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Interview: Joëlle Warren, businesswoman and Her Majesty’s Vice-Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire

31 May 2019

‘I’m not keen on the idea of work-life balance’

Warren Partners supports and recruits executive and non-executive directors to organisations across the UK and internationally. I founded the business 20 years ago, based on a philosophy of treating others — candidates, clients, colleagues, suppliers, and the community — as we want to be treated.

I bring God into what I’m doing, whether I’m recruiting for the Church or a secular organisation. People appreciate values of honesty, trustworthiness, and treating people well; and many Christians live Monday to Saturday, serving and witnessing in the world that God has entrusted to each of us.

There is a huge moral case for diversity. It’s not right that where you were born, where you went to school, or your gender, sexuality, or race, affect your ability to reach your potential. Besides, organisations whose people and leadership teams best reflect their customer base and communities report greater market competitiveness, innovation, enhanced sustainability, and employee engagement.

When I pray “your kingdom come,” I don’t just mean it on Sunday. That’s why I joined the Lay Leadership Task Group which presented Setting God’s People Free to the Archbishops’ Council and then the General Synod in 2017, encouraging all Christians to live out the gospel confidently in all of life [News, 27 January 2017].

I’ve been a Bishops’ Selection Adviser for more than ten years, and recently chaired the panel to appoint the Dean of Chester, and have helped to appoint the vicar in our church. The whole process is framed by worship and prayer, seeking to discern God’s will. I’ve always felt the BAP [Bishops’ Advisory Panel] process very admirable — the depth, thoroughness, and insight that goes into it.

I received a call out of the blue asking if my name could be put forward to the Prime Minister to chair the York Crown Nominations Commission. It’s a huge honour and a huge responsibility. The process is similar — establishing the requirements for the post, the skills and gifts required, identifying the candidates and considering them against the agreed profile — to make a good recommendation to the Prime Minister. We’ll certainly be inviting the Holy Spirit into the work and listening to his promptings.

The Lord-Lieutenant and the Duke of Westminster identified that Cheshire was the only county in the country not to have a Community Foundation, and asked me to set one up back in 2011. Cheshire is beautiful, and we have good education, a strong economy, and higher than average life expectancy. But there are also pockets of severe deprivation: more than 40 wards are in the bottom 20 per cent of the UK’s social deprivation scale.

The Community Foundation acts as a broker between donors who are passionate about giving locally and local volunteer-led grass-roots organisations that really make a difference in their communities. We show donors issues that local people face, and help them give with confidence and focus. We now have an amazing team of seven staff and more than 30 volunteers; last year, we distributed more than £1 million to local organisations and charities. We’ve funded things such as back-to-work schemes, respite breaks for carers, counselling for the vulnerable, and financial training.

The House of Lords’ Select Committee on Charities says: “Charities are the eyes, ears and conscience of society. They mobilise, they provide, they inspire, they advocate and they unite.” Because we have eyes and ears on the ground, we can challenge how, and by whom, services are being delivered, and find better ways.

I was appointed to this office of Vice-Lord Lieutenant back in 2010, to work alongside, and deputise for, the Lord-Lieutenant, whose duty is to uphold the dignity of the Crown, to encourage voluntary service, and to take an active interest in the business and social life of the area. I’ll continue to serve as a Deputy Lieutenant until the age of 75, when all DLs retire, but my term of office as Vice Lord-Lieutenant ends in a couple of years’ time, when the Lord-Lieutenant retires.

Establishing and chairing the Community Foundation is my main contribution, and I’ve also sought to use my business skills and connections to help people across Cheshire and Warrington. Representing Her Majesty, for whom the title “Defender of the Faith’ is authentic, I’m able to speak of my faith, as we’ve seen her do in her Christmas messages over the years.

I was born in Liverpool to Yorkshire parents. They were relieved that I wasn’t a boy, because, at the time, it would have meant that I couldn’t play cricket for Yorkshire. My mother was a French teacher, hence my unusual Christian name. We moved around quite a bit with my father’s job as an accountant, including three years in India, before settling in Cheshire when I was seven.

I was a very serious Brownie when I was seven, to do my duty to God, to serve the Queen, and to help other people — which is perhaps still what draws my life together. Later, I went to school in Manchester and made a personal commitment to following Jesus, understanding what he did on the cross for me.

Life’s full but fun. I’m not keen on the idea of work-life balance: family, work, friends, health, community, and spiritual life are more integrated than that. I started today doing some training, then spent time in the office, then chaired a meeting of the Community Foundation, and this evening I’m attending a dinner with Manchester accountants. We do keep sacred weekends: you’re not married for 33 years without investing in it.

Faith is what sustains me; but I need to invest in it, like any relationship, too: take time to listen as well as talk to God. I read my Bible and pray every day, spend quiet times on my own, enjoy sustaining fellowship with other Christians, listen to podcasts and worship songs when I’m travelling, and send “help” prayers before a meeting. I try to lead like Jesus, to invite the Holy Spirit into all my activities, and make sure that whatever I’m doing points to God — preaching the gospel at all times: if necessary, using words.

I love being in the mountains and hearing birds singing, wind in the trees and water rushing down the streams. But I also like the sound of my mixer as I make brownies, or hearing the front-door bell, which could be Andrew coming home from work, friends arriving for food, or an exciting delivery.

The disparity between those who have and those who don’t makes me angry. It is wrong that, five miles from where I live, 26 per cent of children are officially in poverty, whereas, in my town, the figure is five per cent, and that women living in some parts of Crewe have a life expectancy 17 years less than in other parts of Cheshire.

Being with my family is what makes me happy: my husband, Andrew, my sons Jonty and Ben, and their wives, Laura and Jasmine. I love having a meal, going for a walk, being on holiday with them. After being in an all-male household for 25 years, it’s wonderful having some women around.

Making decisions, with my family, about my mother’s care as she struggles with dementia was the hardest thing I’ve done.

I pray constantly, in all situations, for all sorts of things. For very specific things for my friends and family. For those that don’t know God, that he would open their hearts so they can believe. For big national and global issues. For wisdom and insight for myself.

I’d choose to be locked in a church with Andrew. He’s been my companion since we met at Durham University. He’s my greatest fan and my most honest critic, and he’s the best worship leader I know; so we’d have a great time of prayer, praise, and worship.

Joëlle Warren was talking to Terence Handley MacMath

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