The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is the oldest animal welfare charity in the world, and the largest in the UK. Our founders include William Wilberforce; and while he is more widely known for his part in the abolition of slavery, Wilberforce’s involvement in the establishment of the (then) SPCA illustrates the strong connection in our founders’ minds between all types of cruelty, and the common need to end them. You can see a short video sketching our evolution here, or a more general overview of our purpose here.

Today, the RSPCA is a major organisation, turning over more than £140m per annum and operating through two complementary and affiliated structures – the national organisation, and our 160 local branches. Branches and HQ work closely together to advocate, raise funds and undertake practical operations to alleviate the suffering of animals.

The best way to look under the bonnet of our recent work is to scrutinise our Trustees’ Annual Report.

We undertake some of the most difficult and controversial work in animal welfare, but we believe that it’s vital that someone stands up to be counted. Our strategic aim is to decrease the need for our intervention, by influencing people to change the way they behave towards animals – thus reducing demand. Sometimes, the most effective approach to eliminating cruelty is not always obvious, or easy for people to understand, and we are committed to supporting our Inspectorate as it continues to make these challenging and complex decisions.

A good example is prosecutions. Once a very major part of our work, used in order to prevent suffering now and into the future, prosecutions have reduced by 50% in the last three years. This does not mean that we are any less active or less engaged; rather, our increasing awareness of the complex connections between poverty, mental health difficulties and cruelty to animals is leading to more nuanced approaches in partnership with housing associations, environmental health officers, and other organisations.

We also accept that there is work to do on modernising our decision-making processes. An external report on our governance, commissioned by the Society in 2017, recommended some changes which are currently being implemented.

So what does the future hold? We believe that our organisation has singular capacity and reach, and enormous potential to continue extending its impact and mission. Our mid-term strategy (to 2021) identifies four key strands of work which we agree are critical to maintaining our relevance and momentum in society, and our new Chief Executive will be accountable to Council, members and our supporters for making this vision a reality. It’s a remarkable opportunity.