Creating opportunities for a better life through ambition and commitment to positive change
Alison Haskins has been the CEO of Halifax Opportunities Trust (HOT) since 2016. She gives the Trust direction; steering its vision and leadership, developing and implementing its strategic plan, building partnerships in Calderdale and beyond. Alison is a positive ambassador for the amazing work which HOT carries out and is always seeking and building partnerships with local, regional and national organisations to raise awareness so the charity’s impact and delivery are enhanced.
Since becoming HOT’s CEO, Alison has celebrated many achievements and guided the charity through challenging times, such as the COVID pandemic, resulting in some positive outcomes for the community as well as learning opportunities for the Trust. Her passion and influence have spread across HOT’s teams, which has a ripple effect throughout the charity and the wider community.
Making the move
Working in the charitable sector in Yorkshire for over 20 years, Alison had always been aware of HOT and it was a source of inspiration for her even before joining; a great example of what can be achieved by a local community when it has a vision for itself and a helpful local council. Alison had visited the Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre when it was being refurbished and was showed around by Barbara Harbinson (then CEO). Alison remembers:
“I was very impressed with the scale of [HOT’s] ambition and little did I know that in 12 years’ time I would be working for one of the best ‘community anchors’ in the country!”
Keeping an eye on HOT over the years, Alison was aware of Barbara Harbinson as a key ‘mover and shaker’ in the community anchor network and read her occasional and insightful blogs with great interest. Alison has also been involved with Locality, the network of community organisations in England, almost her entire charitable working life, with HOT always being an important member.
When the role of CEO was advertised in 2016, Alison didn’t initially apply as she was happy in a job in Wakefield. However, when the job was advertised a second time, she decided to apply.
“A friend approached me to say she thought I’d be a good fit for the role and so I applied. I had worked for charity support organisations for many years and decided that I’d like to work for a frontline charity. I had been advocating in Wakefield for the important role of community anchors and here was the chance to actually lead one.”
Stability and agility
Initially, when joining the Trust, Alison spent much of her time creating cohesion within the organisation. Since being established in 2002, HOT had developed rapidly and it soon started doing lots of different things, so growth had taken precedence over organisation structure and systems. Being entrepreneurial, Alison understands the need for this forward-thinking approach, but also appreciates the stability that effective processes bring, so she took the opportunity in the first few years to embed more structure before HOT started to look for its ‘next big thing’.
This has meant reviewing ongoing projects and initiatives, with a business mindset, which has meant some areas of delivery have had to close. Alison comments:
“These decisions have partly been taken because we pay our staff the Real Living Wage and have decent sickness and holiday policies. Shockingly, it’s very hard to do this AND run financially viable small social enterprises.”
Leading the way
With a new approach to the CEO role and how the charity is managed, Alison has made many organisational and delivery changes that complement each other and enhance how HOT operates. By strengthening and consolidating all the Trust’s central functions for a more aligned and productive way of working, Alison has embedded strong foundations for the charity to confidently grow and develop.
Additionally, as the Trust has progressed, wellbeing has become a large aspect of its delivery. Many of the ongoing projects HOT delivers have some connection with this, as it underpins a lot of what HOT aspires for – creating opportunities for a better life. Wellbeing covers everything from social and community projects, to supporting people to manage long-term conditions, alongside the medical help that is available. Therefore, the scope for this and how HOT grows in this area are endless – especially as a recognised community anchor in Calderdale. Alison comments:
“I’m very pleased that I have been given the chance to lead such an inspiring community anchor. I worked in voluntary sector ‘infrastructure’ organisations for 16 years and it’s been great to have the chance to work in a frontline organisation. It’s also by far the largest charity I’ve ever led, so it’s definitely been a learning curve over the years but one that I’ve hugely relished.”
A community anchor
Halifax Opportunities Trust is driven by community. This encompasses individuals, families and businesses throughout Calderdale; creating opportunities for them to grow and thrive. As an independent community anchor, HOT provides holistic solutions for many prevalent local problems and challenges; working towards long term goals and acting as a catalyst for change. This is one of the things Alison likes the most about HOT:
“It is the embodiment of a community anchor: a locally-governed independent charity which is ambitious and aims to provide opportunities for personal growth and development, to all sections of the local community. It is brave and ambitious.”
In order to do this successfully, the Trust has a number of sites where delivery takes place across the borough. From its flagship base at Hanson Lane Enterprise Centre, to the Outback Community Kitchen and Garden, this place-based delivery model means HOT is embedded within the local community and enhances engagement for stronger cohesion. Alison adds:
“We run around eight buildings and sites, some of which are very large such as Hanson Lane Enterprise Centre, Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre and Jubilee Children’s Centre. We unashamedly promote multiculturalism and we celebrate the diversity of the community we are from. We have great staff, trustees, directors, volunteers and residents – everyone is focussed on doing the right thing and on creating positive change.”
Over the last 21 years there have been many significant events that have left a mark on HOT and the community. The way HOT has overcome challenges in the past 21 years is an important part of its history; the COVID pandemic is one of these. It had a big impact on many in the community and the way HOT addressed this is an achievement in itself. Alison reflects:
“Covid was, of course, memorable and the Trust rose to the challenge of working in a totally different way and providing services, such as food banks, that we’d never done before.”
From the array of awards the charity won in 2018 and 2022, to the individual accolades of employees and volunteers, notable achievements have come in many forms since Alison joined as CEO – each are important parts of the Trust’s history. Reaching 21 is a Trust-wide celebration; an achievement that everyone connected to HOT has played a part in. Alison celebrates:
“One of my most memorable experiences is this year actually! I’ve loved the 21st birthday celebrations and we have so many exciting plans. No day is ever the same for me at the Trust and I never quite know what each year will bring.”
“I will never stop championing local people and local organisations being integral to regenerating local places – it’s an approach that I am passionate about.”
As we celebrate our 21st Anniversary, we are looking back on the many opportunities we have created for individuals, families, businesses and the community. While the Trust is focused in its areas of delivery, our impact can range from person to person, based on their unique circumstances – therefore ‘creating opportunities’ means something different to everyone. Alison has a deep understanding of this and the importance of taking a whole person approach. To Alison, ‘creating opportunities’ means:
Through the years and the many improvements Alison has implemented, the Trust has progressed not only as a charity, but as an enterprising organisation in its own right. Taking a forward-looking approach and working from this to set-out goals that will help the Trust achieve its aspirations, Alison has helped to redefine what HOT stands for and how it operates; creating opportunities for the Trust to evolve. This includes clearly embedding HOT’s values. Alison comments:
“The Trust embodies my own values and beliefs so it has been a wonderful experience to have the chance to live these practically on a day to day basis and actually be able to effect change along the lines that I think are right.”
To Alison, Halifax Opportunities Trust is all about: “Working alongside people to build opportunities for personal growth, happiness and fulfilment.
A brighter future
Our 21st birthday doesn’t only mean we’re looking back on our impact over the years, it gives us the opportunity to look forward and establish plans for the future. Alison will, of course, be instrumental in the future of HOT and is already excited about some of the plans in place over the coming years, to create more opportunities for the 1,700 people we reach each day. Alison shares:
“It’s a bright future for HOT! Some charities say that they shouldn’t need to exist – it’s the exact opposite for HOT as it’s a developmental organisation. We don’t provide fish – we provide the fishing rod and there’s always going to be a need for that.
“There are so many ways that HOT can continue to be relevant and provide opportunities locally. Some of these we can do ourselves, some we do with partners and sometimes we just get out of the way and lend our support to another organisation.”
Learn more about our 21st Birthday celebrations
As well as the contributions our connections are kindly providing to tell our story, we have lots of other things planned. Learn more on our official webpage, via the button below.