Updated: Sep 3, 2020
This isn't really a blog. It sets out my past which is now informing my future. It is here on public record as a reference point for things that I write.
I have learned that I, Margo Horsley, am a self-starter, imaginer, explorer, innovator and social entrepreneur. My aim is systemic change… putting people and their needs centre stage. But most of all I am an 'outsider' challenging the status quo.
As you will read in forth-coming blogs, 'finding a way and unimaginable outcomes' are recurrent themes. I didn't plan a career! Often the route to doing new stuff has been by staying under the radar, working with people who are prepared to take a chance and sticking to principles - fighting for what is fair and just.
I have had a 'high-profile' career in grant-making, broadcasting and social action, creating my own framework of meaning which challenges the very essence of systems and practices of the voluntary, public and private sector. Latterly, I created Fixers where I built a vehicle for collaboration with young people influencing and driving it forward, with staff getting behind the young people and fitting around them. I took the idea on to ITV Regional News in a unique relationship of trust never achieved before by public, private or voluntary sector, built Fixers to scale within 18 months, serving the whole of the UK at its height, and producing some 400 stories and projects per annum. Some 23,500 young people joined in. Fixers was the youngest ever organisation to receive the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. It also received multiple other prizes, including a Mind Media Award for broadcast in 2013 and the National Lottery Charity Award in 2014.
Prof Nick Couldry, Professor of Media, Communications and Social Theory, LSE, who is a world expert on ‘voice and listening’ says: “Fixers is one of the most original and inspiring projects enabling voice for social and civic changes in Britain over the past 30 years.”
Collaboration, listening organisations and voice as value is more and more on the social and civic society agenda. I am intent on sharing my knowledge and experience to help facilitate change where it can make the biggest difference. I have a particular interest in Comic Relief because it not only combines my love of broadcasting with grant making and voice as value but also I am excited about how it could help the sector transform.,
I want to help organisations embed voice as value in their futures, advise grant makers who want to re-imagine the way they work, and develop a series of seminars (or it may be a book, a set of papers, or lots of blogs, I don't know yet) to explain what I have learned from my experience setting up Fixers.
And much to my delight, i continue to work with The Fixers [the young people] supporting and helping them where I can.
So for those of you who are interested, this is the record of my journey to this page. It's written as though I am looking on.
1975 – 1981 [University of Leeds, special projects as part of degree course]
Margo’s interest in social action started at university where she explored how broadcasters could facilitate an individual’s need to understand the world around them, their circumstances and how they get the help or services they wanted. At the heart of this was storytelling, explaining an issue and listening to someone’s experience of dealing with it.
While still at university, Margo created the first ever ‘Job Week’ on Metro Radio (in Newcastle-upon-Tyne) and the first adult literacy week at Capital Radio (in London), both of which set the scene for the development of social action broadcasting. She was involved in other broadcast output, including the Good Neighbour Programme at HTV, Reports Action (Granada Television) and the launch of the ITV Telethon in the late 70s.
1981 – 1991 [Independent Local Radio, creator of Linkline at GWR Group]
Following time in Hong Kong working as a researcher for RTHK (Radio, Television Hong Kong) in 1981 she returned to the UK where she joined Wiltshire Radio to set up their social action project – Linkline. With a different theme each week, ranging from women returning to work to wildlife gardening, her team of journalists produced content which was broadcast in peak time. Behind the scenes there was a team of paid and voluntary staff who provided a helpline – distributing information and connecting listeners to agencies who could help.
The project expanded as Wiltshire Radio became GWR group, with Margo securing significant funding from the European Social Fund. In 1987, Linkline became central to managing the aftermath of shootings in Hungerford, coordinating blood donors and fundraising for affected families. Linkline also demonstrated the power of the radio by recruiting 5,000 bone marrow donors in a day and getting them to clinics across the region over the next couple of weeks with minimal dropout. Some of these donors subsequently were matched with people needing their help.
Margo remained with GWR Group until 1990 having established some significant events including the annual Walkathon, [the Cadbury’s Strollerthon in London was modelled on this] and the early days of ‘Run for Life’. In 1991, she moved to TVS in Southampton to manage what would be the last ITV Telethon. Her team raised the most money per head anywhere in the UK, achieving just over £1m and doing this in a tough environment as TVS had lost its franchise. In early 1992 Margo discussed the possibility of retaining a corporate charity with the new broadcaster/publisher Meridian Broadcasting. They were keen to do this and that saw a new period of development for Margo’s ideas between 1992 and 2008.
1992 - 2007 [Freelance working with Lottery distributors, grantmakers and ITV]
Working as a sole trader Margo undertook two lines of activity in parallel; grant-making and social action broadcasting. Her interest was driven by a question: Are people here for the benefit of the organisation from which they need services, or is the organisation there for the benefit of the people they ‘serve’?
Grantmaking: Having distributed £1m to local organisations from Telethon Funds in 1993, Margo was invited to be on the first phase team of the newly formed National Lottery Charities Board, one of the distributors of funds from the National Lottery. There Margo developed application and grant making processes for the Fund which subsequently underpinned new management standards in the sector. She trained their staff centrally, in the regions and countries, and also some 650 freelance assessors. She then took this experience to the Lottery Sports Fund where she also facilitated the development of a ‘Capital’ Centre of Excellence and the strategy, with supporting grant programmes, that saw GB athletes win unprecedented numbers of medals at the 2012 Olympics. Then she went to the New Opportunities Fund where over a two-year period Margo developed a total grant-making system which worked with over 100 grant programmes. It was underpinned by a framework which provided flexibility of language, management of risk and an approach to ‘problem solving’ which enabled strategic management of programmes.
Olympic Medals London 2012
Margo managed the transition of staff from one system to another and provided training. This work was recorded in ‘The Business of Grant Making’ by Peter Grant, which is a key text for the Postgraduate Certificate in Grantmaking, Philanthropy and Social Investment at City University in London. Other experience gained included setting up and training staff for the UK-wide Fair Share Programme for the UK Community Foundations as well as evaluation of the project in Northern Ireland. She also undertook policy development for Friends Provident and the PPP Healthcare Medical Trust [now the Health Foundation]. Margo also supported ‘v’ the organisation established in response to the Russell Report on youth services, to develop their grant making systems and processes.
Broadcasting: At ITV Meridian Margo developed the Spotlight Series which focused on a topical issue once a year. She raised funds and established the support mechanisms, as well as being executive producer on the programmes themselves. In 2002, she ran a campaign called ‘Save Yourself A Fortune’, a novel approach that sought to save viewers £100 on household bills by using the internet, (when it was relatively new experience for many) and offered personal training to access comparison sites and source information. Some 5,000 people turned up for sessions collaborating with local adult education organisations. Written information accompanying the programming was sent out to some 50,000 people. Its viewing figures outperformed ‘Superman, the Movie’ playing on BBC1!
In 2003, the project won the prestigious Education and Entertainment RTS Award and helped establish Martin Lewis, whose new business [moneysavingexpert.com] was built on the same principles of supporting people, and which is now tremendously successful and respected.
In other campaigns, Margo tackled difficult subjects which were not seen as ‘sexy’ by broadcasters including ageing (Ageing with Attitude), mental health (Talking About It), family dysfunction (Talking Families) and hearing loss (Breaking the Sound Barrier).
Working with the ITV Meridian news team and the Community Fund (now The National Lottery Community Fund) Margo developed ‘Lottery Cashback’ which was designed to reach local groups to give them access to small grants. It was extremely successful and from this grew the People’s Millions which ran from 2005 to 2014.
2008-2018 [CEO and Founder of Fixers] Young People Using Their Past to Fix the Future
With flagship funding from ‘v’ Margo secured funds to support a pilot project in the south east and secured a platform on ITV Regional News. … she called it Fixers. It was created from a blank sheet. The project went looking for young people (16-25) and responded to what they wanted to do, quickly establishing a framework which put them at the heart of the organisation (www.fixers.org.uk). Through Fixers’s unique model young people were able to use their individual experiences as a source of valid and valuable contributions to society. They set the agenda for change within their own framework of meaning and owned their personal narrative. Later, by bringing these narratives together, the Fixers created the powerful voice of experience across a wide range of policy areas.
In 2010 Fixers produced the ‘Big Fix Live’, which took over the Graham Norton studio at ITV in front of an invited audience of some 600 people, which was broadcast live on ITV.com. This was a professional production by the charity’s staff featuring the young people they worked with. Following this landmark event, ‘v’ supported an expansion of the project across England until June 2011. In 2012, the project gained a new source of funding from the Big Lottery Fund with one of their largest ever grants, and the remit to take the project to all the nations of the UK. The gap between these two sources of funding meant Margo had to build again from scratch
Excerpts from the Big Fix Live, Fixers 2010
Fixers was intentionally collaborative and approached staff in the same way as it did the Fixers [the young people] … as individuals. The staff went looking for young people who would generally not [or be able to] participate and eventually the project had young people in almost every local authority area UK-wide. Everyone was equal, there were no labels, and individuality and diversity were very apparent within the mix of people, staff and topics. Trust and listening were at the heart of the approach. There was a Fixer’s language and culture. The guiding principle was value to society rather than seeing groups in society as receivers of help.
What is Fixers? Fixers 2014
Challenging the status quo was Fixers’ strength: ITV news rooms broadcast Fixers-produced news feature films in every region on a monthly basis; some funders took a leap of faith supporting the concept and reaping significant returns; voluntary organisations were surprised by the lack of organisational ownership of the young people; policy-makers found the new narratives from young people’s experience (in their own words) very refreshing; resources were used in a rich variety of settings from training new police officers to social services staff and being the focal point of lessons in school. Our resources were high quality, cost effective and operating model meant there were some 100 live projects at any time, at scale we were producing some 400 films and 400 projects and working with 4000 young people each year. The logistics of making this work uk-wide were down to a fine art and there were Fixers projects in all but ten local authority areas.
23,500 young people from all over the UK took part over ten years. The media reach was in numbers too great to truly take in the enormity of them, with stories reaching people worldwide. Fixers appeared on local and national media, in the tabloids, sharing a very positive message. They supported the policy and media work of other organisations. They developed national platforms – Feel Happy with Fixers – to discuss issues of the day such as mental health, abuse, autism, gender, body image and in 2017 Fixers facilitated a change in the law to make sex education compulsory in schools. This happened in record time working with MPs on the Parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee as well as the national media. Research by the University of Leeds and LSE showed that Fixers had a methodology which enabled young people (voice as value} to discover their identity as separate from their circumstances, enabling them to take control. Cost benefit analysis showed for every £1 invested there was a £5.81 return. Many Fixers have gone from strength to strength. Awards to individuals and their start-up organisations are in the hundreds.
2019 – to date [Consultancy]
Margo has been working with The Children’s Society facilitating a ‘test and learn’ project about voice as value and its possible role in bringing young people and their stories centre stage. It inevitably drives conversations about accepted practice, systems change and culture.