A picture of Vivien Waterfield with her CBE

Honoured: Vivien Waterfield, Deputy Chief Executive at charity Home-Start UK, with her CBE at Windsor Castle

It takes a village to raise a child, says Vivien Waterfield, who collected her CBE at Windsor Castle today for a quarter of a century of work for families and children.  

And without a national network of volunteers, the charity Home-Start UK, where she is Deputy Chief Executive, couldn’t function. 

More than 43,000 families benefit from the support provided by the charity - from its start in Leicester more than 50 years ago, the charity now operates 180 local Home-Starts across the UK to support children and families during challenging times.  

Throughout her 26 years with the charity, Vivien has played a pivotal role, working with strategic partners, promoting the organisation’s work, securing generous donors, and ensuring the charity navigates the choppy waters of changing regulation, squeezed funding, and the fallout from the pandemic.  

“We have about 8,000 volunteers whom we train and support to go into often difficult situations,” says Vivien. 

These might include families struggling with challenges such as illness and poverty, perhaps bereavement or poor housing, or working with refugee families new to the country who lack close family nearby.  

Inspired by the co-operative values of caring for others, she began her career at UK retailer the Co-op where she joined the marketing team as a history graduate, before moving to the arts. Today her favourite way to switch off remains a visit to the theatre.  

The 60-year-old says: “In the arts, you saw the difference that experience could make for children. I feel very strongly every child and every community should have access.” 

During lockdown Vivien worked with partners such as the John Lewis Partnership – the charity featured in the UK co-operative's ad campaign – and ensured families continued to receive support online when face-to-face contact was impossible.  

“Our work with partners, donors, major trusts and foundations brings you into contact with the best of people, which helps you through tough times,” says Vivien. “You have to be resilient to work in the third sector.”  

Indeed, over the last decade funding pressures have been intense.

“Today local authorities are spending almost two billion pounds – that's 50 per cent - less on early years support than 10 years ago, according to the National Children’s Bureau,” says Vivien.  

“We’ve had to change our funding model completely and find new partnerships and grants. We’ve seen a big increase in mental health challenges, and more families in poverty. It was this constant change that motivated me to go back to university.”  

Why executive education is important

In 2022 she embarked upon The Warwick Executive Diploma in Organisational Change at Warwick Business School.  

If returning to university was daunting, she welcomed the space to step away from the day-to-day bustle of the charity and the time to reflect.  

“I was ready to test my experience and skills, and learn alongside people beyond the sector,” she says. “It had been such a long time since I learned in a formal setting. The [WBS] space at The Shard is a wonderful facility.”  

She is still in touch with her classmates. “I enjoyed being alongside bright and interesting people and benefiting from peer-to-peer learning.” 

As well as validating her intuitive leadership methods and style, the course taught Vivien to look beyond the nuts and bolts of organisational change. 

“We sometimes focus on managing change through processes, systems and models, and you can forget the emotional side of change and the importance of culture,” says Vivien.  

“That really shone through for me – how much we need to listen and take people with us. And to be bold – that’s the responsibility of a leader sometimes – to be brave and take new directions.” 

As a leader, it is easy to get lost in the weeds, she says.  

“We work in a very fast-moving environment that requires constant juggling,” she adds. “I think for me the challenge is to make sure you are still learning, still developing, always looking to the future and continuing to make an important contribution.” 

The Warwick Executive Diploma in Organisational Change is now The The Warwick Executive Diploma in Strategic Leadership & Change.