Dr Ruth Owen OBE started in the tech industry, then became CEO of Whizz-Kidz, a national children’s disability charity. Two years ago, Ruth accepted a demanding and, some consider, contentious role, becoming CEO of one of the big disability charities in the UK, Leonard Cheshire. Ruth is our guest this month.
As we spoke with Ruth, we moved away from her career and considerable achievements to find out more about the person behind the titles. What drives Ruth, what influence did her parents, her education, and the institutions she grew up in have on who she is today? As a disabled child, what are her memories, the challenges, and dreams?
Is there a connection to why she dresses immaculately and has a need to smell jet fuel?
In a fascinating conversation, we discover how much who she was then, determines who she is now. We explore how Ruth can achieve her ambitions to ensure Leonard Cheshire remains relevant and purposeful for those disabled people they engage with and those they don’t.
Ruth’s Twitter handle @Ruth_owenOBE
Leonard Cheshire Annual accounts 2020/21
Welcome to The Way We Roll with Simon Minty and Phil Friend.
Simon Minty 0:15
Hello and welcome to The Way We Roll. My name is Simon Minty.
Phil Friend 0:19
My name is Phil Friend
Simon Minty 0:22
And we have our first guest of 2023 Her name is Ruth Owens or to give the full title Dr Ruth Owens, OBE, Ruth, you have something in common with Phil. He too is an honorary doctorate. And he had an OBE I mean, esteemed company.
Phil Friend 0:38
Thank you, Simon. Now, Ruth is also a wheelchair user like me. Professionally, she made a huge impact. I'm a big fan at WizzKidz, a National Children's disability charity. Under her leadership, WhizKidz became the biggest provider of wheelchairs for disabled young people outside of the NHS.
Simon Minty 1:00
And two years ago, Ruth took on a tough and some might say more contentious role becoming the Chief Executive Officer of one of the biggest disability charities which is Leonard Cheshire. And if that name is new to you, I'm quoting from their website. They provide support to people with disabilities to live learn, and work as independently as they choose through a whole range of services.
Phil Friend 1:22
Leonard Cheshire is a big operation I think saying it mildly. 70 years young, 6000 staff 4000 volunteers supporting 90,000 People with around 150 million pound turnover 2021 solid links with government and international reach. It is a big player in the world of disability. Some disability activists I'm one have held concerns about how it is operated, which I know we will explore further with Ruth,
Simon Minty 1:52
As well as Leonard Cheshire. Ruth is a non-executive director of Motability operations PLC, and so am I which is how I get to hang out with Ruth. And unsurprisingly, Ruth holds another few positions which we may or may not touch on depending on time.
Phil Friend 2:07
So a very big welcome to Ruth. And although you know Simon, this is the first time we've kind of officially met. Let's kick off you originally worked in tech, the tech sector sorry, but then moved to the disability worked with Wizzkidz. So what made you switch Ruth?
Ruth Owens 2:23
I think it was always going to be inevitable. I'd switch because my mother was very big in the charity sector philanthropy, as we were growing up as children, and actually my mother was is a nurse and a midwife and actually worked in a Leonard Cheshire setting as children. So we were always very familiar with Leonard Cheshire, we always had went to lots of their events. And actually were they're a big part of our family DNA. And my mother was also big advocates of Save the Children and WaterAid. And so, you know, charity, and philanthropy was always at the heart of our family life. So I guess I followed in her footsteps. And that's why, and that's probably why I made that. Well, I know, it's why I made the switch because I felt that in my life, I could do something more than what I was doing in tech.
Simon Minty 3:11
And WizzKidz was really something I mean, we mentioned about how big it came. I remember there was a lovely, I think it was in a meeting with you. And you said look, I'm not too bothered about where the money comes from. I just want to make sure we get the wheelchairs is that part of you? It's about the final delivery is doing what you're set out to do.
Ruth Owens 3:27
Yeah, and I mean, you know, WizKidz is a tremendous organisation. And, you know, I felt it was something that I felt very passionate about, you know, I was ill young, and didn't get my first wheelchair till I was seven. And I knew the struggles firsthand of how, you know, my independence was restricted, you know, my parents would put me on a chair in the dining room table or put me in the chair in the lounge, because I had no ways of mobility. So, you know, for me that opportunity of leading WhizzKidzs was something very special. And then when I decided to move on from WizKids, Leonard Cheshire seemed a very natural place for me to, to move to because of my family circumstances. But also I felt that I could do something different than Leonard Cheshire and have an even greater impact on disabled people's lives because firsthand, you know, been a disabled woman and had my own struggles as we all do to be independent and be employed.
Phil Friend 4:28
Just before we leave WhizzKidz, in a sense to talk more about what you're doing currently. I'd say a couple of things. I think the first thing I remember about WhizzKidz was the joy of seeing wheelchairs that were different colours. The fact that I mean when you're a kid, you do not want anything is Chrome, what you want is some fancy thing. So that was the first thing I think the other thing that we talked before the show started about Jess Bool, who's my goddaughter and she worked with kids for a long time, and loved it and, and was a devout fan. But the idea that you could bring form and factor, you know, the function together, ie a wheelchair is important piece of kit. But it's got to look nice too. And particularly for youngsters. For me, that was revolutionary. I've not seen that. And I've been around a long time I hadn't seen that before WhizzKidz tremendous. I've always wanted to say that to you. I think it was a brilliant, brilliant concept, and one that's still going very strong, even though you're no longer part. But perhaps we should move on now given no,
Ruth Owens 5:34
I guess you're right, Phil, I think what was really lovely about that, for me was, you know, your wheelchairs got to be part of your skin. And when you're young, you want it to be cool and funky. You don't want the some chrome thing that looks coming out of the ark, do you and I felt very strongly about that. I felt very passionately for the young people. I've got many wonderful memories of the young people I met and their families, and many of them that are still in touch with me today, where I've supported them, or we as a team have supported them. And the fact that the you know, the common thing with little boys would always be a one in the colour to be my football team. So it was either red or blue or whatever. And girls, it was always pink or purple and funky glitter on it and, and all of that stuff. And I think how cool is that? It makes disability kind of have that normal, funky bit on it. And I think, for me, it just made the young people be themselves and that's all they ever wanted to be was themselves. So, you know, it will always hold a special place in my heart. When I look now on the streets. When I see young kids, I look, you can see me, you know, looking at the wheelchairs, I think they're strange. Or when I see a really good one oh, that's a really great chair, where did you get that from? So I've become a bit of a you know, a bit of a nerd about wheelchairs. And even even today, people contact me about some wheelchair provision, which is fantastic.
Simon Minty 7:01
Just say in defence of older people, I don't think it goes away the first mobility scooter I bought it had these removable panels and I didn't like the colour so I took them to a car respraying place and got them to spray them all black, I wanted it a certain colour. So I think it it stays with you. But I agree with Phil, okay, we're gonna,
Phil Friend 7:18
I think that bit you said, Ruth is very powerful, where your mum or dad would stick you in the dining room, and then they take you to the other room, and then they take that whole idea of being able to move around yourself. You know, that's the bit isn't it apart from it looking great, it's got to function.
Ruth Owens 7:34
I've never lost that feeling of my first wheelchair. You know, I was on a bike, you know, my parents had got me a little three wheeler and I used to use it. Clearly, I can't use my legs, but I used to use my shoulders on the top bit of the bike and my hands on the pedals to give some level of independence and play and maybe this shows my age this does but play in the streets a little bit more than then, you know, or playing in the garden because that was my only route to get out with my sibling. And, and friends. I just didn't have a chair. So I never forget the first time I got in my chair. And the sense of freedom that I had. And the and the ability to make my own decisions. Even within the framework of being young, if that makes sense. You know, what was like was like going to move from that room to this room. And just being able to get away from you know, adult conversation, because I've been surrounded by adult conversation. And you know, I guess that stood me well for my later life. But I just wanted to be a kid and be naughty like everybody else and go off into another room like everybody else. So I haven't forgot my first sit in my first wheelchair.
Simon Minty 8:46
You're also making me think of that, that patience we have to have yesterday. I couldn't move a piece of equipment in my house that my cleaning person came she couldn't do it with me. I asked my brilliant neighbour, but you wait three hours until they came. I had no lights because the fuse had gone. And it's that bit of if someone plonked me on a worktop or plonked me on a table and I had to wait until someone moves me again to get that mobility. massive, huge.
Ruth Owens 9:12
Simon Minty 9:14
So I'm going to quote you again, Ruth. We've actually done some research for this show. Thank you, everybody for we actually did anyway, in the annual accounts for Leonard Cheshire you you say as a disabled woman I know firsthand from firsthand experience that prejudice, discrimination and stigma still present barriers daily to disabled people around the world. Disabled people are impatient for change and equal playing field and I want Leonard Cheshire to have an even bigger role making societal change a reality. I'm kind of what's the state of play? How's it going? Have you had a couple of wins? What are you happy or pleased about so far?
Ruth Owens 9:51
I think you know what am i Yes, I love the job. I absolutely love the job. And as I said earlier on it's very close to my family life. So, you know, it seemed a natural, I was delighted and privileged to get the job and lead Leonard Cheshire I think the the exciting bit for me with Leonard Cheshire. Like a lot of people in the sector are struggling with is kind of, you know, what, what do you want to be become for the next generation of disabled people? You know, how do we position ourselves to be that to be that advocate to be that, you know, partner that delivers for disabled people to make the societal changes that we need to make, I won't deny or pretend it's not been tough, it is tough in health and social care is seriously tough. And you know, we're suffering the same as everybody else with, you know, high inflation, recruiting talent, all the challenges that you'll know about, you know, they're on the news every day, all the challenges that we're facing in this sector, it's a tough sector. It's a very rewarding sector. But it's a really tough sector. So I've come in, and I'm just starting to kind of position Leonard Cheshire think about what do we become for the future, working with the with the next generation of disabled people working with commissioners, thinking about what does that look like for the future? That's what excites me if I'm honest with you, because it's, you know, it's really important, regardless of your, you know, what your disability is, or your ability is actually it's your life. And it's how do we support you in your life? Not what we think, you know, I've been one of those disabled people as have things done to them in my early life. And if I'm honest with you, both, I hated it. I really hated it. And I think as an organisation, we have to think about what is what is it that we're trying to achieve? And how do we do that and become an enabler of disabled people? And how do we have the greatest impact on society? So as most of you know, you know, the challenge for disabled people to get to employment is often not the employer, or the employment opportunities, but it's the infrastructure. And so how do we have, you know, what do we what's our role, and so the younger generation are impatient for change, and they should be and it's right to be. So I think we have to position ourselves to, to actually use technology more and and actually create greater change. So that's probably a long winded answer to your question, but it kind of just gives you a sense of the journey I'm on I hope.
This is The Way We Roll hosted by Simon Minty and Phil Friend,
Phil Friend 12:33
you've described the situation you find yourself in and as you say, it's horrendous. I mean, we've watched what's going on, cuts everywhere, systems not working all of that stuff. In the middle of it says Leonard Cheshire, with its resident group and the group's that it works with externally, I suppose the problem that Leonard Cheshire has faced historically is moving away from some of that more traditional approach to looking after disabled people, albeit with, you know, the best of care available and so on to a world where that younger generation now expect to live independently, or interdependently. They need a lot of support, but they need they want to exercise choice. So just as you and I did when we were put in the room we didn't want to be in and all that stuff. So I suppose aside from the challenge you describe of finance and talent and all that stuff. You've also got this historical thing to shift, haven't you into the the more modern way? How do you see that going? Because obviously the movement, if that's what it is, disability movement has got strong things to say about residential care. And in the past, certainly Leonard Cheshire so how are you addressing that bit, Ruth? Because that's really difficult too, isn't it?
Ruth Owens 13:48
It is really difficult because you don't want to You can't throw away history. No, you have to live with history. I think you have to be relevant for the future. And I think one size doesn't fit all does it? I think it comes down to choice. And I think it comes down to being able to bring the history forward to the future. Not easy, really difficult. Because let's be honest, many of our residents have lived with us for many, many, many, many years. 20/30 It's their home. So I can't you know, you that's important to them, important for their families and their loved ones. So I think you have to respect history, but then gradually change history for the future. Not easy, Phil absolutely not easy. I have to do with empathy and sensitivity. And I think I have to with the team, make sure that we we take people on that journey and in some circumstances, I have to be honest. What we're offering for the future might not fit some of the history and we just have to accept that and say, okay, for that group or those individuals, it's their choice. That's how they want to live. And I have to respect that. But I think what I can do is move Leonard Cheshire into the future, because I think that was the attraction for the job. For me, it was like, How do I have a greater impact on social care? And how do I change that for? Because it's your right, most disabled people want to live independently with the right support around them?
Phil Friend 15:31
Yes, because Leonard Cheshire himself at the time that he set the charity up, it was a pioneering charity, you know, nothing had been done like that before. So in its day, it was hugely innovative. And I guess what you're doing is taking the 21st century and trying to re build that innovative, how are you? How are the the the actual users of your services, being engaged in that conversation about progress and change?
Ruth Owens 16:01
And yeah, so I'm, I'm a passionate advocate of that, as you know, from my time at WizKids mean, you know, we had a kids board and, you know, we worked with all you know, from, from your with Jess, and everything out. So, I think for me, what I do is I am out regularly, I talk to residents and their families, we have a Customer Council, you know, the voice of the disabled person has to come through in everything we do. And, you know, when I, when I go out to our services, I'm very mindful that I'm stepping in somebody else's home, I'm a guest in their home, and their setting. And I'm very, very careful about that. And I respect that enormously. I want to hear from them and their loved ones, I want to hear from their families. And I actively encouraged people to come forward to our, to our council and all of that stuff to give us their voice. And actually, they don't even have to be as you know, they don't even have to be in our services. I'm actually actively through our employment programme, and other other disabled people. I think I said to you at the early earlier, I have quite young people have followed me for a WizKids that are now working and talking to me and saying, oh, Ruth, what do you think about this? I think we should think about this, etc, etc. So I like to get you know, I'm absolutely we've got we've got to do more at Leonard Cheshire of having a greater voice, because that's so important to me, because when I was growing up, I didn't feel I had a voice. I felt things were done to me. And I resented it. I was in residential care. So you know, I didn't feel I had a voice and that those feelings have not left me. You know, the fact that I felt silenced, or I couldn't have a voice. When I'm doing this role. I'm a passionate advocate of that. And you know, I will do more of that at Leonard Cheshire,
Simon Minty 17:56
You've reminded me that many moons ago, Phil and I did a dinner with Remploy. And the board was not disabled people as far as I knew there might have been, and they were saying how brilliant they were. And I said to them, so if any of you had a child who was coming to employment age, would you like them to come work here at Remploy. And it all went very quiet. I know, hold on, you just told me how brillian it is why you're not championing it. And there was this really awkward moment. We now know at Leonard Cheshire, there is disabled leadership. And the change that you're bringing one, I suppose it's a double question. One would be how would you feel? Would you think at some point, if you are in one of the homes, would you go? This is a good place to be? This is a real double mixed up question. My other part is the change that you're trying to do. How are you bringing on the board trustees staff? How is that going? So there's double? If that's not a really messy question?
Ruth Owens 18:54
Yeah, no, it's not messy question. I mean, you know, I think the biggest skill of any leader is got to be you've got to communicate having a you've got to be able to engage with people. And, you know, if you think about what we do, all of us do, I mean, I'm in a people business. At the end of the day, it's about people, whether it's our residents, whether it's the people that come through our programmes, whether it's my colleagues, whether it's my board, it's a journey, and you've got to communicate that journey journey, haven't you? And I think, you know, with with my team and with my, the wider organisation, I do workplace lives, which is, you know, Facebook and digital, for workplace. I go out into our services, I engage I talk clearly we have regular board and meet the board outside of our board meetings. And you know, for me, it's about we all want one thing, don't we? We want a better place for disabled people in society. That's, you know, we need to level up with the last minority group that hasn't had the changes that we richly deserve. If you think about, you know, the LGBTTQI probably won't get that right. But they've done an awesome job of just making that every day mainstream. We have got to make disability mainstream the fact that I still talk about, as probably both of you do about employment opportunities for disabled people, we shouldn't be having those conversations. It should be, you know, they should just, it just should be like, to your point, Simon about Remploy, I mean, that was offered to me when I was young, or the BBC. And I didn't want either. You know, I was I was I, you know, I asked when I was at school to go to the London Stock Exchange for a visit, I was much more interested in business. But that, because they didn't understand that, you know, we're all unique aren't we. So I think, you know, I communicate regularly, my boards are on the journey with me. And I think that, you know, we have to, we have to do more of fighting for a better society for disabled people, in my view.
Phil Friend 21:02
Now that I mean, I wonder, Ruth, you've talked quite powerfully about your experiences as a child and as a girl as a young woman. Yeah. How do you see things developing across that sort of intersectionality piece of women with disabilities? Black women with disabilities? For example? How? How are you seeing some of that playing out in Leonard Cheshire the differences between men and women get or don't get?
Ruth Owens 21:32
Well, I think it's an interesting question, Phil, I think you do see differences. I'm not sure. Why if I'm honest, because I think there shouldn't be a difference. I think you do. Definitely. I have, you know, I, as a disabled woman, I've kind of, I guess there's a whole thing about discrimination anyway, isn't the you know, you know, if I think about my early life, I was a disabled young woman and that was tough because there's preconceived ideas around females, and there's preconceived ideas around disability. And I don't think you see enough women at the top with a disability, if you want to call, you know, a leadership role at the top, but I think things are starting to change. But the question is, are they changing quickly enough? I'm sure the answer is they're not. I think I'm a passionate advocate of young women, I mentor quite a few young women with a disability outside of their day job. And actually, they don't have to be disabled. They just, you know, I help younger, younger women, and kind of give them the advice that perhaps I could have had as a young age as well. And try and help because that's all I can do, I can just pass down to the next generation of, you know, how it's been for me and for young women trying to get on with a disability in a senior leadership role. And I think there is differences, but I'm not sure I know why those differences are if I'm honest.
Simon Minty 23:08
You've half answered this question. I've noticed it whenever I'm with you. Board meetings, you frequently say young disabled people are thinking this. And it's a it's something inherent is part of you. And I'm, I'm wondering, where does that come from? Why is that this? This big driver about young disabled people and their voice that's the question.
Ruth Owens 23:36
I think they're all future aren't they
Simon Minty 23:38
you sound like Whitney Houston, you're gonna sing? I suppose I'm digging, is it something because your own childhood and you said I didn't have a voice. So I want to make sure the next generation of youngsters do have a voice?
Ruth Owens 23:52
I mean, I had nothing to do. I had an interesting childhood that shaped me, I think, you know, being in residential care definitely shaped me for the future. I didn't know at the time. You know, I didn't I didn't understand quite at the time, how much it would shape me, but I felt I had things done to me. And I really resented it either by the care profession, the medical profession, the educational setting, I really hated it. You know, they'd write in a book at the end of the day about whether you've been well behaved or badly behaved and, and I was in boarding school. So you know, you know, I didn't go home very often. It gave me a great sense of independence in many ways. It made me You know, I learned that I had to be the an advocate for myself. Nobody else was going to advocate for me other than me. So I think that if I can pass that on to young people, and I'm passionate about young people, and give them that resilience, that sense of worth and that sense of belief. What better gift can you have? Because I didn't have that the only person that believed in me was me and my mother.
Phil Friend 25:06
It's interesting because I went to a special school to and I have a lot of memories, which are very fond ones of it. But I also have moments where I just seeing you having something filled in about you in a little book. At the end of the day, God knows what mine said, because I was terrible. But I don't recall, I think that is the point you made about self sufficiency. If you're going to survive in a special institution, wherever it is, you have to find your way of managing that whole experience, both with staff and your residential colleagues. Thinking forward and the fact that Leonard Cheshire does still provide institutions small i , you know, to look after a number of its people, how do you help them avoid what you and I both remember as being actually not dehumanising? That's not fair, because people did care about us, but it was more about the lack of autonomy. How do you stop us not being autonomous when all you're trying to do is care for us actually look after us make sure we're okay
Ruth Owens 26:17
I think it comes down to personal choice, doesn't it? I think, you know, my colleagues, you know, to your point, Phil, they care enormously about our residents, they care is, you know, they care, passionately, deeply. But I think you've got to recognise people are individual.And it's their life, and they make choices.And I think you've got to be able to stand back from that respect that and allow people to make their choices, good or bad. You know, and, you know, and, and enable them to fulfil their choices. And that's not easy when you've lived, you know, like you and I, when you've lived in an institution for a long time, you know, that the all the things that you've got to do, and you know all about that, as well as I do in terms of, you know, safeguarding, and quality and all of those good things, but I think it's about focusing on the person and given them the choice in their lives, whatever their setting is, whatever the setting is, it's about them. And I think when you're in an institution, and I remember myself, it was never about me, it was about the wider collective, you know, there was never much focus on me, unless it was a medical review or some nonsense like that. And I have to be honest with you, since I left school, I've been very, I've been very, I have a I have a white coat syndrome, I never go to the doctor's and I never go to the hospital, because I I just can't, you know, I struggle going anywhere near those kinds of professions. And and no, that's not good. But you know, I just ask you, because I can, I've got all these memories of the past. So I think for me, it's about being respectful and trying to, with my team and with the organisation focus on the individual, because we're all unique, and we're all different. And we all want to do different things with our lives. And who are we to say what you do with your life? We're not
Simon Minty 28:16
I think if you enable the choices which you're pushing, it makes a lot of sense. I'm loving this the past and present, Ruth and how that all ties together. I mean, something else I've noticed about you. Every time I see you every time I see you are immaculately presented, I mean, just phenomenal. And now thinking was that thing about when you were seven is it related? What's that? Why is why and there's nothing Why is Ruth always looking at a million dollars whenever I see you
Ruth Owens 28:47
Well that's very kind of you say Simon sometimes I don't feel a million dollars, but it's very kind. I was always interested in fashion and makeup when I was young. And you know, being in boarding school, you know, nail polish and makeup was kind of a forbidden, forbidden fruit. And but I was always interested. I was always always interested. And, and I used to. And it's funny, isn't it? You don't always think about this to get older, my mother had a few friends that were kind of very glamorous and very kind of, you know, into all of that stuff. And I always used to look from afar thinking, Oh, when I get older, I'm going to look like that. And when I went to my first job, there was a lady that was wonderful to me. She was absolutely wonderful to me. I was a young woman, that she was immaculate. And I thought that's what I'm going to look like when I get older. So I had a few a minute didn't trust me my mother was very, very My mother never will make up my mother never nail polish. And she and she never really let usa pierce our ears until, we got to 18 So my mother was quite the opposite. But I always had an interest and, and and and I always thought as a young woman that I thought well, actually, I can I can I can have an impact on other people in the way I look, if I take care of myself, then people have a different view of me. Because as a disabled person, I had that, oh, they're there. You know, oh, they're there. And actually, when I rocked up, and I wasn't, you know, I didn't, they didn't, I wasn't an oh they're there. And I look very differently. You know, and why wouldn't I be interested in fashion and nail polish. So it does come from a younger place, and interesting. And I've just continued as I've got older, really, if I'm honest,
Phil Friend 30:31
You mentioned, you didn't want to go to the BBC or something you wanted to go to the stock exchange and I kind of have this image of you Aside from your experiences in residential settings, which I clearly echo I mean, I remember it very well this idea that you are going to break the stereotype of what a disabled woman in a wheelchair looks like. Because, traditionally, and please, don't anybody take this the wrong way? There was a certain you know, in institutions, you didn't choose your clothes. No, they were bought for your you put them on, you can have anything you like so long as it was grey for boys. So this idea that this woman emerges from all those experiences, dolls herself up, as my mum would call it, but takes on then the tech industry. I mean, this this can't get more macho , can it? No, I mean, I mean, how where does that come from this? Your mum loved you. And she did all she could for you. You go through institutions, which tell you you're a number not a person, this peacock arises and goes and does stuff. How did how does that work? I'm really interested in well
Ruth Owens 31:49
I can, you know, my parents lived in Africa when I was in when I'm in the in the residential care. So I used to travel with my sister, backwards and forwards. And so I was a young unaccompanied minor, I was always I've always been independent in my thinking, even as a young person, I can remember people saying to me about X, Y, and Zed. And I used to think to myself, my don't really kind of by by that. So I'd always had this streak of independence in me, I was was quite opinionated is the wrong word. But I was quite, I had a strong sense of what I wanted to get out of life. I didn't, I wasn't going to sign up to their, what they thought I was going to sign up to. So when I, when I left residential care, and I started out in the world, I thought, actually, Tech was coming in shows my age, I thought, well, actually, hopefully they will, they will look at things differently. And they will, you know, think about somebody like me in a different way. And they had an open day, this particular tech firm, and I applied for it and rocked up and did my bit. And they called me and said they wanted to offer me the job. But they were worried about offering somebody that made a job that was at a disability. They were American company. So they were more progressive in their thinking, because the vets and all the rest of it. And I and when I got my foot in the door, I thought, wow, this is it. I'd already glammed myself up or dolled myself up in your mom's words Phil before, you know, as a young woman, and I just, I just thought, you know, this is my chance of proving. I mean, I, you know, I worked tirelessly to prove it. What I thought was to other people to show them wrong. And you know, I was, I was like, I'm determined, I'm going to show you wrong, all those things that you thought about me, I'm going to tell you that differently. Because I had people say to me when I was leaving school, you're a lame duck, you had nothing. You know, there's a Benefits Officer social housing, off you go, why do you want to work, but I was always interested in I had, you know, an active mind. I was independent in my thinking. I've been taught to be independent because my parents lived abroad. So there was no calling up. We didn't call up quite like you to today, but there was no, I mean, I got an airmail letter every six weeks from my mother. So I had no family support in that way. So I had to be independent. And I guess I just was doggedly determined when I left that I could do something with my life. Don't get me wrong, Phil and Simon it was tough. But I just felt I had it in me and I thought, if I don't fight for me, then nobody else is going to fight for me. And so I got my clobber on got myself out there and try to try to get employment and I had a lot of rejection. And as per probably both of you know how hard that is, but I thought well, what if I got to lose?
Simon Minty 34:48
Thank you, Ruth. I'm slightly more personal nonwork passions, I know that you went to Russia and you took your powered front wheel and we had a chat about that. And so w
hat else do you do in your downtime, your non work time?
Ruth Owens 35:03
What do I do? Well, I love travelling. I mean, that comes from my time my parents spending time in Africa. My father worked in Africa. So I, you know, travel is probably my number one thing that I spend my money on, I'm a great believer of the world. And seeing the world and, you know, I can't do enough of that. And yeah, I love that. That's just I've got gypsy blood in me, I think from that point of view, I spend time with family and, you know, with my family, and my partner, so I spend a lot of time with with family and him. And you know what I just, I try and live life lightly. I try and live that coat lightly. In terms of, you know, enjoying today. I don't really put this sounds like dreadful but I don't have too much of a schedule when I'm outside of work because I'm work I'm on a schedule. You know, I just I just enjoy my family and friends and when at the minute I've got elderly mom I've just sadly lost my father just recently. So I've got you know, elderly parent responsibilities and and I feel strongly about that because my mother did such a huge had such a huge influence on my life. So now when she needs me most I need to be there for her. And I spend time with my nieces and nephews and, and family and friends. I mean, that's it really I go to my static retro caravan in Whitstable with Terry. You know, we've done that we were one of those mad people that bought one.
Simon Minty 36:37
is it an accessible?
Ruth Owens 36:39
Yeah. So I bought, so I bought it. We bought a secondhand accessible caravan and ended it up. And yeah, it's great. It's down in Seasalter and Whitstable. So when the good weather comes, we're down there most weekends chill out, and I scoot around on my electric scooter.
Phil Friend 36:58
I'm going to have to come and see you in my accessible motor home, I shall drift down and park outside
Ruth Owens 37:05
Come and see me I love it, My dream would be to get an accessible campervan and travel the world.
Phil Friend 37:11
Yeah, well, I've done a bit of it. So
Simon Minty 37:16
Hold up he doesn't know how much longer he's gonna keep it. You've just found yourself a buyer here Phil.
Phil Friend 37:20
First refusal. Its got a wet room. Fabulous.
Ruth Owens 37:25
We've got to talk outside of this because I have, I have to be honest with you. I'm known for having gypsy blood every. I mean, don't get me wrong, I've always had my home. And I've always been fortunate enough to be always employed. But my other outside of work every couple of months, I like to go on aircraft. If I don't smell that aircraft, fuel, I feel a little bit deprived in life. And I like to roam around. So again, a static caravan I love I love the sea, the sea is for me, the sea is really calming, like I like to go and sit down by the sea. And take just take just you know, just take some breaths of fresh air and just think about nothing. That's my ideal
Phil Friend 38:07
I suppose. I mean, on the one hand, you're doing an extraordinarily tough job. a very demanding job. Yeah. And perhaps before we finish, we want to just get a picture from you of how you see maybe the next five years as you but but but to balance t that you have your family and your friends and your travelling, and your caravan. And you know, that's where you just, that's where you become Ruth, the non SEO person. How do you see the next four or five years as you confront what's, you know, the horrendous difficulties we face as a country and so on
Ruth Owens 38:46
I you know, I wished I could say I had a crystal ball. And you know, because it was things will come from a place that you don't expect, I guess what we've got to do at Leonard Cheshire is become really financially sustainable. I think that's, you know, in a tough, tough market, we've got to attract the best talent we can attract and create the best settings for, for for disabled people that we can create, I think tech will play a big role in what we provide for the future. And I think having the voice of a disabled person, it's in the core of everything we do, is where I'm going to get to with Leonard Cheshire, because it's you know, to your point earlier Phil the man himself, we were pioneering, we need to be that again, we need to be innovative. We need to be agile, we need to create an environment where disabled people flourish and grow and we enable them to lead the lives they want to lead. And I'm not saying that we don't do that some of that now, but we need to do more of that. So I think the last thing I would say on that is we need to fight and fight for the like both of you have done fight for the rights of disabled people, I think it's great that Simon's on Gogglebox. I'm a huge fan, because actually, we as disabled people should be in everyday life. It should be mainstream, we shouldn't have to be talking about employment, you know, transportation should just be accessible. And so when they design for the future, we need to have a role in that. And we need to be advocating and fighting for disabled people for the future, and even more so be an even stronger voice than we've been. So I think I've got a lot to do. I'm not nowhere near it yet. Which is why I'm in to two years to this week, is my anniversary, which I cannot believe it's crazy gone crazy quickly. And, you know, but I feel I feel even more strongly about what we need to do for the future. Because I think we have to be relevant. And you know, otherwise, why would it? Why would people come to us if we weren't relevant? They wouldn't? Would they?
Phil Friend 41:03
Know, they wouldn't? Quite right? Yes, people sometimes forget that, you know, although we don't have many choices, we do have some choices. And you can decide whether you go to Leonard Cheshire or whether you don't, you know, so at the end of the day, your customer needs to feel that what you're doing is relevant for them. So yeah, I take that point.
Ruth Owens 41:21
And you know what I think as well, and I don't know if I'll ever get to this, but I'm striving for this. I want people to look at our menu, and I equate it to a restaurant. And one young person said this to me, because I asked him about Leonard Cheshire. And he said, Well, you know what, Ruth's he said them, and I haven't forgotten this. He said, There's nothing on your menu that attracts me to come in and eat at your restaurant. And I thought, wow, wow, and that's it for me. And I hold on to that, because that's where Leonard Cheshire needs to be the on that restaurant on that menu, people want to come to us, because I think one of the things we forget is that you know, as consumers, we choose whether we will I choose whether I buy apple or a another because I have choice, and, and some and then they've got products that attract me, we have to have an offering that attracts the next generation of disabled people to come into our restaurant, and eat in a restaurant. And that's what I'm striving towards. And that's what I want to get LC to be in that position,
Phil Friend 42:30
you've got to get the email address of the guy who said he doesn't want to shop at your restaurant, because in five years time you want to invite him back don't you?
Ruth Owens 42:37
He is a very close young person that keeps in touch with me.
Phil Friend 42:42
Well, that's brilliant. It'd be a great sort of check and balance on how you're doing what I do.
Ruth Owens 42:47
And I go back out to the young people and say to them, Look, you know, I'm doing this, this and this, what do you think? You know, we're great believer in consumer, I don't like to say it this way. Because it sounds like management jargon. But consumer testing, isn't it? It's like, you tell me what you think we need to be, you know, I, I've got a view that I think we need to be expert. You know, listen, I'm an older person. I'm not 18 anymore. You know, those days have gone at great time, but they've gone, you know, but you tell me what you think because I think you have to listen. And if you don't listen, then I think it's at your peril. If I'm honest with you.
Simon Minty 43:27
We've had about five brilliant moments, we could stop this podcast, and I'm gonna stop properly. Thank you so much, Ruth. It's been an absolute delight, having you on the show and finding out a little bit more about you both professionally and personally. And I hope it's been a pleasant experience for you.
Ruth Owens 43:44
It's been wonderful. Thank you.
Phil Friend 43:46
Well, and I'll, I'll let you I'll give you a guided tour of my motorhome when We next see.
Ruth Owens 43:52
Yeah, where are you located?
Phil Friend 43:54
I'm in Hertfordshire. But don't let that worry you will sort something out. But it's been an absolute pleasure. I really enjoyed the conversation and Thank you, Ruth. It's been a pleasure. Thank you both.
If you enjoy The Way We Roll please do like and subscribe.
Simon Minty 44:09
Well that was Dr. Ruth Owens OBE I really enjoyed speaking with Ruth because I felt we kind of got to know the person underneath and the things that drive her to do what she does.
Phil Friend 44:21
Yeah, no, I agree. And there was much I mean, I've not met Ruth before and I didn't know an awful lot about her life but we have surprising amount in common I thought you know, residential care and all that and mum, we've all got mums. You've got one to know really interesting story. She's got a lot on, it's going to be a difficult job at. Leonard Cheshire is I know she's finding already but we're very optimistic that she can turn it around. I like the idea of the the lad with his restaurant, you know, why would I want to come into your restaurant? Now? Good, very interesting conversation.
Simon Minty 44:57
I remember when when we worked with the Housing Association and I always wanted to know that one day I could move into the housing association, it would be good because I like the idea of it
Phil Friend 45:07
It was like you mentioned Remploy, you know, it would have to change, wouldn't it for you or I for example, to want to work there. So it's it is. I think that's a very good question to ask.
Simon Minty 45:20
And a really interesting point you reminded me because I think when I was 16/18, Remploy was mentioned, as a potential place to work. And very interesting that I don't think that would be the first port of call for many disabled people and their parents now.
Phil Friend 45:36
Well, you'd like to think that Remploy has changed. And, you know, if it doesn't, then we do have more choices now than we used to in those days. But that's for sure. No, good. Very interesting.
Simon Minty 45:47
Lovely to have Ruth. Thank you for your time, Ruth. And if you have any thoughts or you want to get in contact, you can drop us an email
Phil Friend 45:57
At minty and email@example.com.
Simon Minty 46:01
We are on Facebook, we're on Twitter, we're on Instagram and I forgotten the one where we always
Phil Friend 46:08
Simon Minty 46:09
Beacon look up beacon with The Way We Roll and there's lots of links to or your mailing list or YouTube all the other bits and bobs. Thank you so much for listening and thank you again Ruth for being a great guest.
Phil Friend 46:22
Yes, thank you everyone. And we'll see you again very soon. Take care.
This is The Way We Roll presented by Simon Minty and Phil Friend. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or just search for minty and friend on social media. We're on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
Transcribed by https://otter.ai