Ray Lock, charity chief executive

Ray Lock, charity chief executive

Air Vice-Marshal Ray Lock CBE is Chief Executive of Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), a charity whose mission is to enable ex-Service personnel and their families to make a successful and sustainable transition to civilian life. Forces in Mind Trust is one of our clients. We work alongside public affairs specialists at BDB Pitmans on a strategic communications brief.


A force to be reckoned with


Louise: Working with FiMT and Cobseo (the Confederation of Service Charities), we have spoken to veterans whose response to the Covid-19 crisis has been an inspiration. The media has focused on the contribution of those still in the Armed Forces (for example in building the Nightingale Hospitals), rather than that of ex-Service personnel. Do you feel that veterans, in general, are undervalued in our society?


Ray: If you ask people what they think of when they hear the word ‘veteran’, it’s usually someone like Captain Sir Tom. Elderly, wearing a blazer with a string of medals, rheumy-eyed remembering fallen comrades, probably a beret too. And yes, I think Society does recognise what this generation of people have done. But most veterans don’t fit that stereotype nowadays – if you saw me walking down the High Street for example, I would be indiscernible from every other civilian (which is what I am). Some employers understand how military service enhances an individual’s qualities, some don’t and they’re the ones missing out. Veterans don’t want to be continually thanked ‘for your service’ as they are in the States. Veterans just want the opportunity to fulfil their potential, so it is a societal undervaluation, but perhaps different to how you would imagine.


The majority of people leaving the Forces do so successfully, but a minority face challenges – with employment, housing, finance, relationships or mental health. The Government says it will make sure the UK is the best place to be a veteran anywhere in the world. FiMT commissions research to inform policymakers, but the decision-making process can take time. If you had the power to change one thing right now, what would it be?


Such a great question, and every time I get into a politician’s office I try and have an answer to that ready. We know that if you fix employment, then housing, finance, relationships, health – pretty much every other aspect of successful transition follows. The next couple of years though are going to be hell for everyone trying to get into a sector for the first time. So I would make all serving people work in a civilian workplace for a fortnight once a year throughout their military career, and force every employer to spend a week somewhere in the Armed Forces. Impractical perhaps, but you can see why it would help, but without legislating to confer unfounded advantage which would be terribly divisive.


As well as politicians, you work with Armed Forces charities to improve effectiveness and build capacity. You have written about the importance of collaboration and greater investment in leadership development. What can charities from all sub-sectors learn from the Armed Forces community in terms of teamwork, effective leadership and impact?


“There’s a bit of a misperception that military charities are all led by retired generals. Some certainly are, but Help for Heroes, the Royal British Legion, Combat Stress – their Chief Executives have never worn a uniform, and they’re incredibly talented leaders of three of the most important charities in my sector.”


That said, there’s definitely a military feel about most Armed Forces charities, and a real sense of unified purpose permeates throughout organisations which makes collaboration a lot easier. The UK Armed Forces also have a doctrine of ‘mission command’, where leaders tell their team what they have to achieve, but not how. There’s a version of it taught in every business school because it’s a great way to empower your team and to ensure they make an impact by applying their better understanding at that level. It’s the best way to encourage innovation. Not everyone can do this; but being out on a mission, far away from home, alone with your team and out of contact with anyone else, possibly in enemy territory and probably afraid, that’s when mission command becomes deeply embedded in your DNA.


You held senior positions in the Royal Air Force before joining FiMT as Chief Executive in 2012. What were the main challenges for you in adapting to the voluntary sector’s culture and ways of working? Did you have to significantly alter your leadership style?


One of the great pleasures of joining the voluntary sector has been working with such a diverse bunch of people, and I mean diverse in the very broadest sense – thought, approach and culture, as well as the more traditional ‘DEI’ aspects. I joined the RAF in 1977, when homosexuality and pregnancy would lead to your being forced to leave, and people of colour (not that we used that expression then) were few.


I like to think I’ve changed over the decades, as I do truly value every individual human; but I recognize that I wouldn’t win a ‘woke’ contest with my three 20-something children.


I was lucky that when I left the RAF I’d spent almost 10 years at the Defence Academy, with its mix of military students (ambitious, inquisitive, fiercely critical), a civilian service provider (KPI fixated, and margin driven), and an academic provider (intellectually inspirational, but utterly incapable of sticking to time!). My leadership style had to adapt – but also experience brings wisdom, and age takes the harmful edge off ambition. It helped that in an idle moment I took up rugby refereeing. Living in Gloucestershire, which is renowned for producing a particularly ‘robust’ type of player, making sure that 30 grown men play a very physical sport in a controlled way demands yet another approach. I might not be the greatest judge, but I don’t feel I’ve had to change much, it’s more a question of having a pretty large leadership toolbox.

Changes yet to come


It seems inevitable that the voluntary sector will change over the coming months, as demand for services continues to increase while charitable income continues to drop. The nature of FiMT’s work means that soon after lockdown you were able to swiftly compile and present Government with data, showing the potential impact on thousands of veterans who rely on the support of charities. This helped funnel emergency funding into the Armed Forces charity community. Do you feel we are over the worst – or are there even greater challenges heading our way?


When we went into lockdown, my colleagues in the charities sector were saying how awful the year was going to be. Then we realized that most charities were fairly well placed to weather the immediate economic storm, but 2021 was looking horrendous. Interestingly, the narrative seems to have moved on, and people are saying 2021 will be grim, but 2022 will be apocalyptic. Charities do two things – they deliver support to those in need, but they also provide an outlet and a structure for communities. In this latter role, I’d say the future looks great and Danny Kruger’s review will hopefully make this government do more than just pat us all on the head. As for relief in need, yes, need is only going to increase, and the relief available from the charity sector seems likely to continue to shrink. Plenty to concern, but also lots to be optimistic about.


You wrote (in Charity Today) that a greater concern for you would not be that weaker charities fail, but that they survive ‘on life support that distracts and diverts resources and attention from where charities can be most effective’. How can we emerge from Covid-19 a stronger, more effective sector?


Well first of all that comment wasn’t universally well received as people interpreted ‘weaker’ as ‘smaller’. Small charities form an important part of the eco-structure, and they tend to be strongly connected with their users and supporting community. But charities that spend all their time struggling to make ends meet, or attract volunteers, need to find a way out of these difficulties.

“Yes, their independence is enshrined in charity law, but a stronger sector in my view will be a consolidated sector: where less time is spent governing, and more is spent delivering; and where the weaker forgo some of their independence to thrive alongside the stronger.”


FiMT recently commissioned a project that could be transformative. Looking at society a decade from now, researchers will identify emerging trends that will affect people leaving the Forces and moving into civilian life. It is an interesting time to be future-gazing. What are your hopes for the project, and its potential impact?


This project is going to involve pretty much everyone in the UK who has an informed view or insight into the next decade. We’re not trying to predict the future as such, but we are going to identify trends that charities should consider the impact of as they plan their own long-term strategies. Well, the ones that hope to be around in 2030 will need to. We won’t be certain of the value of this work (or its success) for another decade. But if we see that military charities continually refer to it in their planning, then that’s a good indicator that we were on the right track.

Lock in lockdown


As well as being Chief Executive of FiMT, you are Chair of Stoll (a charity providing housing and support to veterans) and on the Executive Committee of Cobseo. In fulfilling these roles, has lockdown been a major challenge or has it provided more time for reflection and reconfiguration?


Reflection – blimey if only! The Stoll staff led by our interim Chief Exec (great timing!) have been amazing, so it’s a case of being there for them and a really light touch. Cobseo, however, has been the opposite. We’ve done a lot of extra work there, and at the same time kept the Trust running at full steam. That commuting time seems to have been swallowed up. I think, when I do reflect, that my biggest disappointment (in myself) has been how I haven’t made time to do just that – reflect. But it’s never too late, so maybe that’s what I should take away from this chat.


The FiMT team is a sociable bunch. I know you have held regular Friday afternoon (remote) socials while everyone has been working from home. But how have you replicated your bake-offs and bike rides?


Well my excuse for a lockdown weight gain is the amount of cakes I’ve been practising making for when we finally have our office bake-off competition. We usually have an independent judge so if Amazon PR are in for a catch up in October, maybe you’d do us the honour Louise? We were lucky that we went into lockdown as a well-formed team with a lot of homeworking experience, and honestly, it’s made working together straightforward. I’m more bothered about engaging with our Trustees to be honest – Teams will only get you so far. Hopefully we’ll start easing in mid-September with a hybrid board meeting, and fingers crossed for some decent weather so we can have a full staff picnic in St James’s Park.


Outside of work, what have you been doing to stay calm and well? Have you taken up any new hobbies or made any lifestyle changes as a result of lockdown?


At home, we planned, literally, to fix our roof while the sun shone. The rubbish weather though has meant that for the last couple of months my main hobby has been making tea for builders! I love cycling (last year my wife and I did the Lands End to John O’Groats) and those early weeks of lockdown meant mid-week rides through empty country roads. I guess the biggest change is that I’ve decided to stand down from the Trust in June next year. I’d been planning this with my chair since the beginning of the year, and the last six months have convinced me it’s the right time to begin another adventure in life.

“RAF pilot, charity chief exec, and now who knows what next?”


Interview first published in September 2020.