Simon is one of nine volunteers that make up our Board of Trustees.
Making a difference, that’s the key reward.
Why did you choose to volunteer with METRO?
I like everything that METRO stands for; I believe very much in equality and diversity, and I like the fact that METRO spans so much. I’ve lived in Greenwich for over 20 years so I know the borough very well. I thought, I can bring quite a lot of things to the role of Trustee.
Volunteering is great but you’ve got to know that what you do will make a difference; there’s no point otherwise. I think I make a bit of a difference being on the Board of METRO because I’ve got over 30 years’ experience in the NHS. I’ve been a senior manager for some time; I work on strategy and planning. I know a lot about money and budgets so after being a volunteer for about six months, I was very nicely strong-armed by Greg (CEO) and Gwen (Chair) to be the Treasurer as well as being a general Board member.
I like to be able to contribute to thinking and general long-term planning for the charity. Thinking about where we’re going to be in one year; two years; five years; ten years, but also being able to contribute in terms of financial planning and how the money works and ensuring that the charity is on a very safe footing going forward.
Can you tell me more about what your role involves, typically?
Well, it’s two roles in a sense. The Treasurer role, in a typical month I get a report from the Finance Team, and I make sure that I understand it and can communicate that to the Board. I have to say, they’re very good; it’s very sensible. I ask a few questions and I think what others on the BoT might ask so that I’m prepared to answer those questions. I also think about: What does that mean? And, what does that mean for the longer term, such as the organisation’s reserves and the implications of that. Obviously, we’ve got challenging times at the moment.
I also Chair the Finance Sub-Committee and as Treasurer I also have to sign things and do stuff like that.
In terms of the overall Board role, it’s thinking about the future and in the longer term about what our volunteers are feeling and the different people we provide services to and how it all fits together and makes a unified whole.
One of the great things about METRO is bringing all of these diverse bits together; it’s almost like a knitted jumper of detached bits and the sum of the whole is much greater than the parts. One of the things we have been struggling with as an organisation is thinking about expansion – people get in touch with a charity that’s successful like METRO: Could we be part of it? We have to be sustainable, so one of the things the Board’s been looking at is when we say, "That’s enough for the moment. We need to consolidate", which is what we agreed after the merger with Voluntary Action Lewisham in March this year. The Lewisham issues were very important so we wanted to take that on.
So, at a Board meeting, we think and we cogitate and we debate. We don’t argue but we do debate quite hotly about what might be the right direction. The Board’s fairly diverse and we do have people who have knowledge of all their different bits of METRO, and the history of METRO. Also, making sure that the Senior Management Team and the Chair have our support, and that we are able to constructively challenge and manage things with them.
How has your experience of the COVID-19 pandemic been?
These have been very strange times. As I work in the NHS in quite a senior role, at one point it felt like I was working 24 hours on COVID-19. I’ve been Gold Commander in the NHS North-East London STP that I'm employed by, and in those early days I was there on the second weekend and I have to say that some of the things I had to do and make decisions on were quite hard.
We were making decisions on which patients you could move where and trying to think about the right thing to do. Not trying to worry about the money but nevertheless trying to keep it fairly sensible. So a lot of the COVID-19 stuff has been brought home to me by the direct experience I’ve had and working with lots of doctors.
I run the Ethics Committee for North-East London and we’ve had quite difficult but really positive discussions about things like end-of-life care. We were worrying about rationing of resources. It’s not been anywhere near as bad as we feared it might be because we managed to have not as much of a peak but it’s also been good to see things change. We’ve been wittering on in the NHS about electronic appointments and interviews and working from home much more but we weren’t really getting on with it. In most areas it’s just happened overnight.
I’ve been involved in quite a lot of those things myself. I wrote the long-term plan response for north-east London and a whole swathe of that we delivered in days. Why the hell couldn’t we have done that before? We’ve got to make sure we keep that because that’s better for people.
It has also been quite a challenging time for home-schooling. I co-parent so I don’t have my daughter all the time but I have her for half a week. While she’s 10 and clever and all those things, it brings its own challenges. Home-schooling while you are trying to do work is not terribly easy even if your child is slightly older. One of the problems I have is that she’s been finishing her whole day’s schoolwork in an hour and a half. The whole day’s work! “I’m bored, Daddy.” And I’m in the middle of a whole series of Teams meetings. Trying to manage that, it helps one manage personal priorities and things that are important to you. It’s been quite an intense time.
Has the pandemic and lockdown shaped your thoughts about METRO’s needs?
I think it’s been quite a challenging time for the communities we serve and we know that particularly BAME people [are disproportionately affected] but also LGBTQ+ people have been more affected profoundly by this epidemic than other communities - not that other people haven’t been affected. We had an Ethics Committee session recently about the BAME issues and quite a lot of our community in Greenwich would fit into that but actually there are considerable issues for all the diverse communities we cover, particularly as we reach out to a lot of the disadvantaged communities. I’ve been very encouraged by how Greenwich Council have approached it. I’ve been able to compare that to the response in North-East London which has been pretty good where I work but not everywhere has responded quite as well and I think it’s helped us remember why we do all this.
It’s been very sad that we lost one of our staff members, [Ian Johnson; former Counselling Supervisor] and that was very sobering for us as a Board. This isn’t the first epidemic. For those of us who went through the other epidemic, the AIDS epidemic, I think it’s also brought quite a lot of that back too and that’s been quite hard.
This time it’s affecting everyone so there isn’t all that horrible prejudice and discrimination but people’s behaviour can be quite odd. I’m very pleased about how we’ve responded overall to the epidemic in the NHS and also in the charity sector. But you do think back to way back when. I’ve found that surprisingly challenging. In the AIDS epidemic, we felt on our own, frankly. And you remember some of that, and that all bubbled up in my head again. And when you’re stuck in your house for several days because you’re not meant to go out very much – I'm only going into work when I’m on Gold Command – it can be quite sobering. I’m thinking a lot of the older lesbians and gay men who, we all felt enormously about the epidemic and we did lots of things. They were very hard times.
As we come out of this epidemic, mental health is going to absolutely be to the fore and it is for a lot of people now. We’re going to have to respond to that and we’re also going to have to respond to a different climate afterwards for funding. I don’t quite know what that climate will look like at the moment but it’s not looking terribly bright. We’re receiving information in the NHS: ‘You had all that money for COVID-19, just as an emergency but make sure you don’t spend anymore now.‘ We’re being effectively told that the staff, all these people we have been clapping for every week are unlikely to get a wage rise for the next few years.
I expect the same problem will be there in terms of public funds and our reliance on them as a charity so we’re going to have to think about that. A lot of the people we have relied on as volunteers have been disproportionately affected by those cuts and that austerity too so I’m thinking we’re going to be in for some really hard times after all of this, and I worry about that.
We’ve got a wonderful organisation with great people; we will get through. I’m absolutely convinced we’ll get through.
Do you have a highlight of your time volunteering at METRO?
I think for me the highlight so far has been the wonderful celebration of Our History and the evening we had. It brought a lot of memories back and I met people I hadn’t seen for years, and reminded me of why we do what we do and what a difference we’re able to make and for me that’s the whole point of doing what I do as a discrete and dull money thing, I want to make sure that even what I do makes a massive difference and it reminded me of the difference that METRO has made over more than 30 years. I’m very proud to be associated and to be part of that. METRO is a really positive force for good, particularly in Greenwich and I’m very pleased that METRO is the new Mayor of Greenwich’s nominated charity. So I think we’re well placed to continue making a difference but I think we’ll make a difference to an even wider section of the community than we have done in the past, which is great.
What would you say to someone who was considering becoming a volunteer in the role that you have in METRO?
My advice would be: Don’t take on too much!
Set yourself some realistic targets and expectations and think about what you might want to achieve and think about how what you’re doing is making a difference. If you’re thinking about volunteering, think about how your skills can make a difference. All types of volunteering are really valuable but we have to volunteer where our skills are. Play to your skills and do something that gives you some kind of reward. And the reward is making a difference. That’s the key reward.
Take a look at our current volunteering opportunities.
Simon also contributed an oral history testimony to METRO’s Our History project, in particular concerning his personal experience and voluntary work during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. You can listen to an excerpt or find the full version at the Bishopsgate Institute Library.