high standard 38 one - and two-bedroom flats.”
Unfortunately, like almost all organisations, St George’s Crypt has been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. Within hours of lockdown being announced the Crypt began moving people into hotels for self-isolation, implementing a cleaning regime of clinical standard and enabling their workforce to work from home.
Chris says: “Imagine trying to catch a thousand ping pong balls dropping on a tiled floor, everything changed within hours of lockdown.
“Our services have not decreased in any way, to be honest they have grown. We now are running our foodbank seven days a week supplying six different agencies whilst still offering 24/7 residency for the homeless and our residential therapy units are still working 24/7. Most people on duty are doing the work of four people at least. They are amazing and so committed to their calling.
“The flip side to all of this is that all of our fundraising has stopped, on which we rely so much. We will need to take stock after the event and plan accordingly. However, we have seen a greater working partnership model with many other charities and agencies across the city which can only be a good thing and we hope that continues once we are back to a ’new normal.’”