The Board of Trustees: an invisible team at HARP!
In our latest guest blog, Jo Prestidge, one of HARP’s trustees, shares information about the role of trustees and her experience of being one.
Although I have worked in charities for over 15 years, I didn’t really understand what a board of trustees did until I became part of one. My first experience was with Expert Citizens in Stoke-on-Trent, a Community Interest Company built by and for people with lived experience of multiple disadvantage. It was an amazing organisation which helped me to understand the true meaning of co-production. But when I moved to Southend and was invited to join the board of HARP, I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to get to know the local homelessness context and people in Southend’s community. I became a trustee of HARP in 2019.
Under the Charity Act (2011), the ‘general control and management of the administration of a charity’ sits with a group of volunteers known as trustees. Trustees support the CEO and have several responsibilities including ensuring the organisation is carrying out its intended purpose, that it complies with, and is accountable to, the law and other requirements, and that resources are used appropriately. Trustees must act in HARP’s best interests, using their knowledge and skills with care and thought.
Trustees are often appointed because they contribute certain knowledge, skills or experience that will support the leading and managing of the charity. HARP’s trustees include those with financial and legal expertise as well as those who have knowledge and connections that are beneficial to HARP. For example, Dr Haroon Siddiqui is a trustee who is also a local GP. He has been on the board for many years supporting the development of the homelessness-healthcare initiative and championing access to COVID-19 vaccines for HARP’s clients and staff. I was invited to be on the board because I work for Homeless Link, the membership organisation for homelessness charities in England. My role there means I’m aware of emerging evidence and best practice from across the country which I can contribute to shape HARP’s services.
HARP’s board of trustees meet as a full group every three months and these meetings are led by the chair of the board, Michael Raffan. Ahead of each meeting, we’re sent quite a lot of papers to read including a CEO report, finance documents, and updates about property development, fundraising, staffing and services. We often have to ‘approve’ suggested actions made by the leadership team - such as taking a bank loan, awarding pay rises and setting up new initiatives.
Along with the main trustee meeting, there are a series of sub-committees which different trustees chair and participate in. These allow more detailed focus on different elements of the organisation. I sit on the Personnel and Services sub-committee because I thought this was where my knowledge could be best utilised. But there are also sub-committees focussed on finance, fundraising, property and governance. Each of these meetings, including the main board meeting, are attended by HARP’s executive leadership team. We work closely together to keep HARP on track.
Some trustees have been around much longer than I have, including from before HARP existed! Two of these, Peter and Mac, were recently described as ‘the guardians of the soul of HARP’ and I think that’s exactly what they, and to some extent the whole board, does. We make sure that every decision made about how the organisation is run and what direction it goes in is made in the spirit and best interests of the people HARP is there to serve – the local people experiencing or at risk of homelessness who are our clients.
Being a trustee of HARP is an absolute pleasure. Not only because my fellow trustees show such commitment and care for HARP and its people, but because we also have opportunities to hear from, and connect with, service managers and other staff about their work.
As the people ultimately responsible for the organisation we have nothing but gratitude, and pride, for what the staff do every day. We look forward to continuing to work with staff, volunteers and local HARP supporters, to tackle homelessness in Southend.
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If you're interested in volunteering at HARP, find out more here.