"The strength of this organisation is our ability to learn from each other": five questions with Ed Bracher, RDA CEO

Photo courtest of Ed Bracher & RDA National Office

It's fun (and important, to some extent) to be able to express your own "voice" in a blog, but I really enjoyed publishing my first interview, with Clive Milkins, earlier this year. I am very pleased to be able to publish the first half of my second interview this week, with Chief Executive of RDA (UK), Ed Bracher. My thanks are owed to Ed for taking the time to answer my questions, and for his support of this blog!

1. What’s your “RDA story”? How did you find the organisation, what attracted you to it, and what has made you stay?

I think RDA found me, rather than me finding the organisation. I have had a career working for charities, initially overseas, but always with a view to helping people achieve the best they possibly can, whatever their own circumstances. What really impressed me about RDA was the commitment of so many people and the relentlessly “can-do” attitude of the volunteers and, in particular, the coaches. The fact that everyone was so willing to tackle and overcome the obstacles chimed with my own values and I’ve always believed strongly in the power of animals to influence and help humans. I’ve loved it from day one.

I’ve stayed because that atmosphere has stayed and although there are challenges, I genuinely think I work for the best organisation around.

2. What’s the biggest (and/or best!) organisation-wide change that you have seen during your time with RDA?

During my time we’ve seen a significant shift in the way the organisation, and especially our volunteers and coaches, are seen by the wider equestrian and sporting community. We’re not only about sport, of course, but in my early days at RDA a senior member of the Olympic establishment patted me on the back and patronisingly told me how brilliant it was that we do what we do. Our coaches were seen as “good sorts” who wanted to help disabled people.

Today our experience and expertise is much better recognised – we sit at the top table in equestrianism, we have strong links into government and people recognise that our volunteers are well trained, highly experienced and very capable people. The impact we create is better understood too, and the importance of that impact. There’s still work to do, but more people understand that we’re so much more than just giving pony rides to disabled people, and that all of our riders can and do achieve amazing things, with the support of our volunteers.

I feel proud of that change and hope it continues.

Photo credit: Darren Woodlow

3. Is there anything you would change about your experience so far?

Like everyone else, I would love there to be less paperwork. I don’t think many people (anyone?) gets involved with RDA to help with administration at a group level. We do what we can to reduce this and to act as a buffer between the people who need it and the groups, but sadly it gets in the way and we have to live with it.

More positively, I would have liked to have visited more groups. I’ve been to nearly half of all the groups in the UK, but I wish there was more time to go out and visit people. I tend to go and see groups if they are having a special event or if they need support with something, but some of my favourite visits are when the group just says, "come and see us". Half the time I think they’re surprised when I say yes! RDA groups are so varied – which is one of our strengths – and there is always so much to be gained from a visit.

4. There are a lot of incredibly inspiring, knowledgeable people within RDA and para-equestrianism. Which person or people have you learned the most from over the years?

Unfair question! :-)

Early on in my time with RDA I went to a Regional Conference, which was just after the Athens Paralympics. An RDA rider explained that being able to put her foot in the stirrup unaided was her “gold medal moment” and this has stayed with me – the importance of each person having their own goal and the way in which, when it’s working at its best, RDA can help that person achieve it.

Beyond that, it’s probably a bit trite, but it’s impossible to single out one person – there are many that have taught me a lot. I think meeting some of the amazing people who started RDA in the 1960s was a good lesson, though – it was important for me to realise that we are still bringing their vision to bear. They were trailblazers in their time and saw the power of what we do. Making sure we stay connected to that sense of purpose is important to me.

I think, though, the strength of the organisation is our ability to learn from each other and keep doing so. 

5. What makes a great RDA volunteer, and what is your best piece of advice for those who are hoping for a long future with the organisation?

Anyone who gives their time to RDA is already great, but one of the stand out qualities in our volunteers is their commitment to our riders and drivers. We all know how important it is to put participant experience at the heart of everything we do, and those volunteers who live by that make a massive difference both within their own groups and for RDA as a whole.

The same is true for volunteers hoping for a long future within RDA. If you can be with us for a long time and still be thinking of new and interesting ways to support clients then everyone wins – it’s better for participants, and it’s more rewarding for the volunteer too. This year, we have seen this at work, with some brilliantly inventive ways of interacting with participants – in the hardest of circumstances.

Photo credit: Darren Woodlow

The second part of this interview with Ed will be published on 6th September: don't forget to come back to have a read!