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Trustees' Week 2021

Our Co-Chair Lisa Kelly and I were thrilled to be invited to give a talk yesterday by the Community Foundation as part of their programme to recognise Trustees' Week.

Our talk was focused on how we make our Board a welcoming and inclusive space, a topic that is close to both our hearts.

As a user led organisation we actively recruit people with lived experience of our services to sit on our Board. We currently have five ‘Experts by Experience’ Board members, the majority of whom have a learning disability, this means we need to run our Board meetings differently so that everyone can contribute and be meaningfully involved. It’s not easy, and we don’t always get it right, but we believe that the lessons we’ve learnt benefit all our Trustees, not just those with learning disabilities.

Lisa was able to share some of the practical things we do to ensure that everyone can be included, for example we use cards to make it easier for people to speak up or to say if they don’t understand something that is being discussed. This also makes it easier for Lisa, and her Co-Chair Christina, to chair the meetings and to make sure that discussion aren’t moving too quickly and that everyone is fully involved.

We’ve developed guidance for staff who are asked to present at Board meetings that sets out how our Experts by Experience prefer to view complicated information – for example we ask people to prepare presentations using ‘Easy Read’ principles and to use graphs and charts to present financial information where they can.

Our Experts by Experience have the opportunity to attend a ‘pre meeting’ ahead of our main Board meeting where they can discuss agenda items in more detail and at pace that suits them. This space allows them to prepare questions or statements to share at the full Board meeting. Anyone who presents to our full Board meeting must first present to our Experts by Experience at our Pre Board meetings.

I was able to talk about the importance of investing in support for Trustees. At Your Voice Counts we employ a Board Support Worker to provide additional support to our Trustees, but also to provide a challenge if they feel the Board aren’t sticking to the agreements we’ve set out, or if they feel there is more we could be doing to make our governance processes accessible – we now have a standard agenda item at every meeting to discuss this in more detail.

Our organisation was founded on the principle that people with lived experience of services are best placed to shape the solutions that meet their needs. Choosing to include people with learning disabilities on our Board isn’t without it’s risks and we feel it’s important to acknowledge these risk and to talk about them openly. By doing this, and by prioritising exploring new approaches and learning from what works and what doesn’t work, we think our Board and our approach to governance has been become more inclusive for all our trustees. As a result we benefit hugely from having people with lived experience of services guiding the organisation and shaping our offer to our beneficiaries.

We’d be really happy to share the lessons we’ve learnt with anyone who is interested in thinking about how to make their Board more accessible, or considering how to effectively support people with lived experience in leadership roles. This is an ongoing journey for us, and something we believe in passionately.

- Dave Woolley, CEO


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