Heaven & Hell: Dr Craig Dearden-Philips

Social entrepreneur, author, mentor, and adviser Dr Craig Dearden-Philips MBE DBA.

Social entrepreneur, author, mentor, and adviser Dr Craig Dearden-Philips MBE DBA. - Credit: Tom Soper

Craig is a social entrepreneur, author, mentor and adviser. He's the founder of VoiceAbility – a social enterprise with a turnover of £10 million which has won numerous awards for its advocacy work on behalf of people with mental health problems or learning disabilities. His venture, Social Minds, has assisted NHS and local government staff to form over 30 new mutual organisations which drive change and deliver enhanced services. As an author Craig has written three books on social sector leadership and is a regular contributor on this topic to The Guardian and the trade journal Third Sector. His latest project is a social sector leadership club, called Social Club, combining masterclasses and action learning sets for over 130 CEOs and up-and-coming managers across the UK.  

What is your connection to East Anglia?
I have lived here for 26 years, developed my social enterprise business alongside settling down and starting family life. East Anglia is the best part of the country. I like the low-key nature of people here. My roots are in the north where people are much louder. 

What is your East Anglian Heaven?
Running from Thorpeness to the Martello tower at Aldeburgh and back. There is something magical to me about the Suffolk coastline, where the sea meets the land.

What is your East Anglian Hell?
The smelly trains are not a strong point. Also, it takes too long to move around the east. Roll on HS4! 

What’s your favourite East Anglian landmark?
The Martello Towers at Felixstowe Ferry are very special. Built to defend us from the French, they are still an imposing sight at the mouth of the river Deben.

What’s the best thing that happens in East Anglia every year?
Latitude is a fantastic advert for the region laid back, human-scale, eclectic and gentle. A truly East Anglian affair.

What is your favourite restaurant?
Maison Bleue in Bury St Edmunds. It’s a superb French restaurant, exceptional food and service. Once tried nothing else compares. 

What your specialist Mastermind subject?
The back roads of West Suffolk (cycling heaven). I spend most of my leisure time riding my bike and this area is both safe and surprisingly challenging for cycling - Suffolk is definitely not flat, at least in the south and west, or ‘High Suffolk’, as it is known. 

What is always in your fridge?
Adnams alcohol free ale. I love Adnams as a business and try to buy their stuff. Their CEO Andy Wood is one of my heroes in business and a role model for senior leaders. He spoke at my business club once and was brilliant. 

What’s your simple philosophy of life?
Life is short so live it fully. I have lost two good friends early and this has taught me to live in the present and not leave things till later. 

What’s your favourite film?
Get Carter (1971). This is set in gangland Newcastle in the 60s and stars Michael Caine on a revenge mission. Totally compelling. 

What was your first job?
Gutting fish on a market. I had several jobs of this type but kept getting fired for being slow. I would never have survived had I been born in the era when work was physical. I have no aptitude at all for work with my hands.

What is your most treasured possession?
My pink Officina Battaglin road bike. This was made to measure by artisans in northern Italy and is a thing of beauty.  

Who do you admire most?
Alexei Navalny - brave Russian opponent of Putin now in jail. Because I lack physical courage, I have enormous regard for people like Navalny who puts his body and health on the line in support of his beliefs. He should win a Nobel Peace prize.

What is your biggest indulgence?
My bike. It cost too much money which partly embarrasses me, but I have not really been a spender most of my life. It also has its own, very secure storage area! 

What do you like about yourself most?
I can be kind (when I remember to be). Someone once said that people won’t remember what you did but they will remember how you made them feel. I try not always successfully, to take that into every day. 

What’s your worst character trait?
Impatience. I cannot queue and I struggle with people who never get to the point. I can’t abide large meetings and just want to make decisions and crack on. People often find me too much!

Where is your favourite holiday destination?
The Lake District. This is probably one of the unique environments of the world and it is only five hours from here. I couldn’t live there - too much rain - but on a bike, in sunshine, nothing comes close in splendour.

Best day of your life?
The birth of my children. You don’t forget this. The unique responsibility that falls to you and the realisation that our kids’ early life is so fragile and dependent. 

What’s your favourite breakfast?
On a good day - Greek yoghurt with Suffolk blueberries and dark rye bread from the brilliant Friendly Loaf in Nowton, near Bury St Ed’s. On a bad day, black pudding, bacon and fried bread.  

What’s your favourite tipple?
Adnams Ghost Ship alcohol-free. I do drink but Adnams is a good one, you can’t really tell the difference on taste.

What’s your hidden talent?
Good memory. I am not particularly intelligent, but my recall is excellent and has served me well down the years. A memory for people and names is a big asset in business. 

What’s your earliest memory?
The summer of '76. Standpipes, water fights with squeezy Fairy bottles. Long hot days playing out till late in the evening on our estate, being called in by our mums as darkness fell and the midges started to bite.

Tell us something people don’t know about you?
I represented GB at Triathlon many moons ago. I was never a truly talented athlete, but I am gritty and set myself the target of qualifying for my country. Compared to most of my fellow competitors, I was weak, but the main thing for me was the taking part.

What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?
‘You should give up your ideas for a business and get a job’. These were the words of an adviser I went to see at the age of 24 just before setting up my own venture. She was wrong but she helped me by making me want to prove she was! The truth is that anyone can set up a business and more people should. There is nothing quite like running your own show.

Tell us why you live here and nowhere else?
There is nowhere better than Suffolk in terms of a meeting of quality of life with opportunity, economic vibrancy and proximity to the capital. I like bringing kids up here. It’s safe and sensible by and large. There is a sense of social solidarity and decency, even in the towns and cities.  I would be happy for my kids to stay around here. 

What do you want to tell our readers about most?
Invest in social and environmental businesses. All of my ventures have sought to do good as well as make sound returns. You can do both. More young people are now setting up social enterprises which combine a sense of purpose with a business mindset. If we are to survive long term - and save East Anglia from the sea - we have to invest and do business differently. Starting now. 

Dr Dearden-Philips hosts a podcast, Social Business Builders, with Dr. Noah Isserman, an internationally recognised professor at the University of Illinois, San Francisco, entrepreneur, and strategist. Social Business Builders showcases the world’s most successful entrepreneurs as they openly share why they did it, what it took to build and the hard lessons on the way. 

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