The DFN Foundation

About Us

The DFN Charitable Foundation is a commissioning charity established in 2014 to make a positive difference to the lives of young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

Today our reach has grown to influencing policy and funding developments in special needs education, employability, healthcare and conservation.

"I was inspired to set up the DFN Foundation by my son, Charlie, who is disabled and my complete hero. He has brought me more joy, laughter and fulfilment than probably anything else in my life."

David Forbes-Nixon DFN Chairman

Our vision is to transform life outcomes for people throughout the country, bringing positive and lasting change that unlocks natural potential and builds a more inclusive and environmentally conscious society.

Our partnership strategy is always outcome-driven and has a clear understanding of what we want to achieve. This business-led model is helping us to deliver transformational results, whether that be helping more young people with special needs through education and into full-time employment, to supporting butterfly conservation and funding advancements in Myeloma research.

Find out more: 2018 Annual Report

A Conversation with David

The DFN Foundation Team

Our senior team and Trustees are all leaders across their fields, and are responsible for the strategic direction of the DFN Charitable Foundation. We work together to ensure that we are doing our very best to make a positive and tangible difference across education, employability, healthcare and conservation.

David Forbes-Nixon Founder and Chairman

David has over 33-years experience as an investment banker and fund manager and from 2002-2020 served as Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO of Alcentra, a leading sub-investment grade asset manager with over $40bn AUM. David was inspired by his disabled son Charlie to set up the DFN Charitable Foundation in 2014 and DFN Project SEARCH in 2018 to make a positive difference to the lives of young people with special educational needs and disabilities. He bought Undershaw, Conan Doyle’s old country house, in 2014 and converted it into the Upper School for Stepping Stones School and obtained the Master Franchise Agreement for Project SEARCH for the UK, Ireland and Iberia in 2018. His vision is to transform the life outcomes of disabled people throughout the country and build a more inclusive and fairer society.

Claire Cookson Chief Executive Officer

Chief Executive Officer of the DFN Foundation and DFN Project SEARCH, Claire is an experienced senior leader with an extensive background in education. She brings a strong understanding of collaborating with businesses, educators and Local Authorities to develop employability outcomes for learners with special educational needs and disabilities.

Our Trustees

David Forbes-Nixon Founder and Chairman

David has over 33-years experience as an investment banker and fund manager and from 2002-2020 served as Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO of Alcentra, a leading sub-investment grade asset manager with over $40bn AUM. David was inspired by his disabled son Charlie to set up the DFN Charitable Foundation in 2014 and DFN Project SEARCH in 2018 to make a positive difference to the lives of young people with special educational needs and disabilities. He bought Undershaw, Conan Doyle’s old country house, in 2014 and converted it into the Upper School for Stepping Stones School and obtained the Master Franchise Agreement for Project SEARCH for the UK, Ireland and Iberia in 2018. His vision is to transform the life outcomes of disabled people throughout the country and build a more inclusive and fairer society.

James Dickson

James has been an investment manager in the City for the last 22 years. Over the last eight years he has been Governor at three schools and also an academy chain. He brings a deep understanding of the education system in the UK. James also spent a year teaching English in Pakistan.

Simon Konsta

Simon is a Senior Partner of Clyde & Co, LLP and heads up the firm's insurance practice. He also sits on their global board. Prior to this Simon was a Senior Partner at Barlow, Lyde & Gilbert LLP. Simon is married with 3 children.

Eric Low OBE

Eric has worked in the field of medical research charities for over 20 years. He founded Myeloma UK in 1996 and was their Chief Executive until February 2017. Currently, Eric combines working for the Amyloidosis Research Consortium as their Head of Global Strategy with a consultancy business specialising primarily in market access and evidence development strategies.

Norman Stromsoy

Norman is an experienced Board Trustee with a demonstrated history of working in the education management industry. Skilled in strategic leadership, strategy, directorship, educational leadership, and private sector, he is strong business development professional with a Masters degree focused in Educational Management MA from Northumbria University.

The DFN Project SEARCH Team

Our senior team at DFN Project SEARCH brings significant experience of spearheading initiatives that support people with learning disabilities and autism into work. The team is working in collaboration with the DFN Foundation to deliver its strategic vision of getting 20,000 young people into work in the next ten years.

Claire Cookson Chief Executive Officer

Chief Executive Officer of the DFN Foundation and DFN Project SEARCH, Claire is an experienced senior leader with an extensive background in education. She brings a strong understanding of collaborating with businesses, educators and Local Authorities to develop employability outcomes for learners with special educational needs and disabilities.

Carmel McKeogh Director and Programme Specialist

Carmel was previously Deputy Chief Executive of Blackpool Council where she worked on national initiatives designed to support people with learning disabilities into work. Carmel is now the Director of her own management consultancy and operates as a Consultant for DFN Project SEARCH.

Lily Beyer Programme Specialist

Joining the team in July 2018, Lily is the Programme Specialist for Wales and the South West with a background in Job Coaching, Project Coordination and Supported Employment in a Welsh context. She is dedicated to creating a society that is aspirational for the employment of young adults with learning disabilities and autistic spectrum conditions.

Maureen McHugh Programme Specialist

Maureen has had a resounding career focusing on educating young people with learning disabilities. The qualified teacher moved to DFN Project SEARCH to manage the award-winning Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust site and has since joined the central team at DFN Project SEARCH in June 2019 as the London Programme Specialist.

The DFN MoveForward Team

The DFN MoveForward team brings a diverse range of experience in delivering education programmes for young people with additional learning, helping to deliver learning employability skills and a pathway into sustainable paid employment.

Sean Porter Programme Manager

Sean joined ThinkForward in 2013 when he became one of its coaches at an alternative provision school in east London. He is currently running the DFN MoveForward programme, bringing frontline experience in working with vulnerable groups including the long-term unemployed, single parents, homeless people, ex-offenders and gang members.

Vincenza De Falco Progression Coach London

Vincenza has extensive experience working with young people with various learning needs and barriers in a variety of settings. She joined MoveForward in 2017, bringing her knowledge and expertise to support young people with learning disabilities and autism to make a successful transition into work.

Kayleigh Smith Progression Coach Medway

Kayleigh has a background working within the charity sector and with young people from a range of different backgrounds. She has experience of working with Kent County Council, the Prince’s Trust and Young Kent. Before joining ThinkForward as a MoveForward coach in December 2017, Kayleigh worked as a Project Manager for Girlguiding.

Katrien Buckens Business Partnerships Manager London and Medway

Katrien joined ThinkForward and the MoveForward initiative from Pearson, where she managed partnerships with secondary schools and Multi Academy Trusts in Kent, East Sussex and South London, to help them understand and implement new BTEC vocational courses and learning services. She has also developed extended school services for Kent County Council.

Sarah Eason Business Partnerships Manager The West Midlands

Sarah has worked with young people with learning difficulties in mainstream and special educational needs settings for over a decade. In her role as Business Partnerships Manager she continues to develop a network of employer relationships to create employment and ‘Ready For Work’ opportunities for the programme’s young people.

Natahsa Payne Progression Coach West Midlands

Natasha is a progression coach working in three West Midlands schools, focused on high quality delivery and developing strong and effective working partnerships with young people, their families and schools. Bringing experience of delivering targeted projects and direct work in a local authority setting, Natasha has a passion to support young people to raise and realise their aspirations.