I love a good conversation,” says Jan Tregelles, as we meet in her office in central London. “I like people to tell me things that make me think differently. I’m motivated by the human connection.” But as chief executive of learning disability charity Mencap, not all of Tregelles’ conversations are pleasant. “Once I had to phone a mother to tell her that her child had died. Some of the conversations have haunted me. But I’m glad I can feel as deeply about it now as I ever could,” she says.
A fierce determination to bring about change flavours my conversation with Tregelles, who joined the charity in 1983, aged 23, as a PA to the director of welfare. She left to pursue a career in housing, again working with people with a learning disability, but returned to the charity in 1997 to set up its housing arm, Golden Lane Housing, becoming CEO in 2013.
“I’m still pinching myself,” she exclaims. “I’m so driven by wanting to make a difference, I would have worked for nothing. Working alongside people with a learning disability gives you an opportunity to connect and understand how they experience life.”