Alison joined METRO’s Board of Trustees, which is made up entirely of volunteers, in 2017 and has been key in our governance even since.
I’ve never been with such a diverse bunch of people. Just looking around the room and recognising that was what this organisation was all about – that incredible diversity.
What led you to volunteer for METRO’s Board?
It was an accident; it wasn’t deliberate - like most of my career. It just happened. I’d always been very involved in the not-for-profit sector and the sustainability of that sector and I’m a big fan of volunteering so when I retired I joined the Board of GAVS [Greenwich Action for Voluntary Service] and I came over to METRO with the merger into METRO GAVS in 2017.
What attracted you to METRO’s work?
The diversity. Although it can be difficult because it can be all things to all people who are in that space, and I suppose it’s being passionate about allowing space for that diversity agenda. It’s about that diversity being at the top of the agenda as opposed to it being an add on.
Tell us more about what your role involves and the impact of COVID-19 on your volunteering
Obviously, you have your regular monthly Board meetings and your Board papers but as METRO is growing and getting bigger there are more considerations of the how the governance works. We have additional meetings about how to make that better and stronger, such as meeting with [fellow Trustees] Simon Hall and Ray Seabrook on Trustee induction and it’s fantastic meeting with those guys, really. Those meetings become more than governance meetings; it’s a way of forming a bond with people as well.
So, it’s always felt very inclusive. There’s always food at the Board meetings and it feels like more than a business meeting; it feels like you part of something bigger than yourself. It’s always felt like that.
We’ve had a couple of Microsoft Teams Board meetings and they’re really challenging. I think that’s true of every remote meeting. It’s different when you’re one-to-one; you can form some rapport but in quite a big meeting it’s easy to duck out and not step up. You really have to concentrate and it is hard work having a good solid business meeting in that virtual space. I do miss that connection with people as well.
What do you get out of volunteering?
The first thing is connection. That, to me has always been really important. I’ve always valued volunteering and I don’t do it for altruistic reasons; I do it because it’s good for me. It makes me feel connected and involved, and it broadens my horizons. I learn a huge amount about the issues that METRO works on and what the challenges are but it’s also about the way that the business works because I think it’s a very effective business organisation as well.
I enjoy being in a business committee with people who, in my working life, I wouldn’t necessarily have been sat around the table with who have very different skillsets: Simon Hall (Treasurer) from an NHS background, Gwen Bryan (Chair) who is a social worker and voluntary sector expert but you’ve also got people from banks and City institutions. Bringing people together from those very different backgrounds, I get a massive amount out of this. It’s very challenging but I like to be out of my comfort zone.
What skills do you share as a Trustee?
I think I come in a bit from leftfield asking daft questions if I don’t understand something. I bring a level of honesty about what I don’t understand: “This isn’t working for me”. Quite often Greg [Ussher, CEO] has said “I’m glad you asked that Alison.” I bring just a bit of homespun common sense I suppose.
Do you have a highlight of your time serving on METRO’s Board?
One of the nicest things was a celebratory event for the merger with GAD [Greenwich Association of Disabled People, now METRO GAD] in our Woolwich headquarters. Just looking around the room, I thought, I’ve never been with such a diverse bunch of people and recognising that was what this organisation was all about; that incredible diversity. That’s what did it for me.
What advice do you have for others who want to volunteer on the Board of a charity like METRO?
I think it’s for somebody who wants to stretch themselves and to develop an understanding of what’s going on and different issues but also to learn new things. You have to be prepared to have a lot of input to keep on top of the papers and the communications that come out, and if you have the bandwidth for that it’s hugely rewarding.
You have to have a passion for the organisation you volunteer for and certainly that’s what I get out of METRO. I would say that if your heart’s there, you have something to offer. We need people who just really care, actually.