Chairman of Woodford Green’s Haven House Children’s Hospice stepping down after decade of achievements

Ian sparks, the departing chairman of Haven House Children's Hospice

Ian sparks, the departing chairman of Haven House Children's Hospice - Credit: Archant

In its 10th birthday year, few people have been as closely involved in the development of Haven House Children’s Hospice as Ian Sparks.

The nursing staff with young Oliver Clydesdale

The nursing staff with young Oliver Clydesdale - Credit: Archant

Having worn the hats of trustee, chairman, and a troubleshooting spell as its chief executive when the hospice was on the verge of closing, 69-year-old Ian, who lives in Frating Crescent, Woodford Green, knows what makes it tick intimately.

Maeve Rigney does music therapy at Haven House

Maeve Rigney does music therapy at Haven House - Credit: Archant

Now, with the charity, in High Road, Woodford Green, organising a whole host of birthday events including an upcoming celebrity football match, the married father-of-one is stepping down as chairman to let a new face take Haven House “to the next level”.

His own involvement once gave him sleepless nights, when the home from home for children with life-limiting conditions was on the verge of closing.

He said: “I got very heavily involved. I had to sit down with the fundraisers and do a lot of work.

“I used to lie awake at night thinking what I’d say to the parents if we had to close because we didn’t have enough money.”

The Haven House Foundation was set up in 1995 and in 2003 the first four bedrooms and living areas were completed in The White House – the hospice’s home, an early 20th century building set in picturesque woodland.

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Having just finished a 16-year spell as the chief executive of The Children’s Society, Ian became a trustee of Haven House in 2002 before becoming its chairman in 2005.

Over the past decade, the hospice has grown to support about 150 children and their families a year and now offers a range of services including a family flat to allow parents and carers to stay overnight; respite and short break care for seriously ill children who may just have undergone major surgery; and music therapy to help children communicate.

Ian, who has two granddaughters, has seen the impact it has on families.

He said: “I got to know families really well and you understand how amazing they are.

“They do it 24 hours a day. You see how much they put into their children and how precious their children are to them.

“And you see how you can play an important part because of the pressures they face.

“Because their children are so precious and so ill, we have to be really good at what we do. We have to be in a position where they trust us with their child.

“During that time, there were some children I knew that died and it was a really powerful experience to know people that were going through that, how difficult it was for them.”

Ian first learned about the hospice from a trustee at The Children’s Society and was intrigued to see the difference in how a local charity operates compared with the national one he was leaving.

He joined up just as the move to The White House was taking place and said he has seen a “huge increase in the number of families using us” in his time.

Difficulties arose though when it came within three months of having no money, according to Ian, and so as chief executive – a position he held from 2008 to 2011 – he developed a rescue plan with its board.

He said: “It involved saving money in all sorts of ways. We had to make some staff redundant but we wouldn’t make care staff redundant. We had to do things in support services and fundraising and we had to start a new campaign for funds.

“There’s no magic bullet so that you will have all the money you want.”

Since then, he added, Haven House’s fundraising has developed “enormously”, from its Pay for a Day appeal backed by the Recorder (see box right) to the football match at Leyton Orient’s home ground on May 12 in which famous faces, including James “Arg” Argent from TV programme The Only Way Is Essex, will take on a team of Tottenham Hotspur legends such as Darren Anderton and Mark Falco.

The “key question” facing the charity’s board, according to Ian, as it seeks to find his replacement and considers its next 10 years, is what “do families want”.

He said: “That’s what it comes down to. It’s not helpful for the board to sit in a room and think ‘what should we do?’

“We need to ask families, ‘what will make your lives better?’”

And a recruitment agency is headhunting a suitable replacement for Ian, with the relevant “expertise and ideas”.

He said: “Haven House is ready to step to the next level.

“A lot of us on the board are local people but there could be an opportunity to bring in people with influence on a wider level, in the City, in politics.”

His career led to Ian becoming an OBE for services to children in 2001 and with three other chairmanships with other charities on the go, he admits he “won’t be short of things to do” when he leaves Haven House.

Plus this month he has his 70th birthday celebrations to enjoy, with friends travelling to celebrate from as far afield as Australia.

Whoever does fill his shoes won’t have to fear interference from him either.

“One of the important rules is to get out the way of your successor. I want to keep in touch but I intend to get away.

“I want the new chairman to do it their way.”

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