TRIBUTES have flooded in for a kind-hearted woman who dedicated her life to helping others across the borough.
Jo Mackinnon, whose determination to help those with drug and alcohol addiction became a lifelong passion, died at the age of 49 from cancer and leaves behind a husband and two children.
She took on the role of chief executive at Welcome in 2006 – a charity set up to help people with drug, alcohol and gambling addictions by Dame Caroline Spelman, Meriden MP.
Jo was a leading figure when Welcome joined forced with Solihull Integrated Addiction Services (SIAS) partnership, which also includes Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust, Aquarius and Changes UK.
When the charity was tasked with setting up a recovery café on behalf of the partnership, she created Welcome Change CIC which grew to encompass a café and community centre, charity shops, a community garden, community caretaker service and library project in East Birmingham.
Friends, family colleagues and service users attended a celebration of life service at All Saints Church and Welcome Change café and community centre in Shard End, on Saturday (April 13).
Speaking at the service, Sally Edwards, interim chief executive of Welcome and Welcome Change said: “Jo made work fun, whilst at the same time showing great compassion, understanding and support for everyone she came into contact with.
“When you worked with her you knew that apart from enjoying her company you were also doing something really worthwhile – helping to change people’s lives for the better.
“I would say that to know Jo was to love her.
“Her warmth and kindness of heart, energy and creativity, sense of humour and vision for a better future were irresistible. Where she led you wanted to follow and help her to realise her dreams.
“I now have the privilege of picking up where she left off and leading her wonderful teams of staff and volunteers on to ensure that the charity and social enterprise that she loved so much continue to thrive. We are all determined to do her proud.
“I hope that I can find even a fraction of the courage, strength and determination she showed during her illness. She was an inspirational leader and a wonderful friend and colleague.”
One service user said: “I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for Jo.”
Dame Caroline said: “Joanne Mackinnon took a fledgling charity I set up shortly after being elected in 1997 and grew it into an amazing resource in our borough with a mission of helping those who suffer substance abuse get a job and hold it down.
“Welcome has developed into a service the NHS depends on for the triage of patients who are referred or refer themselves for treatment.
“Joanna’s long experience of working in this sector gave her the vision to provide job opportunities for those who might never get a chance at a social enterprise café she set up in a second hand shop in Shard End.
“These basic skills in catering, computing and gardening for the fresh produce transformed people’s life chances forever – what a hero.”
Aside from her work as at of Welcome and Welcome Change Jo supported and mentored other social enterprises to develop and become sustainable, including Changes UK which became a SIAS member in its own right.
She was named Solihull Care Professional of the Year 2016 and raised over £1,000,000 from charitable trusts and foundations to support the development of services in Solihull and East Birmingham, especially those relating to employability, families and children.