If you think back to January 2020 would you have predicted that we would be on lockdown for most of the year? No, neither did we!

This year has thrown curveballs but thanks to all of our amazing colleagues who adapted, listened and helped us to navigate through this time, we have been able to continue growing and innovating. We have drawn so much inspiration from them all, as well as the communities we have served and the partners we have worked with. It has been one of the toughest years ever, but also one which taught us so much about the power of the human spirit to endure and to overcome.

We very quickly adapted to new ways of working, finding creative ways to get our services and products to our communities digitally. We innovated – reflect for a second on Antser’s ground-breaking VR solution, bringing children back into the classroom virtually. Another example is our vision for a ‘TalkOut’ platform providing access to engagement, mental health and VR services from one portal, one which we have already started to realise.  These are just two of the many new models we are pioneering and building on.

We reprioritised and refocused, for instance diverting Martin James Foundation resources to more front-line projects; helping vulnerable families in Madagascar, supporting care-leavers in Birmingham with grants and resources, also renewing our partnership with Food-cycle to deliver food to families in greatest need locally. Let us not forget the amazing Epic Youth Project, which we are proud to say has reached over 120 young people, 15 of whom we are working with more intensively to realise their business goals. There has never been a more important time to give young people hope and opportunity, which we are just so pleased to be contributing to.

We also used the time to reflect on who we are as a collective network and what we want to continue doing and investing in. We have captured this very simply in our new strapline “Fearless Futures”. In these few words we are clear about our ongoing commitment to strengthening families and communities through ‘humanising’ social care, health and education structures, practice, and technologies. Everyone deserves the opportunity to live a fearless future and we exist to disrupt existing patterns of inequity and promote better social and health outcomes – it’s as simple as that!

Fearless Futures also applies internally and as part of this we have continued to develop our culture of ongoing learning and enterprise, most notably through our CoLab initiative. Many staff and Epic Youth members have participated in workshops ranging from photography to poetry and Mindfulness. Through such initiatives we are growing ever more comfortable about challenging ourselves and others on a daily basis to open up our minds, get curious and not be afraid to push ourselves.

In 2020 we also saw new businesses join the Network. UK Fire Training, a very valuable addition to our ‘fearless health’ portfolio, will be launching new training products in 2021, utilising the very best technologies.  Our ambition to do more to support causes close to our heart also led to us welcoming AboutFace – providers of anti-racism training into the Network. Events this year have clearly shown us that writing diversity charters and attending standard training are not enough, we need to get disruptive – something Cliff is on a mission to do!  Our new partnership with ‘Roots to Life’ Saturday School, due to be launched in January, also signifies our commitment to promoting inclusion and strengthening community – watch this space for more on this. We are also incredibly excited about the launch of CaseFlowHR solution in January 2021 – watch out Spreadsheet Britain, Greg and Jill are coming for you!

We must also recognise the areas that have grown from strength to strength, continuing to deliver the highest quality of service, despite the increase levels of demand; Key Assets Europe, Antser Assessment services and Intellect to name but a few.

Whilst we have achieved a lot it has not been an easy time for many people across the group, and we have both also certainly felt the pressure at times. Holy Moly has had to remain shut for a large part of the year which has had a significant impact on staff morale. The good news is we remain fully committed to re-opening when circumstances allow us to in 2021. We have also had to make tough business decisions around other areas of the network to ensure the realisation of future goals and priorities. Saying goodbye to people is never easy but we congratulate Agility and Tribera, two very successful businesses that are now forging their own way in the world.

There is so much to be proud of this year, the perseverance, the creativity, the collaboration, the learning, the resilience and the impact achieved. We really could go on. Empowering ‘Fearless Futures’ doesn’t mean that we haven’t felt the fear, this year has been full of it. But time and time again, we have demonstrated that we will never let fear own us, or hold us back. We truly appreciate all the hard work and support every single person has contributed to the Network over the last 12 months, and we look forward to building on our successes into 2021.

– Jim Cockburn and Ayyab Cockburn