Obituary: Nicholas Baxter, social entrepreneur

Nick Baxter
Nick Baxter
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Born: 9 November, 1947. Died: 28 April, 2013, in Aberdeen, aged 65.

MY FIRST encounter with Nick Baxter was not auspicious. He arrived at my door in scruffy jeans and jumper, announcing he was a social worker who wanted to start a charity. He needed money, so could I help him organise a flag day?

For the next few weeks I thought I was educating him in fund-raising. I reality, through exposure to his commitment and enthusiasm, I was being recruited into the development of his charity, Cornerstone Community Care.

In the 1970s, “community care” had not entered the vocabulary of politicians. But Nick had conceived the notion that adults with severe learning difficulties, who had never left the shelter of the parental home, or were living in institutions, should be given rights as single homeless people.

Along with his friend Sandy Murray, he was determined to change society’s attitudes, challenge the existence of “asylums” and ensure that disabled people were given homes in ordinary streets together with the support necessary to lead independent lives.

While Sandy established Langstane Housing Association to provide homes for single homeless people, in 1980 Nick set up the charitable company Cornerstone Community Care. Starting with a first house in Granton Place, Aberdeen, Nick translated his vision into a pioneering model of care which became a quality standard for subsequent developments throughout Scotland.

As the company grew in size he was the first social worker to recognise that he needed to secure management and financial qualifications to run an effective charity company and so undertook an MBA. He was attracted to the ideas of American businessman W E Deming on how to develop quality in management to ensure good work ethos and practices; Cornerstone benefitted from productive and loyal communities of both staff and volunteers.

Cornerstone was the first Scottish care agency to be recognised by Investors in People. In 1992 and 1994 the innovative design of two houses which he developed were recognised by two national awards from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).

Later, in 2003, as Cornerstone grew and spread from its geographical base in Aberdeen, Nick was named as Ernst & Young’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year.

Through his courage in driving a wide range of innovative services, his work changed the lives of many individuals and their families. It was a day for celebration when large institutions such as Lennox Castle near Glasgow, and Ladysbridge near Banff were closed; they were no longer required as “subnormality hospitals”.

He continued work on the “Technabling” programme, using technology innovatively to bring affordable but secure support into individuals’ homes. It is a tragedy that Nick will not see further developments of his visions for support services for disabled people

Nick was a good man who suffered a cruel death from sporadic CJD. He will be missed and mourned by his many friends and colleagues.