A Chat With: Dr Tony Lloyd, CEO of the ADHD Foundation

This week, LCR Pride Foundation caught up with Dr Tony Lloyd, CEO of the ADHD Foundation Neurodiversity Charity and finalist at the inaugural LCR Pride Awards, to find out more about the charity’s recent move into new premises, its plans for 2021 and why inclusion and equality are good for business.

Hi Tony. You’re well known in Liverpool’s business community and beyond and the ADHD Foundation Neurodiversity Charity is based in the city’s Baltic Triangle, but you did spend some years away, can you tell us a bit about that?

Born in the city in 1962, like many young gay men of my generation, I moved away to join my sister in Edinburgh to escape the homophobia of our parents, and to find a sense of belonging in the more visible LGBTQ communities that existed predominantly in London, Manchester and Edinburgh at that time. Despite my hiatus north of the border, Liverpool has been my permanent home since my late 20s and I’m so in awe of how much the city has changed over the years, not only in terms of architecture, economy and culture, but also how it now celebrates its diversity. I’ve travelled the world through my career, but there really is no place like home – even if Garlands is sadly no longer with us!

In 2019, you were a finalist in the business person of the year category at the inaugural LCR Pride Awards, for your work with the ADHD Foundation. Can you tell us a bit more about the charity and your role with it?

Being CEO of an organisation with a large trading portfolio, I have had to learn that my passion for equality and diversity requires business acumen and an understanding of how we can change public policy, and win the hearts and minds of people to advance the life chances of those who often find themselves on the margins of society.

There is still a great deal of discrimination and stigma attached to these ‘different’ minds, but when businesses discover that over 35% of entrepreneurs have either dyslexia or ADHD – or both, this changes their perspective on how we view intelligence, ability, innovation, and employability.  Try Googling ‘celebrities with ADHD and dyslexia’ and you will be surprised at how many people are now speaking publicly about their neurodiversity.

The ADHD Foundation Neurodiversity Charity offers a unique, award-winning lifespan service to support and enable those with ADHD and other ‘neurodiverse minds’, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, the autism spectrum and dyscalculia. Founded as a charity in 2007, it owes its existence to a group of pioneering parents and a visionary commissioner who saw the need for a new service like this.

We provide training across the UK and Europe to health and education professionals, and we also train and support businesses to understand that not only are one in five of their employees neurodiverse – but so are their business customers.

Your nomination for the award cited your commitment to equality and diversity in the workplace and creating an LGBT+ friendly environment. How has your experience as an LGBT+ man shaped these approaches? 

It’s fantastic that we now have events of this kind in the city and it is long overdue, so firstly I’d like to say a huge thank you to Andy Herring and the team for making it happen. I was genuinely moved by the whole event and it was a great way to celebrate the unique contribution that the LGBTQ community has made to the Liverpool City Region.

As an LGBTQ man, I’ve found myself reflecting on how much progress has been made in recent years. I know that many young people now have a very different experience of coming out or experiencing discrimination, and I think that we can now talk about inclusion and diversity, without also being mindful that we are included only when we are all included.

Your recent move into The Women’s Organisation building was prompted by rapid growth. What has prompted this growth and how has the organisation responded?

Firstly, we were delighted to move into The Women’s Organisation building, as we have a strategic relationship with them and I have long been an admirer of the work that they do to empower women in business.

As a growing user-led charity – ‘integrity of purpose’ is important to us. Most of our income derives from traded services, so we must have a robust business model if we are to achieve our mission as a charity – to improve life chances for the one in five human beings who are neurodiverse.

While we are commissioned by statutory services to deliver services, it is crucial that our integrity of purpose is not compromised by becoming only a ‘sub-contractor’ for public services, so we can campaign and advocate for the neurodiverse population, who are often disadvantaged by inequalities that exist in public services.

The growth of our organisation is testament to the stakeholders of the charity – especially the extraordinary multidisciplinary team of 33 professionals – more than 50 percent of whom had either ADHD, dyslexia, autism spectrum, dyspraxia or dyscalculia.

What does the move and new facilities mean for the ADHD foundation, its team and also its beneficiaries?

Having quality, modern premises is great for our staff’s well-being and performance. They deserve a workspace that meets their needs and a number of factors including superfast broadband can only support their growth.

What impact has the pandemic had on the organisation and the delivery of its services and how has it navigated this? 

Like most organisations, the three month period from March to May 2020 was a huge shock to the system, but thankfully we had recently undertaken a 10-year strategy, so we were able to adapt quickly and accelerate many of our plans. We automated all of our systems, invested heavily in new technology and adapted our services to meet the needs of those who rely on the Foundation, so that we could deliver virtually if needs be. 

This year our theme is ‘Young At Heart’, which promotes the right for LGBT+ people to live happy, healthy and carefree lives, regardless of how they identify. What does this statement mean to you?

My husband Colin and I have just laughed about this question. It was a standing joke among our friends that ‘gay men never grow up’. I’ve always prided myself on this and wore it like a badge of honour, because I was never impressed by many of the grown-ups who orbited my childhood.

Having just experienced our quietest Christmas and New Year because of lockdown – we were telling my sister that we were in bed asleep by 11pm on New Year’s Eve – she said: ”You’re a disgrace to your own kind! I can remember a time when you didn’t even go out until 11pm!”

So yes, I am all for it – ‘Young at Heart’ is a great theme. As long as everyone has fun, celebrates and belongs, it can only be a success!

Does the ADHD Foundation have any projects or activities planned for 2021 that you can share with us at the moment?

I am delighted that our neurodiversity Umbrella Project will return this year – bringing a splash of colour to the city centre and to many participating offices, schools, businesses and hopefully leisure venues in the Liverpool City Region and beyond.

The project is all about emphasising the positives, celebrating the unique contribution to our communities, our economy, and our friendship groups – with dyslexia, autism, ADHD and dyspraxia at the top of the agenda.

It’s also a testament to the many young people that we support, who are speaking out and saying, “stop excluding me, stop telling me I am less than, that I am less intelligent or less employable – see the talent, the ability, the potential!” I think there is an inner child in all of us adults and maybe we all have to be ‘Young at Heart’ to see that.

Do you have any advice for businesses or organisations looking to better support both LGBT+ people and neurodiverse people?

Inclusion and equality are good for business… it’s as simple as that. No two human beings are the same – nature thrives on ‘difference’. We change nothing and never move forward if we are all the same, with the same views and opinions. 

This is why all the major growth companies in the world that are influencing our culture, our economy and our lifestyles – such as technology, biosciences and robotics – have all been actively recruiting neurodiverse employees for the past two decades. 

They recognise that innovation and creativity require different minds. If we all think the same way, then nothing ever changes. We may prefer the company of ‘like minds’, prefer the company of people we agree with – our own tribe – but human endeavour requires diversity, in every sense of the word. Diversity is in our DNA.

How can people access services provided by the ADHD Foundation? 

You can email us directly at [email protected] or alternatively visit our website, which contains a vast amount of engaging content including film, articles, fact sheets and resources for adults, young people, and professionals to utilise.