Cancer Research UK's comms and public affairs chief announces departure for charity CEO role

Sarah Woolnough, executive director of policy and information at CRUK, is leaving the charity after 15 years to become chief executive of the Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation partnership.

Sarah Woolnough is the new CEO of the Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation partnership
Sarah Woolnough is the new CEO of the Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation partnership

Woolnough, who has ranked first in PRWeek’s annual Power Book ‘Top 10 in Charity Comms’ for several years running, announced her departure from one of Britain’s best-known charities on Twitter.

Later on Tuesday, Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, which merged in January but which maintain separate identities, announced that Woolnough is to become its next chief executive, replacing Kay Boycott in December.

Commenting on her new role, Woolnough said: "It’s an honour to be appointed CEO… Respiratory health is a cause I care deeply about, and it’s been inspiring to see the extraordinary lengths that they’ve gone to in supporting people with lung conditions over many years, and most recently during the COVID-19 pandemic."

Woolnough's move from comms chief to charity chief executive follows that of Sarah Atkinson, former director of policy, strategy and comms at the Charity Commission, who left in Janaury to lead the Social Mobility Foundation.

Atkinson tweeted to congratulate Woolnough on her appointment.

Legacy at CRUK 

In her role at CRUK, Woolnough oversaw a team of 400 people. In addition to comms, she had responsibility for policy, public affairs and campaigning, as well as engagement.

In 2018, CRUK director of comms Peter Zarko-Flynn left the charity and his role was subsumed into Woolnough’s.

Woolnough joined the charity in 2005 as a policy officer, rising to head and later director of policy, before taking leadership of its comms and public affairs work.

In an email to colleagues announcing her departure, Woolnough said she remembered the "thrill" of joining CRUK, and that highlights of her time at the charity included "years of campaigning and policy work to secure the smoking ban, successive cancer plans… and plain packaging" for cigarettes, the latter being a campaign she spearheaded.

She told PRWeek: "I’ve been so privileged to spend 15 fantastic years at Cancer Research UK working with brilliant colleagues to drive improvements for cancer patients and the research community. I leave with lots of fond memories and know the organisation will continue to do great things." 

Career path

Woolnough began her career as a policy officer for the Sport and Recreation Alliance and was later seconded to the Department of Health and Social Care to write the National Cancer Strategy alongside Professor Sir Mike Richards for the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government.

She has also served as a board trustee on multiple charities, including Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), premature baby charity Bliss, and the Association of Medical Research Charities.

Click here to subscribe to the FREE pharma and healthcare comms bulletin to receive dedicated healthcare news, features and comment straight to your inbox.

Make sure you register for the site to access more than one story per month.

To submit a news, comment, case study or analysis idea for the pharma and healthcare comms bulletin, email

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in