Our Board of Directors and our Senior Leaders

Our Board of Directors

BFfC is an alternative delivery model. We are a company limited by guarantee, wholly owned by Reading Borough Council, but run by an independent Board of Directors. The Chair of the Board and its Non-Executive Directors were recruited to bring senior-level skills and experience from different sectors.

A representative of RBC sits on the Board along with Executive Directors responsible for the day-to-day operation of the company. The Board is responsible for setting the strategy of the company, ensuring that the contract objectives are met, and safeguarding the children and young people of Reading.

Di SmithChair

Di has been Chair of the Board of Brighter Futures for Children since April 2020. She has spent her career in education and children’s services and has extensive leadership experience across schools and local authorities. She has been a Director of Children’s Services in four different areas and has been a head teacher, Ofsted inspector and chair of governors.

She has been a member of the children’s workforce for over forty years and is passionate about improving the outcomes and life chances of children and young people, particularly those who are most vulnerable.

Di has developed a portfolio career providing consultancy and improvement support to a number of local authorities. She has been independent chair of a local safeguarding children’s board and scrutineer of safeguarding partnership arrangements. She was a Trustee at the Children’s Society for nine years and is currently Independent Chair of the Safeguarding Advisory Committee for the Diocese in Europe.

Di chairs the Board and the Quality Assurance and Improvement Committee.

Lara PatelExecutive Director of Children's Services

 Lara started as Reading’s Director of Children’s Services on 1 February 2023.

Lara has more than 25 years’ experience working across local authority and voluntary sector children’s services and joined us from Oxfordshire County Council, where she had been Deputy Director of Children’s Services since 2017.

Lara has led the delivery of a wide range of strategic and operational children’s services at local, regional and national levels, for both local authorities and The Children’s Society. She has also held positions as both a Board Director and a Trustee.  

Lara spends 20% of her time with Reading Borough Council and 80% seconded to Brighter Futures for Children. She sits on the council’s Corporate Management Team, will be part of the Executive Directors Meeting (EDM) and the Senior Leadership Team at BFfC, as well as being an executive member of the BFfC Board.  

Picture of Darren Carter, RBC's representative on the Board

Darren CarterNon-Executive Director (RBC rep)

My name is Darren Carter and I’m Director of Finance at Reading Borough Council. I joined the Council in March 2021, after leaving my previous role as Executive Director of Resources at Sandwell MBC.

I’m a member of the Chartered Institute of Finance & Accountancy (CIPFA) with 37-years’ experience working in Local Government finance.

Being a Director of Finance in Local Government is a difficult job, but I love it. Even with all the financial pressures we face as a sector I genuinely believe that councils have the ability to make a real difference to the lives of the people we serve. Sometimes we do that by building new things like leisure centres, schools, libraries, council houses or even the new Hexagon Studio Theatre, but most of the time we do it by the small, everyday things we do to support the people who need our help the most. And nothing is more important than protecting the most vulnerable children and young people in our society.

I’m really pleased to join the Board of Brighter Futures for Children as the Council-appointed representative, and I look forward to working with Lara and Di and the team.

Picture of non-executive board member Tony Byrne

Antony ByrneNon-Executive Director

Tony is currently the CEO for DEBRA UK, a national charity that supports individuals and families affected by Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB). He also holds Non-Executive Director positions for Cumbria County Holdings Ltd and Orian Solutions Ltd, commercial companies wholly owned by Cumberland Council and Westmorland and Furness Council involved in catering and cleaning and Corserv Ltd, a diverse group of Cornwall Council-owned businesses, providing infrastructure, engineering, housing, jobs, social care, facilities management, inward investment, transport and other essential services to Cornwall and beyond.

Tony has held numerous senior management positions in various industries including catering, facilities management, hotels and retail. He has worked in the UK and Internationally.

His previous non-executive positions have been for the School Food Trust (Department of Education), Springboard, The Inspire and Achieve Foundation, Cumbria Waste Management Ltd and finally as a Governor for Salesian College (Farnborough) Ltd where he was Chair of Governors for four years and served on the Board for a total of nine years. He has been a Governor for a primary school as well.

He is a Fellow of the Institute of Directors, a Fellow of the Institute of Hospitality, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Certified Member of the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management.

Nicola GilhamNon-Executive Director

Nicola is a portfolio NED focused on the health and social care sector. As a qualified chartered accountant, she has experience of sitting on both operating and executive boards within the UK and Australia.

In addition to executive roles at Arthur Andersen and Michael Page, she was latterly Chief Executive at a leading HR recruitment consultancy. Nicola is currently NED for Turning Point ( a social enterprise, providing specialist and integrated services which focus on improving lives and communities across mental health, learning disability, substance misuse). She is also a NED for both Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust and the Vale of Aylesbury Housing Trust, and Vice Chair of Child Bereavement UK.

At BFfC, Nicola is Chair of both the Independent Fostering Agency (IFA) Committee and Finance Committee. She also sits on the Audit and Risk Committee.

Paul SnellNon-Executive Director

Paul is currently a Co-Opted Member on the Service Delivery Committee for the NSPCC, a position he has held since December and since 2010 he has been Chair of WDI – a small niche consulting and coaching company focused on organisation, team and individual development. He has also been a Board Member since 2012 with Care Visions, a children’s and adult’s social care provider, delivering high quality residential care and fostering in Scotland and care at home in England.

Formerly, Paul was a Board Member with Ofsted from 2011 until January this year, with a specific lead role in relation to Ofsted’s social care responsibilities and safeguarding. Until recently he was also National Trustee, Council Member and Chair of Audit for Action for Children. In 2012 Paul spent a year as a Development Consultant for the Health Information and Quality Authority – the health and social care regulator for the Republic of Ireland. He led the development and implementation of a new methodology to undertake the first ever inspection programme of child protection in Ireland.

Paul currently works as an Independent Executive Coach and Mentor. Before this he had a 33-year career in Social Care. Starting as a qualified Social Worker, he worked for Coventry City Council and then moved on to be Assistant Director of Social Services for Birmingham City Council, Chief Social Services Officer for the London Borough of Bexley and Corporate Director of Social Services and Acting Chief Executive for Nottingham City Council. In 2004 he joined the Commission for Social Care Inspection as Director of Inspection Regulation & Review, then becoming Chief Inspector and Chief Executive in 2006 for 3 years. Paul spent 6 months in 2009 as Interim Chief Executive of the General Social Care Council. He has strong social care and regulatory understanding with extensive board experience.

Our Senior Leaders

Our senior leaders can be contacted as firstname.lastname@brighterfuturesforchildren.org

A picture of Executive Director of Children's services Lara Patel

Lara PatelExecutive Director of Children's Services

A headshot of Brian Grady, the Director of Education for Reading

Brian GradyDirector of Education (which includes SEND)

A headshop fo Maria Young, Director of Family Help and Safeguarding for Reading

Maria YoungDirector of Family Help and Safeguarding (which includes children's social care)