Trusteeship through lockdown and uncertainty

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02-11-2020

As I write this, parts of the UK are already in lockdown and England is about to enter into a second national lockdown. Coinciding as it does with National Trustees Week, it led me to ponder the peculiar circumstances of being a charity trustee during 2020.

I read recently that there are around 850,000 of us charity trustees in England and Wales, with men outnumbering women by two to one, and a typical trustee being a retired man between the ages of 55-64.

I am delighted that at LionHeart, our board of 13 trustees (we are not superstitious!) buck this rather depressing statistic. In the long-forgotten days of pre-Covid, we set out on a successful recruitment campaign to diversify the board in every way we could. Our four new additions brought a wide range of experience and skills, resulting in a group of trustees that is more diverse in age, gender, and ethnicity and background than ever before.

But it is a peculiar feature of 2020 that few of us have actually met our four new board members face to face, and possibly they haven’t met each other, since both their recruitment and the subsequent board meetings we have held since they joined us in summer have all been held online. It is to our new colleagues’ credit that they have fitted in seamlessly to the board against this rather strange background.

Online meetings are workable but not ideal; as Chair I cannot wait to get back to being round a table. Glancing round the board table, sensing the mood, taking the temperature of the meeting, while balancing the competing needs of everyone having a say but with one eye on the clock, simply cannot be replicated in the virtual world, however good your Wi-Fi signal. A colleague raising an eyebrow, or giving you a nod, is far better than the awful “virtual hand” in the air.

And it is not simply the business of the board that is affected. Like our staff, many of us are also missing the watercooler or lift moment; a chance to chat about something completely random, or simply to get to know one another - of our current cadre of 13, only four of my colleagues were on the board when I started as a trustee in 2017.  We plan to change that in the next six months, depending on how the national guidelines restrict us.

However, needs must, and we have not only continued our strategic oversight of the charity, but also made some far reaching decisions, including changing both our Articles of Association and the range of beneficiaries that LionHeart can help - more news on that coming very soon! - and ensuring that our fabulous staff team had sufficient flexibility to meet the inevitable spike in demand of some 35% from the surveying community as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

I must add at this point, the staff rose to the challenge brilliantly, ensuring that anyone that needed help was able to access our services. Our sub-committee system also adopted a business as usual approach, so that our investments, audit process and annual accounts carried on as normal.

So, as we look to an uncertain future, I will close by thanking all my colleagues around the virtual board table, our staff team, committee members, ambassadors, volunteers and fundraisers. 

Together, we have ensured that we have always been there for the surveying family in 2020. As one recent tweet from a surveyor said, “LionHeart always has your back” - which is exactly what we intend. 

Peter McCrea FRICS was appointed chair of the LionHeart board in October 2018, after 18 months as a trustee. A father-of-two, he became the youngest ever appointed surveyor member of the Lands Tribunal in 2013. 

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