Meet the CEO
Terry Ryall is v's chief executive.
Growing up as the second eldest in a family of nine children in Northern Ireland, the chaos of family life and living in constant community conflict were natural to Terry and helped hone her negotiating skills.
But it was as a student at university volunteering in a youth club, introducing young people with disabilities to horse riding and being on call on the suicide hotline that she realised she had a passion for working with young people. All this was to steer her course in a career working with some of the UK’s most troubled and hard to reach young people.
“Within a week of volunteering at the youth club, the kids burnt down the building because it wasn’t meeting their needs and they were just so angry. That single act articulated their views in such a way that I thought, yes, I can work with this, it’s edgy, full-on and what potential!”
Bridging the gap
Soon after, she became a youth worker on a housing estate in a deprived area of County Down where tensions between Catholics and Protestants were running high. Her job was to help bridge the gap by bringing young people from both communities together. It was the late 70s and at the peak of the Troubles. It was to be a formative experience. Often in personal danger, she worked in a high risk environment that has left its legacy in the stories she tells about that time.
Terry later took on a number of posts in youth work and community relations in both Northern Ireland and England. This included working in secret locations with young Asian women running away from unwanted arranged marriages and a job as a residential social worker at a home for emotionally disturbed children in Coventry. She thought her experiences in Northern Ireland had toughened her up but she was not prepared for the level of child abandonment, abuse both physical and sexual, that she was to encounter at this home, nor the threats to her own safety.
“These children had been abused and let down so badly that there was very little trust for the adult world. They would come at you with knives and all you could do was try to calm them down and protect the other children from harm. It was the most intensive character-forming experience. It also taught me that one person can make a significant difference to the lives of others. Very little fazes me now. I’m relatively fearless.”
Not surprisingly then, her pastimes include motorbikes and sailing in all weathers – despite the fact that she can’t swim. “I relax by letting someone else take the helm and be in charge. In these circumstances I’m happy to do what I’m told!”
A match made in heaven
Terry has three degrees at Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate levels, all in the field of ‘youth’ and her career progressed as she took up the post of Head of Youth Services at West Sussex County Council before becoming Chief Executive of Girlguiding UK from 1997 –2001, at just the time when the programmes for teenage girls and young leaders were in need of review.
In 2001 Terry became a Director of The Prince’s Trust, whose President is HRH The Prince of Wales, and was responsible for the delivery of all Trust activities to the most disadvantaged young people between the ages of 14 and 30 in the southern part of the country.
“Working with those hard-to-reach young people and seeing how empowerment could have such a positive impact on their lives made me realise that the right intervention or steer can change the course of their lives for the better.”
Harnessing energy and enthusiasm
In 2006, the new charity called v was launched, with Terry as founding Chief Executive, whose mission is to inspire a new generation of young people to volunteer. It aims to use volunteering as a mechanism to involve young people in their own communities, both local and global, and to derive for themselves and others the many benefits of active engagement.
According to Terry this is “match made in heaven. It signals the pinnacle of my career, what I had been working towards all my life. It’s about harnessing the energy and positivity of young people - where they are both the creators and the beneficiaries of a better world. I believe we all should work to make ‘volunteering’ so compelling that it becomes a natural part of every young person’s life. Success for me is seeing young people achieving their potential. At v, in our very short life, we’ve already touched the lives of 900,000 of them. How cool is that?”