Public Affairs

Craigavon Chief Executive Theresa Donaldson

Dr-Theresa-Donaldson-3 Craigavon Borough Council’s new Chief Executive, Dr Theresa Donaldson, reviews her first four months in post and looks ahead to the challenges coming up after the election.

Please describe your career to date.

I qualified as a social worker in 1984 and worked for 12 years in community-based children’s services before taking up the post of Deputy Director (Northern Ireland) at the Guardian Ad Litem Agency in 1996. This varied role involved working at the interface of children’s services and the courts, providing a voice for children subject to care proceedings.

In addition to my senior management role, I further developed my academic interest by winning a research fellowship to the Centre for Childcare Research, where I was awarded a PhD in 2002.

Following a brief return to the voluntary sector, I was appointed Director of Policy and Service Development with the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission in 2004. In December 2010, I was appointed Chief Executive of Craigavon Borough Council, and I am currently a registered member of the Social Care Council and a lay member of the Charity Tribunal for Northern Ireland.

What has been the most difficult and most enjoyable part of the job so far?

I started my job with Craigavon Borough Council just as Northern Ireland had the heaviest snowfall in over 25 years. As Chief Executive, my role involved evacuating council buildings, cancelling what should have been my first council meeting, managing the gritting of three town centres and implementing the council’s emergency plan – some of which have never been undertaken in the history of the council – and all within my first three weeks.

It was a challenging start but an excellent learning curve. I have enjoyed working for Craigavon Borough Council from day one and have thoroughly enjoyed getting out and about to meet staff and see first hand the superb council facilities and great partnerships which have been developed with other service providers, across the health and business sectors.

In your view, what makes for a successful local council?

I believe the secret to a successful local council is when a well-defined vision is clearly articulated and leadership is forward-looking and responsive to worker and customer need. Always striving for excellent customer service and facilities is essential and we do this through a strong and motivated workforce.

How do you see the future of local government developing in the coming years?

No change is not an option. It is clear that there will be greater delegation of responsibility from central government and local government will be less fragmented with fewer councils.

What is the council doing to bring about a shared future in Craigavon?

The council recognises the rich diversity of people who live within our vibrant borough and how that needs to be taken account of when planning and providing our services.

We also acknowledge that working towards a shared future takes collaboration from a number of agencies and local communities. We provide many opportunities for people to discuss the issues affecting them through economic, community, leisure and social activities.

As an example, through our comprehensive good relations strategy, 165 people from across the borough to date have received accreditation in good relations training. This is embedding knowledge and skills within local communities, ensuring relationships are being nurtured and sustainable communities created.

Have you any mentors or people you particularly admire?

I have been extremely lucky to have worked closely with some very charismatic and inspiring leaders while with the Legal Services Commission, including Dr Jeremy Harbison, Les Allamby, Briedge Gadd and Ronnie Spence. Other great mentors I have worked with include Professor Dorota Iwaniec, when she was Director of the Centre for Childcare Research, and Dr Aideen McGinley while working on a women’s leadership programme completed a few years ago.

What are your main interests outside work?

I enjoy reading, playing tennis, skiing and doing a bit of sailing during the summer months. I also love walking the dog and being with my husband and children as much as possible.

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