Cornerstone CEO pays tribute to founder Nick Baxter

Nick Baxter, founder and former Chief Executive of leading Scottish social care charity Cornerstone, has died.

His successor Edel Harris today (Monday, April 29, 2013) paid tribute to Nick, who she described as a ‘remarkable man’.

“As founder of Cornerstone he was always a strong advocate for people with learning disabilities and did so much to change attitudes and improve the lives of so many,” said Edel.

“The charitable work of Cornerstone will always be part of Nick's legacy and his commitment to ensuring that everyone in society had a chance to live a valued life won't be forgotten.”

Now one of Scotland's largest charities, Cornerstone is a leading provider of services for more than 2,000 adults, young people and children with learning and physical disabilities, mental health problems and other support needs – underpinned by its aim of enabling the people it supports to enjoy a valued life.  Today it employs 1,700 staff and 300 volunteers in 20 local authority areas in Scotland, and has annual turnover of more than £31million.

Cornerstone offers a wide range of care and support services, ranging from care homes, residential and respite care to employment opportunities and a befriending scheme to encourage the people it supports to enjoy leisure and social activities others may take for granted.

Nick began his career as a trainee child care officer for Birmingham City Council after graduating from London University with a degree in Sociology.  He returned to academia gaining a professional qualification from The University of Aberdeen in 1971.  During his studies, he met and married Louise, an Aberdonian, and they returned to the city to live.  Nick took a post with Grampian Regional Council’s Social Work department, eventually being offered the position of senior Social Worker responsible for learning disability services.

Nick’s work highlighted the lack and negative nature of services for people with learning disabilities in Scotland. In the late 1970s, the concept of Community Care did not exist and people with mental disabilities were often marginalised.  Nick believed that people with learning disabilities should be able to live within their own communities and have their own homes and jobs, and not have to live in institutions. He recognised that people with a learning disability were people first, and he worked with their parents or carers to allow them to be supported in the community.  This was the motivating factor behind Nick’s decision to pioneer care in the community in Scotland and found Cornerstone Community Care.

Using his entrepreneurial skills including initiative, drive and enthusiasm, Nick brought together a small group of people to campaign for services to be based in the community for people with a learning disability, and managed to persuade the authorities in Aberdeen to back his vision of a small community based service. 

Cornerstone Community Care (as it was then known) was established in 1980, with the support of a small group of parents and social work professionals and was initially run from Nick’s dining room.  In 1982, the first service was opened in Aberdeen. As the organisation grew, Nick recognised the importance of management and, in 1994, he undertook a Master of Business Administration (MBA) run jointly by the University of Aberdeen and The Robert Gordon University. Throughout the course Nick continued to work for those who needed his support.

Apart from the fulfilment of Cornerstone's aim 'to enable the people we support to enjoy a valued life', Nick considered one of his major achievements to be the establishment of the Garthdee Project in Aberdeen in 1989, which was then one of the first services in Britain to be designed based on the needs of an identified group of people.  In 2001, the Scottish Executive committed itself to closing all Scottish learning disability hospitals which provided Cornerstone with an opportunity to grow.

Over the years both Cornerstone and Nick received many awards. Cornerstone was the first care agency in Scotland to achieve “Investors in People” status. In 1993, Cornerstone gained The Times/RIBA Award for the most outstanding example of community enterprise in Britain, an award presented to Cornerstone by HRH Prince Charles. Cornerstone was named the Barclays Charity Partner of the Year for Scotland 2005 thanks to their partnership with the company.

In 2003, Nick was awarded the Ernst and Young UK Social Entrepreneur of the Year and he went on to win other prestigious titles including the 2004 Institute of Directors, Director of the Year Award, the British Chambers of Commerce, Scottish Entrepreneur of the Year 2004 and The New Statesman 2005 Upstarts Award for Social Entrepreneur of the Year.

He stepped down as CEO of Cornerstone in 2008, handing over the reins to Edel Harris.

Nick had been receiving end-of-life care in Roxburghe House in Aberdeen and passed away on Sunday, April 28, surrounded by his family. 

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