Five Minutes with Fifth Sense Trustee Robert Meadowcroft
Introducing Robert Meadowcroft, Fifth Sense’s newest trustee. Robert has a vast range of experience working in the 3rd sector as the Chief Executive of Muscular Dystrophy UK for 8 years and 7 years as a Director of Parkinson’s UK. With his wealth of experience, Robert hopes to support Fifth Sense in raising awareness about the need to improve clinical support and research for people affected by smell and taste disorders. We sat down with Robert to discuss Fifth Sense and why he decided to join the team…
1) How did you get involved with Fifth Sense and what are your thoughts about smell and taste disorders in terms of the impact they can have on people’s lives and the cultural awareness of these conditions?
It was suggested by a friend that I should consider helping Fifth Sense as he had been impressed by meeting Duncan Boak, the Chair and Founder. Duncan and I talked several times (over zoom during the lockdown) and I think my experience in helping charities to develop services and grow their income looked potentially helpful to Fifth Sense.
I understand how smell and taste disorders are hidden disabilities that are not well understood by those who are not yet familiar with them. I am also aware that those people who have been born without a sense of smell or taste (such as those with congenital anosmia) have different needs than those who lose these senses. There is a great deal of work ahead for Fifth Sense to drive research and work to improve clinical care across the country.
2) With Covid-19’s relationship with smell and taste disorders now well-documented how do you think the increased awareness of smell and taste disorders will benefit people affected?
It appears the development of Long Covid will be a long-term feature of the Covid-19 pandemic which will affect more people than those who have sadly lost their lives. We are learning more about Long Covid and its prognosis as well as its prevalence in different groups in the population. This will lead to a greater awareness of the impact of the loss of smell and taste on day-to-day living. Improving awareness of the disorders and the work of Fifth Sense to support people affected by them are key priorities for the charity.
With this greater awareness comes both a challenge and an opportunity for us. Our challenge is to ensure we can provide the support people need and also back research and steps to improve care and information. The opportunity comes through our role as the leading charity for smell and taste disorders in the UK. We can enable people to dedicate funds to high-quality, peer-reviewed research and also to come together with health professionals in the regions and each country of the UK to press for improved medical care and support.
3) From your many years of experience in the third sector, what do you think should be the priorities for Fifth Sense moving forward?
I think the trustees have set ambitious strategic priorities from support for high-quality research to better NHS care and support. I am in my early days supporting Fifth Sense but I think all charities grow and are effective when they listen to people living with the conditions and provide the support and advice they need. Some support will be provided online and some should be provided face to face at gatherings and conferences (as we exit the lockdowns).
Perhaps I should summarise what I would see as three important tasks:
· Fifth Sense can enable people to support high-quality research looking for effective treatments by fundraising and making donations to a dedicated research fund;
· we can come together on specific campaign goals to influence decision-makers in the Parliaments and Assemblies;
· we provide opportunities for people to meet others who are living with the same condition and sharing the same difficulties.
We need to show that we listen and we care about the things that matter to people. We must be efficient and work to eliminate waste wherever we can – I have often said any fool can spend money, the difficult thing is to raise money and spend it wisely.
I would only add that I think fragmentation and duplication are wasteful and unhelpful. Fifth Sense works across the country (and indeed in partnerships outside the UK) to represent all those living with smell and taste disorders. I think people should come together rather than form smaller, separate groups. It has become a cliché to say we are stronger together but for a relatively less well-known group of conditions this is true.
4) In your Fifth Sense bio you have stated that you love visiting new places, where would you like to visit that you haven’t been to yet and why?
I think the lockdown and the restrictions we all faced during the pandemic have been difficult but necessary. In terms of travel, my wife has long dreamed of visiting Venice and I have wanted to visit Florence for many years.
We planned before the pandemic to visit both Venice and Florence as the two places at the top of our ‘wish’ list. We have had to rearrange the trip three times but we now intend to go in April 2022. I am already looking forward to celebrating my birthday in a restaurant in the shadow of the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.