Giving time can mean so much

It’s volunteer week, yay!
A chance to shout about people who give their time and expertise to help charities and public services across the country.

In my time I’ve busked on street corners for HIV awareness, danced for famine relief, been a school governor and a trustee for a few charities. All different things, that I enjoyed and more importantly, supported organisations and causes I believed in.

In all the places I’ve worked I’ve seen the passion, dedication and value that volunteers add. At Leeds Women’s Aid, I was always humbled by women who came to train and volunteer on our domestic violence helpline, often having experienced such violence themselves. Rather than trying to forget they wanted to give back to the organisation that helped them and support women trapped in a place they had once been themselves.

Within Women’s Lives Leeds, women and girls from across the city are giving their time to ensure that the project really delivers for some of the most vulnerable women in our city.

And here, at Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice . Many of our volunteers have family and friends who have been cared for at the hospice. But instead of trying g to forget about us and their grief, they come back time and time again, to help us do what we did for their loved ones.

The man who maintains the fish tank on our in-patient, the people who serve food and do the washing up and the many volunteers who give their time to make events such as Yorkshire Women of Achievement such a success. Many of our staff even give extra time to volunteer in different areas of the hospice.

I truly salute you. It’s because of you we can do what we do.

If you’ve ever thought about volunteering but don’t know what you could do, there will be something, I promise! Please do contact your local volunteering centre or call the charities you support, without you our services really are not the same.

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A man just brought us rhubarb and other stories: The things that keep you going to work every day.

I’ve been here at Sue Ryder Wheatfields Hospice for a month now. It’s a big change for me and certainly not boring. What has impacted on me so far is the commitment and care: from the nursing, support, fundraising and medical staff who put individuals at the heart of everything they do, to the volunteers who give their time to wash-up, sort donations and answer the phone. To the lovely man who just brought some rhubarb from his garden for the chef to use.

What aligns all of these people is that our hospice is part of them, if they have something to give, be it time, energy, money or rhubarb- they think of Sue Ryder Wheatfields.

I love that, I love that others care so much, it makes me incredibly proud to be here.

I’ve had a great week. On Wednesday I went to the first Women’s Lives Leeds Forum. 70 women from varying backgrounds coming together to prioritise issues for women and girls across our city. I’m really very excited about the work we are going to do, and still can’t quite believe I get to be the Chairwoman😊

And here at Sue Ryder, staff have been compiling all the nominees for the Yorkshire Women of Achievemnt Awards for the judging panel, I know they are going to have a difficult job. There are so many women doing amazing things across our region.

I’m looking forward to a restful weekend, but who can blame me for looking forward to Monday!

Handling the move and letting go

I’m changing jobs in a few weeks time and it doesn’t quite seem real. I’ve been here at LWA for over six years, leading an organisation I truly love. The staff never cease to humble me with their dedication and skill, the service users demonstrate on a daily basis their strength and bravery, and I am lucky to work with brilliant partners both locally and nationally.

Working with women experiencing domestic violence is something I have wanted to do pretty much since the first day of my women’s studies degree. It took me a while to get there and I never would have dreamed that I would be the CEO of such an organisation. So, I have to admit to questioning myself is the small hours. Why am I leaving? Is it the right decision?

For me it is the right thing to do. We should never stop having dreams. I have wanted to work in palliative care since my mum died when I was ten years old. More recent experiences of both excellent and indifferent care for terminally ill relatives reignited that desire. So again, I am lucky and privileged to be taking a role as Director of Sue Ryder Wheatfields hospice in Leeds. It’s another dream, another challenge, another part of the charity world for me to immerse myself in.

I know that someone brilliant will take my place here at LWA. Someone who thinks differently to me, who can do things I can’t (not covering the office in blue tac would be a great start) and who can lead the organisation through its next phase.

I feel strongly connected to LWA, it will always be important to me and I hope to remain involved in the future. I’m still a feminist, still believe that violence against women and girls is a vital issue requiring intensive campaigning and adequately funded services, and I am massively proud of some of the groundbreaking work we’ve undertaken in my time here such as opening an independently funded refuge and developing th Women’s Lives Leeds consortium with our partners.

I’m going to have to let go, but I’m here for a few more weeks so not just yet!

Being a working mum is not easy: You have to be willing to screw up at every level (Jami Gertz)

When I first returned to work six months after my twins were born, a wise colleague said to me ‘welcome to having it all!’, the accompanying eye roll spoke volumes.

We often see on forums such as Mumsnet and across social media, the guilt. Mums are guilty because they can’t attend every nursery or school event, sometimes miss bedtime and even first words. Initially I felt all of those things. I am constantly tired as the children don’t sleep through. I run around in the morning attempting intricate hairstyles while singing along to Postman Pat and I arrive at work feeling the day should nearly be over.

But, here’s the thing, in the last two years I’ve achieved more at work than ever before. I’ve been reflecting on this, being a parent doesn’t make you a better person, to think that is an insult to those without children. Being a parent doesn’t offer you an insight into the world you didn’t have before. Being a parent is both a blessing and very hard work but it doesn’t make you a special snowflake!

I’ve realised that for me it comes down to two things- We lost a baby in 2012 and having the twins was a big part of the healing process, and, I’m just too tired to waste time!

Everyone doesn’t have to experience loss and have twins to change their approach, so what is the approach?

 Don’t dither, do. Sometimes we spend so long thinking about possibilities we miss the opportunity to make them happen. Evaluate, risk assess, discuss with decision makers and set about making it happen.

Believe you are good enough. Don’t question your abilities, you know you are capable, you aren’t an imposter, get on with it!

 Share the load, share the glory. Give your colleagues the chance to shine and take a lead. You don’t have to do everything yourself and they deserve the opportunity to take the limelight. A healthy team is one where everyone knows their worth.

Do a job you love. Not everyone is so lucky, and we all have times when we don’t enjoy work, or have to take any work we can to make ends meet. But, try to find a thing you love about it. Particularly in the voluntary sector – be motivated by your cause and take time to remember why you do what you do.

Having it all is hard work, it doesn’t mean you can’t!

Peer Support isn’t just about service delivery

After another hard few months of trying to juggle priorities – competing work issues and a busy family life, I’ve been thinking again about how important it is for charity leaders to get the right support.

This week I was lucky enough to be given a charity place at the Bird Board Summer lunch. It was really refreshing to see over 100 women who run their own businesses come together to show their support for each other. In smaller groups they work together, pooling their knowledge to problem solve in a safe but structured environment.

I think its something we need more of in our sector. If you are lucky like me you’ll have a supportive board and staff team and there is some excellent capacity building, networking and training out there from membership organisations such as ACEVO, and charitable foundations like the Cranfield Trust.

But we also need the ability to be able to speak to others with similar experiences about specific issues which are often time critical. And, we need to be able to do that without feeling we are showing weakness to potential competitors.

I’ve been really lucky over the last few years. A long standing partnership with two other organisations has brought the added bonus of two experienced and supportive colleagues who have been generous in sharing their knowledge and advice. Over the last year, the development of the Women’s Lives Leeds partnership has expanded that support. Twelve brilliant women prepared to share and advise, sympathise and empathise, and just as importantly, celebrate each others’ successes.

I think that sometimes the smaller the charity, the harder it can be to access this kind of peer support. Leaders of smaller charities are often tied up in internal issues, Jacquies of all trades, sometimes delivering direct support to service users. It’s difficult for them to find the time to network and make links with their local counterparts.

I don’t have the answer to this but I do think that acknowledging that its lonely at the top is a start. It doesn’t matter if your turnover is £50k or £50 million the responsibility lies with you and sometimes that responsibility weighs very heavily. As charities we have a duty to spend public money wisely and with accountability, we must always put our service users or beneficiaries at the heart of what we do and we must never lose the value base from which we operate.

Change is such hard work

If you work in the voluntary sector, you’re sure to see ‘Change Management’ as an essential skill in any senior role these days. But how do you quantify such a skill in in a sector where the change has become constant?

Those of us who have been in the charity world a while will be used to the three year cycle of ‘review, restructure, rest’. In bigger charities sometimes one of the larger consultancies would be brought in, in smaller ones a change of leadership could trigger the process.

These days, and particularly for smaller charities, the change cycle has become constant. The short-termism of many funding streams, changing requirements of public sector commissioning and difficulty in raising core costs means that part or all of our organisations’ are in a state of uncertainty most of the time.

This is the new way of being. So how do we keep on keeping on? How do we keep our staff motivated and performing? How do we ensure that we continue to deliver high quality services? And, how do we manage the stress ourselves?

It seems to always be the answer but to me communication has to be the key. Staff need to know what is going on, and if there is information you cant share with them, its best to be open and tell them you don’t know or cant tell them. If staff feel kept in the dark it grows resentment, concern and potentially the spread of completely wrong information borne out of supposition and lack of information.

A couple of weeks ago I told my team to take their time to catch their breath over the summer because come the autumn more change is coming. They have known this for ages but sometimes everyone needs permission to take a minute. This change will come on top of a year where they have all coped admirably with smaller changes, the end of one project and start of another, a new group of volunteers, changes to policies and procedures.

And me? I’ve benefited greatly from the support of a strong Board, but also my counterparts in other organisations. Talking to someone with similar experiences, who really understands makes a massive difference.

It doesn’t matter what the change is, in my opinion expansion can be more tricky and potential damaging than contraction if not managed well.

There is some great writing and training out there on change management from organisations like Clore Social Leadership and NPC. My advice is, take all the support you can get and it will help you better support others.

Comrades, Competitors or both?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about partnership. As the leader of a small charity it’s easy to feel isolated, lost in the mire of funding bids and contracts, policies and procedures. All any of us are doing is trying to ensure we can provide the support and services needed for those we were established to help. We are often bidding for the same pots of funding as other organisations we work with and it’s easy to develop a feeling of ‘them and us’ as we fight for the survival of our work.Over the last year I’ve worked closely with the leaders of twelve other organisations to develop a partnership and project that will not only see us as women’s charities working better together, but will give a voice and direct support to women and girls across our city. Women’s Lives Leeds is innovative in that it brings together a broad spectrum of women and girls organisations, each with their own identity, specialist knowledge and track record, and enables us to work together to make a difference.

Developing new partnerships is never easy. We all have competing priorities, high workloads and a low tolerance for wasted time! This time last year some of us didn’t know each other at all while others were already working closely together. Each woman has committed her time, energy, enthusiasm and expertise to develop a partnership that I really believe will make a difference to our city. 

I’m as proud of the partnership as I am of anything I’ve ever been involved in. We will all still be looking for funding and developing our individual organisations but by working together we have developed something great. There’s a buzz in the city, we are going to make a difference, all any charity leader can ask for.