With a background in administration I have worked predominantly in manufacturing; from packings, seals and gaskets to camshafts so my shift and change into the field of drugs, alcohol and mental health may seem a strange journey.

Whilst working in Human Resources for an organisation that had a Welfare Department and Industrial Relations I soon recognised that my interest in people was to become my vocation and as part of my development I enrolled onto a counselling course. The counselling course became a passion to learn more and not to lose the skills I had learnt so I started my journey looking at how I could utilise this new talent.

I was offered the opportunity of volunteering at Surrey Alcohol and Drug Service (SADAS) and I remember sitting in the training thinking “it would be amazing to work for this Charity”. The course opened new ventures to experience and I worked in the pilot for the arrest referral scheme in Guildford Police Station which was later commissioned and latterly the work carried out by CGL (now sadly due to funding cuts this provision is not operational). My interest grew and my eyes were opened up to a new world of drugs and alcohol; a fine line that could be crossed and was ever evident in the forefront of my mind. I volunteered from 1999 until 2001.

Although during the period of my volunteering I applied for the Counselling Manager role but was unsuccessful, I wasn’t deterred and was employed as the Counselling Services Supervisor in 2001. I had become disillusioned by the world of manufacturing and at that time I was employed in HR for a local organisation producing camshafts so here is my introduction to my career within the field of drugs and alcohol.

I remember the shift and change from manufacturing to a not for profit Charity was an eye opener. No longer did I have to be at my desk working for 8.00am or attend the site to deal with the night shift, getting to work for 9.00am was a luxury and certainly a lie in but staff didn’t get to the office before 9.30am which felt alien to me. My other memory was I was now responsible for my role and developing the position; I had been used to being led by the needs of staff as well as the recruitment, selection and training for the site.

I stayed in the role for 18 months when I received a call from Haydn (previous CEO for those who never had the opportunity to meet or know who this is) saying I was going to receive a call from the CEO and I should say “yes”, not to think about the call but to ring him back; curious but cautious to know what the call was about. The call came and I was asked if I would like to be the Manager of the drop-in (Engage) in Staines, dutifully I said yes and then phoned Haydn back to say “what have you done, I’ve no experience of managing a drop-in” to which he told me I could do it and he would be my mentor. Engage was instrumental in cementing our working relationship with i:access (then known as Windmill, Acorn and Respond). The partnership grew supporting the clients accessing both services and has been instrumental in supporting people with their journey to stop using drugs and/or alcohol. This was a time when someone could walk into the drop-in, be referred into Windmill that moment and start their script that day something that no longer is so responsive. Care Plans were planned together and clients fully engaged with both teams as they didn’t see us as being different. This format set the template for the Woking clinic based at Xchange. I stayed in this role until 2006.

As part of the development of SADAS I was promoted to Operations Manager responsible for Engage, Counselling and Throughcare and Aftercare (TCAC as it was known was an activities based project for heroin users at risk of overdose coming out of prison), I also became a member of the Senior Management Team. My location was still within the Staines drop-in which saw the continued development of the service. My time was split between Staines and Guildford where the counselling and TCAC teams were based (split between Staines and Guildford). Ironically I then became the Manager of the person whose job I had originally applied for and who subsequently employed me. At the same time Gus also became Operations Manager for Housing and outreach based in Woking. I stayed in this role until 2010.

2010 saw the start of funding cuts to services. Drop-ins were no longer flavour of the time and buildings were and still remain costly and so we saw this decommissioned along with TCAC as the number of heroin users coming into the service didn’t meet the perceived demand and the counselling services which was the bread and butter of SADAS was replaced by the telephone counselling service which is operational under SDAC (sadly now with a funding risk due to the cuts within Public Health). This was the first time the Charity was faced with redundancy which was alien and a place that never sits comfortably. It was at this time I said I didn’t want to start another project for it to be cut in future which then provided a dilemma as to my position within the Charity. I then became the Compliance Manager.

This role comprised of ensuring data returns reflected accurately how the projects were performing in line with Service Level Agreements; overseeing the contributing projects and a resource for all teams using Halo. As my background was in HR I became responsible for the Charity liaising with outsourced HR consultants on aspects that needed to comply with the Law. I was the lead on matters related to clinical governance, health and safety and staff development.

With the loss of the counselling contract which was a huge blow to the Charity, a suggestion was made by one of the volunteer counsellors to apply for funding from the Lottery. The initial application was rejected and a team was put together to review and re-apply and we were successful in being awarded the contract; I became the lead contact with the Big Lottery reporting to them on outcomes of the contract. When the first round of funding came to an end my life was put on hold whilst I evaluated the service and put together the application for the second round of funding; to my delight we were successful and currently Reach Out continues to deliver counselling and groups for family and friends. I handed over responsibility for the lead contact with the Big Lottery to Gilly so I could focus on my next step in my journey.

2013 saw my promotion to Deputy CEO. The post had a wide range of interlocked roles that required a willingness to identify and undertake what was needed when it was needed. Key to the post was the need to translate the vision and direction of the charity to staff as well as to contribute to the direction with the CEO. I was Chair of the Treatment Provider Group (TPG) for 4 years; a forum where treatment providers can network, share good practice, promote new initiatives and develop a seamless system based on Recovery. The meeting is still operational today, interestingly I was only asked the other day if I would come back to co-Chair with the current Chair; sadly I declined.

May 2017 saw me step into the role of Acting CEO following an accident that led to the death of Haydn Morris the then CEO. The last year has seen the Charity change in ways that could never be planned and which was a challenge to my leadership in a difficult time.

Having the role of CEO advertised I remember all the great advice I gave to staff; don’t assume we know what you do, answer the questions completely and here I was listening to my own advice to do the one thing I took for granted by staff applying for roles internally. I hadn’t written a C.V. or application for 17 years, being interviewed by people who knew me, I couldn’t exaggerate the truth and I had to demonstrate I was the right person for the job. I was later surprised and hadn’t realised I am the first female CEO.

The role of CEO is providing professional strategic leadership; to lead on and be accountable for the performance, activity targets and financial planning, to be responsible for staff leadership, management and administration, to drive and lead good governance and to work with the Board of Trustees. One thing I didn’t count upon was being seen as the role and not the person. It has been a strange journey of suddenly being seen in a different light, I no longer know all of the names of new employees as I do not sit on interviews, I am more external facing than internal so I get to see people and clients less and I have to remember that the SMT now lead on the day to day operations and I don’t get so involved. Instead I now get to talk about the great work staff do with clients, I sit in meetings negotiating our place alongside other third sector or statutory providers recognising the resilience and adaptability of the workforce placing Catalyst in a unique position as an equal provider. I meet other CEO’s, heads of services with strange job titles, members of parliament and the Duke of Wessex; I get to go to Garden Parties. What draws me back to reality is being able to make a cuppa and catch up with the peer mentors and hear about their journey and what they are currently learning or the group they are now running and not co-facilitating; this was why I stepped through those doors back in 1999.

The history of Catalyst takes us back 30 years when a lady called Ivy Murphy (I don’t believe she is a relative) started the counselling service. There are still a couple of counsellors who volunteer with us today who can tell you about the early days of SADAS and how it has developed over the years; I take my hat of to you all giving such dedication to the clients and who have some wonderful stories only a few of us have heard. Predominantly a counselling service, changes came afoot into criminal justice, outreach, housing, youth work, prison link, off-roading (yes people where employed to drive land rovers around a field, luckily all before the wonders of health and safety), needle exchange, alcohol specific, drop-in and activities. The last 10 years have seen us running contracts that are decommissioned to become the flavour of the moment again and you may recognise some of the earlier projects that we currently run again today.

Catalyst has always felt like a family unit and over the years as we have grown it has been a challenge as to how we remain the tight unit of a smaller organisation but grow into a larger organisation meeting the structured needs of employees. The ethos is “helping people change” and I believe that has to start at the heart of the people who work for Catalyst, looking at the professionalism of staff and challenging the perceptions of statutory organisations that do not see the third sector as being professional.

With funding cuts comes the challenge of ensuring Catalyst has a unique place alongside statutory organisations; to remain competitive we need to retain our core business of being able to engage with people deemed to be risky, working with ambivalent people not knowing whether they want to stop using or continue their use, clients who are problematic to other community services, working with people to be resilient, reduce stigma and become a member of their local community, looking at technology and how we can better use the services to improve our service delivery and engage in different ways with our customers. This I believe will keep us growing and developing our place in the future.

So now you know my journey into Catalyst and the history of the Charity but who am I? Many of you will know my fluffy white dog Daisy (cross Jack Russell with Shih Tzu), she gets me out walking twice a day, you can often find me pounding the A3 or Ripley car boot looking for a bargain or two, music, reading, gardening, DIY and of course my family and friends who keep me grounded.

So as you read this I hope this gives you an insight into who your CEO is and remember I am a person and not the job title and I am interested in hearing from you to help me as I go about the County meeting different people and looking at opportunities for the future development of Catalyst. Blogging is not only new to me but to Catalyst and before I venture into the big wide world I want to start by being interactive with you internally so as I continue to blog I would love to hear your comments or ideas to help me grow Catalyst.


Sue Murphy



Categories: CEO