AFTER 10 years leading an organisation that helps Oxfordshire’s charities and volunteers, Alison Baxter is stepping down as chief executive to travel and learn creative writing.

Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action (OCVA) had a budget of about £50,000 to support the county’s voluntary sector when the 63-year-old joined in 2003.

Now it has an annual budget of about £500,000 to provide funds for the county’s charitable organisations, and also provides training to help volunteers.

Mrs Baxter, from Cowley, will leave OCVA on December 20 and plans to travel before starting freelance work and an MA at the University of East Anglia.

She said: “This is the longest I have stayed in a job so there must have been something about it.

“Fundamentally, what has been satisfying is that you do get to interact with all the wonderful people who are out there in Oxfordshire doing things to support people in need – whether working with young people or those with mental health and learning difficulties.

“I am very pleased with what we have achieved and what people have said my team has done for them.”

Mrs Baxter joined OCVA after previously working for Oxford University Press and then managing a publishing company, the Directory of Social Change.

When she joined the group, it ran a second-hand furniture store and a dial-a-ride service.

She said she was “incredibly proud” of the changes she has achieved at the organisation, which has also seen its membership double in the past decade.

Asked what her proudest moment was, she said: “This is maybe not going to sound terribly exciting but when we successfully bid to the Big Lottery fund for five years worth of funding, which allowed us to employ development workers to work with community groups.

“That was a real step change in the scope of what we could do. That was worth £500,000 over five years and was transformational – and I wrote up the bid.”

But, with Government and local authority grants reducing, she added: “I look forward with some trepidation to what is going to happen next because it is much more of a struggle now for all the community groups to keep going.”

She said she believed small charities relying on volunteers and large groups able to bid for sizeable contracts would be able to continue, but those in the middle would be squeezed, adding: “It worries me for the sake of the clients.

“Are they going to get the same quality of support when budgets are squeezed and local organisations are squeezed out?

“I do not want to retire. I don’t want to be written off as finished. I still have a lot of useful life in me and I would like to be in a position to have a kind of mixed life – still a bit of work but also to travel and volunteer.”

Mrs Baxter will be replaced by Kathy Shaw, who has been chief executive of Rochdale Council for Voluntary Action since 2006 and used to manage Manchester Central Home-Start.