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It took me two weeks to think “I need to stay here”

Jonathan Blades

JB, our Head of Campaigns and External Relations reflects on what's special about working here. And how he knew he wanted to stay.

I’d always known about MS before joining the MS Society but it was something that existed in the periphery of my family. I have an aunt who lives with MS but it wasn’t really something we ever talked about. Since joining the MS Society I realise how little I actually knew.

Speaking out together

I started at the MS Society in 2016 as the Public Affairs Officer on a short fixed-term contract. It took about two weeks for me to think “I need to stay here”. I was instantly hit with how collaborative everyone was. 

In those first weeks there was a parliamentary event to launch an employment report and everyone was chipping in to make it a success. It wasn’t about who should do what or being possessive of work - it was all focusing on “how do we make change.” And that’s not changed. There is a hunger in the MS Society’s influencing work about making an actual difference and not just looking like you are. As a campaigner that’s what drives me – real, positive change.

I’ve been lucky enough to work on some really bold and impactful campaigns. From getting ocrelizumab approved to the rescheduling of cannabis to medical use – I’ve seen the power of the voices of the MS community. And any chance I get to speak to people with MS about campaigning and their experiences is always the highlight of my week. 

Over the years we’ve brought more people with MS directly into the campaigning work and we’re so much stronger for it. But there is still so much more for us to do. And that push to campaign louder with people with MS and empower people with MS to lead their own campaigns is what keeps driving me forward. It’s refreshing to work somewhere that says “we can always do better”.

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Growing here

Since joining I’ve been fortunate enough to grow and develop here. Taking on new projects, roles and learning new skills. Within a few years I had gone from an officer role to leading the Campaigns and External Relations Department.

Each move I doubted I could do it or if I was ready, but I was surrounded by colleagues who championed me and wanted to see me succeed. And that’s a favour I get to repay to the people working around me.

Being authentically you

There have been many highlights of my time here, but what sticks with me are when we celebrate the breadth of the community.

In 2018 I was lucky enough to go to the MS Awards. At the event, a woman won the ‘carer of the year’ award for the support she offers to her wife. As a gay man I was moved to see an LGBTQ+ family celebrated and recognised for their love.

I was lucky enough to also join our first Pride march in London a year later. It was amazing to spend the day with people with MS being seen and heard for all of who they are. This drive for more inclusion is something I’ve seen grow internally too. Being authentically you is recognised as a strength and I get to bring all of me to work.

When life happens

But work isn’t all we are and life happens. Sadly, while working at the MS Society I lost my dad unexpectedly. It was the worst moment of my life but one grace was working somewhere that did everything it could to support me.

I know not everyone is as lucky. To this day I am so grateful to my team and colleagues who supported me and showed me an abundance of kindness. 

Join us if you want to make a difference

For anyone thinking about joining the MS Society I would say “do it!” It’s a place that looks at what you can offer and how you can grow. You get to work with such talented and committed individuals and the work takes you places you never expect. 

I’ve gone from protests at Westminster to driving a mobility scooter around a race track, to being a mediocre pitcher in the work softball team. And working with people with MS is always energising and gives a sense of purpose to what you do. At times it can be tough, especially with only so many hours in the day, but it’s the best kind of challenge. 

There’s a space for anyone here who wants to make a difference for people with MS.

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