Charlotte Ramsden may be officially known as Salford City Council’s strategic director of people, but she defines her wider leadership and influencing role across Greater Manchester as one of ‘chief plate spinner’.
Ms Ramsden was awarded an OBE last month for her work in supporting the development of services for children and young people across Greater Manchester since 2016.
The city region’s distributed leadership model of working has been ‘really important’, she tells The MJ, ‘because everyone needs to have ownership at a Greater Manchester level’.
Across the 10 councils ‘our directors of children’s services have lead areas where they’re a key lead within the Greater Manchester arena. That’s really helped because we can’t all be doing everything’, she says.
‘Really, it’s been about great team work and people working together. And that shared passion and vision has led to a willingness to invest. For example, in early years we’ve got a school readiness board, looking at all of that early years pathway to a good level of development at the end of reception year, and how we invest jointly to make that happen to best effect.’
It’s a ‘very complicated picture’, she adds. ‘I sometimes describe myself as chief plate spinner. I spend a lot of time connecting the threads and spinning the plates between the different pieces of work, as opposed to being that expert who just does one part of the system.’
Ms Ramsden, who is also vice-president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), is full of praise for her ‘very talented’ team in Salford. She says they have worked together intensively to build ‘our Salford vision’, which is about enabling every child to achieve their potential. ‘They’ve all got ambition in terms of wanting the best. They work together and use their skills incredibly well together.’
How did she feel to be awarded an OBE? ‘I was very thrilled, obviously. I’m completely overwhelmed, I have to be honest.
‘I did feel really deeply honoured. People have been very lovely, and just sent so many congratulations. I think the other thing it does is it just makes you feel validated. Sometimes you stick your neck out, and do things and you wonder, will people think that’s ok? So I feel as if I’ve been given permission to do what I’m doing, and to continue doing what I’m doing, because hopefully there’s an awful lot more to do yet.’
What aspects of the work to support development of services across Greater Manchester is she most proud of? She outlines ‘three big things’. The first was ‘really developing a vision for children and young people, and the collective ambition for what we as a system wanted for them, and working with them to really shape that – in terms of how do we help you become the best person you can be?’
That vision has got ‘bigger and bigger’ as more and more people have engaged, including multi-agency partners and politicians, ‘and so we’ve got a children and young people’s plan that articulates that; we’ve got huge ambition in the Greater Manchester strategy led by Andy Burnham which articulates all that’.
The second thing was turning that into reality. The key aspect of that has been people’s willingness to invest. As well as people investing their time and the resources they’ve already got, there’s been investment from the Department for Education around innovation and from other government departments.
The Greater Manchester health and social care partnership has invested significantly around children’s early years and children’s mental health, and other partners in the city have made significant commitments.
Finally, the best and most exciting part, she says, is ‘we’re starting to see the impact that’s having’. Greater Manchester is ‘starting to see services that are delivering things differently, and obviously getting feedback from children and young people saying this is really helpful to them’.
She adds: ‘Some of that we can measure in terms of children’s early years development and things like that. We’re starting to measure data differences about reductions in children and young people needing to come into care, when they’ve been involved in high risk behaviours and so on. There are some real positive things there.’
While the new approaches are ‘still developing’ – she doesn’t think transformation will ever end – the timing of the new vision was fortuitous. A large part of the work was under way before the pandemic began, ‘so certainly we’d established our intensive approaches to supporting young people before COVID hit and they’ve been incredibly valuable during COVID.’
She joined Salford from Trafford MBC in 2014. If she had to pick one time out as a favourite ‘it would be what I’m doing now’.
When she became director of children’s services in Salford, it was ‘just calling to me as a place’. She had previously worked there as a social worker, and had loved it. ‘There was just something about it as a very proud vibrant city, but with plenty of challenges. So I’ve just loved that opportunity to influence things – not just line manage things – to a shared vision and aim to make a difference. It’s a real privilege.’
After her return, she was able to find out what had happened to a few of the children she had worked with as a social worker. She says: ‘That was probably one of the really lovely things. You feel incredibly privileged, because you leave a job and you never know what happens to those children ever again unless you are fortunate enough to do what I did and come back!’
Her OBE recognises both her inspiring leadership and a level of dedication that has made a hugely positive difference to the lives of children and young people both in Salford and across Greater Manchester.