For Trustees' Week 2015 we spoke to Cllr Dan McDonald, Chair of the Board of Trustees at METRO since 2014.
Why did you choose METRO?
While working as CEO at Medway Citizens Advice Bureau, I first came in to contact with METRO as we worked in partnership on specific projects. I was impressed with the aims and objectives of the charity and what it stood for - that METRO works with the most hidden communities and that it strives to give a voice to those whose voices are often unheard.
Having been involved in the voluntary sector in different roles for many years. What strikes you most about the value METRO brings that sets us apart from other organisations?
When you sit on a Board as a Trustee, it can often feel like you are just sitting on a Board, dealing with the everyday workings that Boards have to work with. But as a gay man sitting on the Board of METRO, it feels more like I am part of a story of identity and a journey, being part of something bigger. What is most striking about METRO is a real commitment to inclusivity, from delivering services to young people all the way up to the over 50's, and a commitment to work with identity and gender. In many ways, these issues are most important to our work in Kent and Medway and Essex, as these areas can often feel like isolated places for people who see themselves as different. Responses to hate crime across the areas we work are often patchy, and it's great to know that there is a charity like METRO that is prepared to work with the communities most affected, where difference and identity are not a barrier to offering support.
The average age of Trustees in England and Wales is 57; two thirds are aged 50 and over. What do you think we could do to encourage younger people?
Board meetings and times need to be more flexible to meet the needs of young people with a range of differing commitments. It's important to make the role of Trustee interesting and appealing to a wide range of people, so that Boards have a diverse representation. It's important as well, to be prepared to commit to the role of Board member - charities need the support of their Boards to give them the feedback and scrutiny that is needed to keep charities vibrant. At METRO, we make sure that our Board is given a good induction so members are aware of their role and how it fits in with the wider work of the charity - and this would especially apply to new young Trustees. It's important that Boards reflect the communities they serve, reflecting the diverse ethnic, ability, faith and gender mix of service users, volunteers and staff. METRO is currently looking at how we can encourage young people to have an input in to the work of the charity and we have plans to develop a Youth Advisory Board in the near future, which will offer young people an opportunity to have a voice in the work of our charity and further build their skills and interest in Trusteeship.
What advice would you give to METRO's staff and volunteers who may be thinking about dipping their toe into Trusteeship?
Boards give a fantastic insight in to the workings of a charity. I would advise anyone who feels that they have time to commit, passion to get involved and skills they want to share, to spend time choosing carefully which charity to get on board with. It's important to consider the aims and objectives of the charity are the right fit for you and their vision is one that excites you. Look at the work the charity does and consider what the charity stands for.
What do you think is the biggest achievement of METRO's Trustees over the last 12 months, and the key challenge for the next 12 months?
The biggest achievement of the last 12 months has been the Board's input into the building and signing-off of the Strategic Plan for 2014-18. I'm immensely proud of the hard work our Board members, METRO staff, volunteers and service users, had in feeding in to the Strategic Plan. I'm also proud of the ongoing inclusive way in which the Plan is being implemented, with the involvement of all the METRO community through the Domain Working Groups, and our commitment to consulting and involving the wider METRO community through our staff and volunteer engagement surveys and diversity survey, and our recently launched bi-annual service user needs assessment survey. All of this has been achieved through a Board of committed and dedicated Trustees, and our open and ongoing communication with the senior management and extended leadership team at METRO. I'm pleased that we were able to achieve all this during a period of considerable uncertainty for METRO, where funding opportunities went through considerable change. The oversight and scrutiny of the Board has been key to turning this around.
Looking to future challenges - we see this all around us, and I want to talk about three challenges which I feel are the most important for us as a Board and METRO as a charity. The economic environment of austerity and its ongoing impact on our service users represents the biggest challenge for us as a charity, and how we respond to this need. We have invested considerable time making links with our partners in central and local government, lobbying on behalf of our service users, reflecting back to our partners the insights we have gained through our direct service delivery.
Ignorance around HIV - particularly around how it is impacting on African communities throughout the areas METRO delivers services, is a reminder to us that we need to redouble our efforts to reach out to those affected by HIV. This is something we will make sure we remember in the run up to World AIDS Day on 1st December.
A final challenge in the year ahead is the ongoing work we still need to do to challenge the stigma that our service users face on a daily basis. Whether this is stigma based on a persons HIV status, leading to their exclusion from opportunities and discrimination from treatment or services, or the stigma faced by our service users who are dealing with issues of identity, gender and sexuality. Or whether this is stigma based on mental ill-health, or the stigma our young people experience when they are bullied at school or college, or the members of our over 50's group as they need health and social care services and rely on people who stigmatize them or the stigma which is driving our service users to fear for their safety because they are targeted by hate, harassment and discrimination. This I think is our single biggest challenge.
The achievements and challenges our Board is facing and dealing with are not down to any single member. The Board at METRO is a team of colleagues, each giving their time for free as volunteers, who are dedicated to the cause that METRO works tirelessly for each day, working to make a difference in the lives of our service users.
During Trustees Week, we are redoubling our own efforts to recruit more members to our Board, and are particularly keen to hear from a diverse range of people interested in our work and wanting to join our team. Find out how to apply.
Sarah - Counselling
The help and understanding I experienced from everyone I came into contact with whilst using the Metroís services was amazing.
Peter- First Point
I felt so relieved to have a named First Point worker who I can call if I need to be referred to a particular service.
David - Counselling
Outstanding people. Outstanding service. Outstanding counselling. Truly something that has allowed me to turn my life around.
Joan - First Point
Thank you so much for taking time to listen to me and truly understand how I am feeling. This is the only appointment I've had regarding HIV that didnít feel rushed.
Kwasi - Mentoring
During the 6 month programme, I developed a close relationship with my mentor. Knowing that I would have to talk to him honestly about what I did in the previous 2 weeks somehow forced me to be safe every time I had an encounter.
Michael - Counselling
I gained a huge amount of help from the counselling service and would like to thank the service for offering so much support.
Abimbola- First Point
It has been a long time since I felt that someone actually listened to me.
Ebere - First Point
I wish this service was around when I was newly diagnosed. I felt my world had fallen apart around me and I didn't know which way to turn for support. You are offering a very valuable service.
Simon - Mentoring
By discussing things at such an intimate level with my mentor, I really came face to face with some of the reasons why I was taking chances before.
Joe - Mentoring
The programme had such an impact on my life that I decided to come on board as a volunteer mentor!