1 ‘Where is your carer?’ Service provision with disabled people

Reflecting on recent experiences, the following blog makes some suggestions about how to work effectively with disabled people.  I say with deliberately, as above all in order to be effective, any service provided for disabled people must be provided in collaboration with them.  In this day and age, it is not acceptable for disabled people to be ‘done to’ as merely passive recipients of a service over which they have no say, choice or control.  This blog is intended to help service providers in all manner of social care settings and beyond.

In this blog, I’ve focussed more on the principles of service provision rather than specific nuts and bolts, but will happily expand if asked to do so.  Feel free to get in touch if you have a particular question.

What not to do

  • Make Assumptions – the first and probably most fundamental thing that is needed is to engage with someone without having made your mind up first.  In a spectacular example, a hospital consultant was shocked to find Fran attending a medical appointment on her own and asked where her carer was!  As someone with a first class degree (which is better than mine, as she often reminds me!) she was both shocked and offended.  Don’t assume.  Get to know the person.

 

  • Have values and then don’t live up to them – The values of the organisation you are engaging with are key.  They set expectations and should establish the tone.  When I looked up the values for the wheelchair service we are dealing with they were listed as “care, innovation and compassion with fun.”  I did a double take and wondered if this was ironic – as the experience to date has been the precise opposite in every sense.  What is the point of having values when you don’t live up to them?  At best it is unhelpful, at worst it looks cynical and destroys trust.

 

  • Be inaccessible – This one works on lots of different levels including a) Physically – If I can’t get into your service then I won’t be able to use it b) Practically – life is busy so when providing a service for busy people doing things like giving all day appointment windows is not helpful in the least c) in terms of quality assurance – so many services have complaints procedures that are difficult to engage with and providers miss out on valuable feedback as a result.

 

What to do

  • Listen – Listen to what your customers tell you.  If you do that and work with them, this will go a long way to ensuring that a service is provided that a) meets the needs of the needs of the customer and b) leaves them satisfied with the result so chances are that c) they will have faith in what you do and how you do it. In so many instances, this basic act of listening doesn’t happen and I find this mystifying, especially when people wonder why the outcome or service provided hasn’t met the mark.

 

  • Learn – Be prepared to learn with your customers and do things differently.  This may entail doing things a bit differently on both parts and learning as you both go – but through the act of working together and learning from each other, both provider and customer will be better off as a result.  Most importantly is learning where things have gone wrong and how to make them better.  Generally, unless we’re talking utter gross negligence, its ok to make mistakes in order that things are done better next time.

 

  • Have flexibility – I love a good process and set of rules as much as the next person, but sometimes those rules need to be adopted for good reason.  A recent example is Fran’s wheelchair, where the cost of adapting the house and the time spent with professionals to date as a result has cost more than what was being asked for (with good reason) with little progress made.  With flexibility (and dare I say it, common sense!) there can often be better outcomes achieved in a more efficient way.

 

With a bit of thought, providing a good service for disabled people is totally doable and there are loads of examples of good practice out there.  An example of this is The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.  Fran and I have been there on two occasions for the Snooker World Championships.  Here the staff are engaging, polite and well trained.  They talk with you and are helpful, without being patronising or intrusive.  The facilities are good and designed with thought for the needs of disabled customers.  As a result, we’re eagerly anticipating our third visit already.

The moral of the story? Provide a good service with care and thought and everybody wins.

 

2 The War Behind the Door

Hello.  It has been a while since I last wrote.  Apologies for my apparent neglect dear reader.  Life has taken over in lots of ways, thankfully a lot of them positive.

This morning I was lucky enough to be asked to appear on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire to talk about a piece of research by Scope which highlighted discrimination that disabled people face at football grounds.  This is something which I can relate to having unfortunately had previous experience of this, which thankfully, for me at least is very rare.  I was asked about the impact of such discrimination and this made me think about experiences that both Fran and I have had of late.

Fran’s on going battle to get a suitable wheelchair made me think that sometimes just getting out of the door is an achievement.  This is especially the case given widely cited figures that 900 people are losing their Motability cars each week thanks to government welfare reforms.  Add in to the mix the state of social care and that people can often not receive the care they need to have even the most basic levels of dignity day to day and you begin to understand that, whilst a home may be a castle, it may also actually be a prison.

The experience of negotiating with several healthcare professionals to try and make them understand the fundamental importance of having a suitable wheelchair for Fran has been a real eye opener.  It requires a crates worth of stubbornness just to be heard sometimes, let alone to make any progress.  I wonder how many people who lack the means or allies to have a voice are left.

Life happens too.  This week I’ve had a virus which, unusually, kept me away from work sick on Monday. The less than helpful response of my body was to make walking, no mean feat at the best of times, a virtual impossibility.  I hate days like Monday.  Sometimes your body just says no, and sometimes, just sometimes, I have to reluctantly admit defeat for the day.

My point?  That every day there are often silent battles going on for people just to keep their heads above water and get out of the door.  We need to find ways of making that everyday contest easier.  Each time I leave my house, I take a deep breath and vow to live the day to the fullest.  If you ever wonder why you don’t see people day in day out, it might just be because of their own war behind the door.

Thanks to Scope for setting in motion a train of thought.  I hope we can focus on solutions to make society a more accessible and welcoming place for everyone.

2 Getting a wheelchair that is fit for purpose: Mission impossible?

Fran’s wheelchair is quite literally the centre of her world.  Without it she would be unable to get out of bed, go to the toilet, leave the house and do her job…it is her passport to the world.  Because it is used every day, from time to time, it needs replacing.  To do this, we have to go through an assessment process.  It is this process that will be the subject of that blog.

To say that the process of assessment is both flawed and not fit for purpose would be a monumental understatement based on our experience.  Unfortunately, it strikes me as a process that is designed about disabled people rather than for and with them.  Therein lies the source of so many problems.  You wouldn’t design any other business or process without understanding the needs of the people who are going to use it, so i’m scratching my head as to why that is so different here.  It would be like designing a car without a steering wheel.  It might look very nice, but there is no way it is going to work.

So this process began when we made a phonecall, explaining that after years of hard work, Fran’s wheelchair was beyond the end of its useful life (a fact illustrated by the wheels being so bare that the brakes don’t even work, meaning Fran had a fall this weekend) and she needed a reassessment.  For reasons unknown, Fran’s GP, who doesn’t even know Fran, was asked to complete a form and did so on the basis of a short phonecall.

Fast forward a few weeks (!) and we get a knock on the door.  A chair had arrived that was totally unsuitable for Fran and her needs.  I couldn’t believe it, Fran had been given a wheelchair without anyone from the wheelchair service actually seeing Fran.  It was an approach that Henry Ford would have been proud of: You can have any wheelchair you want as long as its the one we give you.  Try doing that with your next car and see what happens when you ask someone to pick it for you.

Fran returned the unsuitable wheelchair, not wanting to waste resources on something that she couldn’t use.  A few more weeks roll by and I hear nothing.  I telephone the service and am informed that the case has been closed.  That was it.  No notification. Just closed.  So I explain why, saying that by this point the unsuitable wheelchair is causing Fran continuous pain and discomfort and that, perhaps, just perhaps, someone actually needs to take the radical step of *talking* with Fran and assessing her needs.

Fast forward another 3 weeks (the wheelchair is literally falling apart now) and someone actually comes to see Fran and talk with her.  Because of her busy working life, Fran needs a robust wheelchair which will last longer and be better value for money as a result.  She also needs her ‘e-motion’ wheels.  These wheels have revolutionised Fran’s life.  During Fran’s sporting career she sustained a shoulder injury which has worsened over time.  The wheels have motors in them which means that Fran can get around independently.

Fran is told that she is unlikely to get these wheels but explains why they are needed, as without them, the wheelchair is effectively useless.  She doesn’t have the strength or stamina to push herself around without the wheels.  A report is written, and then goes to a ‘clinical decision meeting’ without any further input from Fran.  She doesn’t even see the final report.  She just waits and hopes that common sense prevails.

I get a call today.  The wheelchair has been approved, but not the wheels.  Why, I ask?  Oh this was a ‘clinical decision’ and is ‘policy.’ The letter I asked for a copy of says that the policy is that ‘e-motion assisted hand rims systems are not funded’ because the service eligibility states so.  When I ask what the reason for this was, I am told it is because the policy says so.  No further reasoning is given.  I will have to try and submit a freedom of information request to shed further light on the meeting minutes.

Here’s the rub: had the policy actually been written with a) any common sense element of discretion for exceptional cases such as this or b) any understanding of the needs of wheelchair uses and Fran in particular in this instance, then it wouldn’t be formulated in such a way.  So what is the alternative?

Here is where the picture gets really bizarre. As Fran can’t have her e-motion wheels, she will have to have..an electric chair.  The thing about an electric chair in this instance is that:

  • It gives Fran less independence
  • It will cost more than the e-motion wheels!!!
  • It won’t fit in our house
  • Fran’s car (which is specially adapted for her current chair) will need to be changed

 

What all of this means is that we are working towards an outcome that is poor, and costs more!!  Why then, can’t we compromise and have common sense prevail with the e-motion wheels. The policy says that this is the way things have to be.

Here’s another thing.  I am lucky, because, plainly put, I can argue the toss.  I am fortunate in that I have the ability to articulate when things aren’t right and try to make them better.  Part of the reason I do this is that I know that this isn’t the case for everyone.

I am also fortunate in that I have contacts, and have engaged several people locally who will help us to ensure that common sense prevails here.  I will also be complaining about the process, which isn’t fit for purpose and denies people access to the equipment that is the passport to their worlds.

Fran needs her wheels so she can get out of the house, to work and contribute to society.  To do her bit.  She just needs a bit of help, a bit of common sense, and above all, people to listen to her a bit more in the first place.  Let’s hope a bit more of that happens from here.

Ps – For professionals

If you are reading this..it is a good example of how not to run a service.  It is delivered in a way that is a prime example of the medical model..with no shred of mitigation in the form of any social model driven thinking.  It delivers poor outcomes in an expensive way (it has an appalling reputation locally), is not responsive to feedback or input and does not involve the service user in any way.  If you are designing or commissioning a service, it represents a text book example of what to avoid.

1 The Hardest decision ever? Approaching parenthood with an impairment

So here we are again.  I’d like to start this blog by paying tribute to a family member we’ve lost over the last few days.  One of the many pleasures I have had in being with Fran is getting to know her side of the family.  I’ve gained a fantastic mother in law and two brilliant brother in laws too.  Fran’s extended family is a great bunch too.  Uncle Bob was a great man.  Kind and gentle, he was also one of Fran’s biggest fans.  It was his work that led to Fran getting awarded a fellowship by her hometown university in Sunderland.  I will never forget the look of pride on his face that day.  Rest in peace you brilliant man.

It is partly the events of the last few days that have set me thinking about arguably the hardest call I’ve ever had to make: To try and become a parent with Fran or not.  I’ve previously referred to the fact that I am broody and daunted – and this very much continues to be the case.  Trouble is, I can’t decide what, if anything to do about it and am torn.  I have written list after list, I have talked what seems like endlessly with Fran and my family about it and yet still here we are.  Time ticks on, and will eventually make the decision for us.

It feels like a case of acting in the near future or forever holding my peace.  Whenever I think about it though, excitement and fear grips me in equal measure.  In writing this blog, I’ve spoken with my Sister, who has taken to motherhood like a duck to water and has bought endless joy to all of our lives in the form of our Niece, Lucy (hi Lucy!!).  So I have experienced the love and happiness she has bought, but I have also seen the chaos too.

Fran and I are lucky in that we are used to negotiating challenges and quite literally defying the odds.  That said, having a child would be a real practical challenge.  I say practical challenge as I know we could offer an environment full of love, support and nurturing where our little one could flourish.  What about the practical stuff though.  Could we even have kids.  What about social services?  How would we deal with the challenges from people who felt that we shouldn’t be having kids at all.  Will these challenges even exist, or am I making them up in my head.  These are just a few of the thoughts that run through my mind whenever I think about this.

That said, I know we would be great parents.  I just know. We have such a lot to offer, and pass on and I hope that it would be one of the best things we would ever do, if we were lucky enough to have the chance.  I also know that this decision is daunting for anyone, let alone where impairment related issues can throw a few extra curve balls into the mix.  It is done though, and there are lots of fantastic disabled parents out there who have shown that all of this is possible…and if that is you, I salute you.

Still there is the fear.  The what ifs.  Maybe all of this thinking just means I am prepared for the challenges that might lie ahead.  Two things stand out above all.  1. I know we have a shedload to offer (many people comment how the child will have a tough act to follow..one parent is a world champion, and the other…well..he just has lots of pieces of paper…!!:)) and 2. I don’t want this to be the only thing that we’ve not done because our impairment has posed a barrier.  I have come 34 years without that problem, and I don’t want it to start now.

I hope you don’t mind me thinking out loud, dear reader.  This is the hardest call I’ve ever had to make after all.

Personalisation: The Illusion of Choice?

Dear Reader,

I’m aware my blogs may seem a little melancholic of late.  Rest assured, I have the ‘Get Home Happy!’ playlist on Spotify in full flow as I write this.  I’ll refrain from swearing at this early juncture, but recent reflections and experiences have shown me how profoundly difficult life can be for disabled people.  I raised my eyebrows when I received my council tax breakdown today, and my statement showed that my local council had allocated a grand total of £41.04 to address the frankly calamitous state of social care.  That won’t even touch the sides.

So we have the suitably austere backdrop painted out nicely.  If this was a holiday, we’d certainly not be getting 5 stars on trip advisor, and it would almost certainly be raining with stormy skies ahead.  Your protective umbrella would have already blown out too.

I’ll give you some context to this blog.  The theory behind personalisation is fantastic.  It is designed to cut out the middle man and give disabled people the ability to decide how money is spent for meeting their own needs.  The Department of health defines personalisation in the following terms “every person who receives support, whether provided by statutory services or funded by themselves, will have choice and control over the shape of that support in all care settings.”

Choice and control.  Empowered to exercise ones own judgement.  All seems good in theory.  What about in practice?

Not so fast..the lived experience of this disabled person is the ‘choice and control’ exists in name only.  Worse, you are given the responsibility for administering this as social services just don’t have the resources to do this now..So how is personalisation operating in practice?

My latest joyful experience has involved helping trying to get Fran’s wheelchair replaced. Where was the choice?  There wasnt one, not a real one.  You use the designated provider, or you fund it yourself. Brilliant.  A wheelchair is one of the most important things that exists in the life of a person who needs one.  In cases of people who use them full time, they are as good as your legs and the only means you have to get around.  You can spend as much as 12-16 hours a day in one, 7 days a week.  Having one that meets your needs is vital.

The private sector provider of the service locally (which has a notoriously awful reputation, despite ‘improving’) has taken about 6 months to even assess Fran and we’re still waiting.  The range of wheelchairs Fran is allowed to have is very limited (again, no genuine choice here) and its either that or nothing.  It’s another example of a great idea being hacked apart and bought into disrepute by people who have no empathy, understanding or frankly clue about how to meet the needs of disabled people.

Add to this the restrictions on how the pot of money that personalisation can be used for being increasingly and ever more tightened and the picture of choice being an illusion becomes all the more graphic.  What a sad way to treat a brilliant idea.  Disabled people are again given the short straw as a result. Not even the ‘get home happy’ playlist can do anything to address that.

Every Day Disability Hardship and the glass ceiling

Today I write on the topic of every day disability hardship.  Across my life I have noticed a kind of paradox of late.  It is a kind of impairment based glass ceiling.  On the one hand, life seems to be more accessible than ever before.  The opportunities are greater, technology helps to make things easier, employment more flexible.  The possibilities are there.

Scratch the surface though and you’ll see people hitting the glass ceiling every day.  Just in my life of late, I know three people who have been adversely impacted by the continuing cuts that are having a debilitating impact on the lives of disabled people. Thankfully we are emerging from winter, a time which can be harder for many people as the cold exacerbates their impairment(s).

In each of these cases, people had their cars or other means of transport taken away from them.  These are people who already buck the trend in holding down jobs.  In order to get to their jobs they need reliable, accessible transport.  The impact of their transport being removed is that they can’t get to work.  They can’t get to work so they can’t pay their taxes and make a valuable contribution to society in numerous other ways.  These are people with specialist skills and abilities whose capacity to use their lived experience of disability in conjunction with the technical expertise they have makes them priceless assets in their respective fields.

I really loathe this analogy, but it feels like there is a war going on for disabled people.  A war where they have to fight to do the everyday things on the one hand, and are being compelled to have to justify the help they need to live their lives on the other.  Even more depressing, it feels like a war that is being lost.  I’ve also been aspirational in referencing employment.  There are those people for whom getting up and out of bed is an achievement.  As i’ve discussed before, Social Care is on its knees so even just doing the everyday basics is a feat in itself.

It saddens me to be this negative.  In my various guises I often hear requests for more time and money to make things happen.  In this instance that would undoubtedly help but I think the issue is an even more fundamental one: Try actually understanding the needs of disabled people, to understand the issues they are facing.  This understanding is something we are light years away from and which is badly needed.  With such an understanding the true impact of this war and the everyday casualties it is taking can at last be understood.

Every day I see people who are just trying to do their best, who want to contribute in all manner of senses, but who are unable to do so.  These people are tenacious, talented people whose resolve is being grounded away by the barrage of issues that face them.  If this is the case for those who have had the stomach for a fight, i’ll leave you to imagine what has happened to those who do not or are no longer able to.

As for me, i’m fired up.  The ceiling is glass which means it will be smashed.  I’ll keep working and writing and winning so I can show that there is a way ahead.  Every day disability hardship won’t count me as a casualty.

Swimming with Dolphins 

As we approach the conclusion of another great holiday here in Cuba, there was one thing left to do: swim with Dolphins.

It has been on my bucket list for a while now but I’d not taken the opportunity on our previous visits. This time, Fran said I would regret it if I didn’t, especially as I was with my parents and it’s the stuff great memories are made of.

There were several things that struck me about the visit and the broader thoughts this led to. First was the majesty of the dolphins we saw, possessing tremendous power and yet moving with such care and grace.

Secondly, there was the emotional intelligence the dolphins had. I had been told before that they would pick up on how I was moving and engage with me in a different way as a result. As a person, I tend to believe things when the evidence demonstrates it is so. 

Sure enough, the dolphins studied me very carefully as I was waiting to enter the water. It was there our connection started. They helped me to interact with them, guided me in the water and didn’t playfully splash me (unlike the rest of our small group!) Seeing, and experiencing, is believing. 

This also reminded me a lot about partnership and the need to carefully learn from each other. This has been something of the theme of the holiday, especially given my previous blog (http://www.disabilityspeaks.com/2017/02/02/the-stare/) and events in America which have left me utterly bemused.

Oh that such dolphin emotional intelligence was a little more abundant. I think we all could do with a bit more of that at times, and if dolphins can do it so can we!

On my visit to Cuba I’ve also been struck by how accommodating the people are and how they will work to make anything possible. This mindset is all the more impressive given the lack of resources here. I’m fairly certain that the understanding of the social model of disability isn’t exactly on the priority list here. 

Yet things just happen, adjustments get made and there needs to be no court cases to ensure this is so. Maybe we should all be a little more Cuban too!

There is also the issue of risk. My dad, despite being a pensioner, had never been in the sea where he couldn’t touch the floor. We could have taken a shallow dolphin visit where we were up to our mid line in the water. We were able to say to my dad though that given we had a life jacket, the deeper dolphin area was worth a calculated risk. He took that risk and was thoroughly rewarded. Often, calculated risks are worth the rewards they bring! 

It could be argued that this words are tinged with the rose tinted nature of holiday spectacles. Perhaps so. Whatever the way I’m looking at things, I’d recommend the experience I had to anyone. Being around dolphins is an experience not to be missed.

1 The stare

This blog arose out of an encounter I had with Fran. A woman stared at Fran for so long I think she mistook it for a life drawing class. This set me thinking about similar encounters we had both experienced and the impact they could have. I hope it proves thought provoking.

Have you ever felt someone looking at you out of the corner of your eye? Forensically they survey you from head to toe, as if struck by the mystery and novelty of what they see. On occasion, they attempt to do so more subtly, quickly glancing up from what they are doing, only to look away and glance back again, a second glimpse to confirm what they have seen.
Imagine it happening every day. Imagine it happening ten times a day. This becomes second nature. The choice of yours then becomes how to react. Do you acknowledge it? Do you ignore it? Do you smile? Do you perhaps strike up a conversation?

Each time you have to make an assessment. It even becomes part of your daily routine. Personally, I now almost accept that to notice difference in any form is part of human nature. The stares become second nature and in all but the most extreme cases, you move on. Over time a subconscious resistance to the stares build up and you manage your awareness of peripheral vision accordingly.

In a different context, each time we pass an accident on the motorway, the phenomenon of rubbernecking can take hold. Motorists slow to survey the scene on the opposing carriageway.Then, the traffic resumes and you continue on your journey. 

At other times though, the stares make an impact on the resistance you have. Like everyone you have a bad day and sometimes you crave annononity. Sometimes someone stares too much, and remarks just that little too loud and it is hurtful. This is especially the case on a night out. I am not drunk before I walk into the pub. 

One exception to this is children, those natural curiosity about the world causes them to ask questions. Innocently they ask what’s happened to you. Often, mortified, the parents usher their children away. 

Personally I think it is the children who have it right. The stares come from a desire to understand the difference they see. I’d rather people ask in the want to increase their understanding, than to not and still wonder. It is natural to want to know more.

In some instances it is different. Every day we have conversations with people who get to know us. That’s the real measure. However forensic the stare, there is no substitute for that.

I’ll try and resist the temptation to get too preachy here..but recent events show the importance of being able to connect with others and understand that which is different.

We can’t simply walk on by and get on with our lives, nor merely ban enquiry about that which may make us feel awkward or threatened (are you listening Mr Trump?)

It is time we moved beyond the stare (and well and truly kicked arbitrary bans into touch!).

The Paradox of being called inspirational 

I bet you thought that because I was on holiday you were safe from blogs for a bit. Far from it…my mind just finds other things to think about. Cuba is lovely and time in the heat reminds me of the value of rest!

Every so often Fran and I get told that we are inspirational. This is something I struggle with a bit. Fran is inspiring..a five time world champion..I get that..but for me I am less sure! I think that everyone is in their own way, it’s just that some ways are more prominent than others.

So the chap that called us inspirational was a great guy. He, his wife and daughter all worked in various ways within the learning disability sector in Canada. So it wasn’t a kind of patronising ‘inspirational’ which was good. This kind of inspirational, well meant as it is, is difficult. You smile and gently challenge, pointing out that we live independently and that is usually enough to make people think.

So why then is being called inspirational a paradox? For me it is because it shows how much work there is to be done whilst at the same time showing a version of what is possible.

The basis on which Fran and I are called inspirational is essentially down to the fact that we get on with life in that we:

-Both work: We’re frequently told by professionals and others that we are the only disabled people they see or know who have jobs. 

-Own our own accessible house: This is probably more down to the shortage of accessible housing than anything else! 

-Go on holidays by ourselves: Through careful research it is possible to find accessible places

So being called inspirational for these things, which I would argue are not particularly remarkable, makes me a bit sad. Shouldn’t everyone with an impairment be able to do these things? The fact that Fran and I are regarded as being exceptional for doing so shows the challenges disabled people can face. These challenges are arguably more profound and stark than ever before given the unprecedented social and personal political landscape we find ourselves in.

According to my mum (we’ve come on holiday with my parents as we’ve raved about our resort!) I under estimate how difficult my own life is. She gives the example of it taking 10 minutes to put my shoes on to illustrate this point! Maybe she makes a good one.

My standards are really high and that’s why being called inspirational fires me up. I want to keep making a difference so that I’m not regarded as inspirational any more. That’s the power that this slightly awkward and ill fitting label gives. 

So there is the paradox: Being inspirational is sad and a call to action all at the same time.  I maintain that everyone is inspirational in their own way. 

The form counselling I’m training in suggests that success is doing what we can with the resources we have. I’ll raise a mojito filled glass to that!

On being a charity trustee: Why diversity is key

This week, I was very honoured to be asked to sit on the board of trustees for a fantastic charity.  Its a progressive and innovative one whose distinctive approach makes a real impact to the lives of the people it works with.  In the last few months, I’ve been fortunate enough to find myself in demand and should all go well, this will be my third board position.  Alongside a full time job and my counselling training that means that life is busy but that is how I like it.

The role of a trustee is as important as it is valuable.  Essentially, in this context, trustees are there to make sure that a charity takes good decisions and makes a positive difference.  As a trustee, I see my role as a critical friend who is there to support and develop the work of an organisation that I am involved with.  Each position I have is interesting as it involves taking decisions in different contexts and working with others to ensure that a sound course of action is taken.

One of the reasons I have found myself in demand is my mix of personal and professional experiences.  Unfortunately, disabled people are underrepresented on boards.  I know from the experience I have had and the people I have worked with how valuable having a range of perspectives is, and its good to see that organisations are working hard to increase the diversity of their boards.  This diversity and experience allows boards to take key organisational decisions ‘in the round’ with a range of factors considered.

At the tender age of 34 I also am quite young for a trustee.  In 2010, a study by the Charity Commission found that the mean average age for a trustee was 57 years old and that two thirds of trustees were aged 50 or over.  Just 10% of trustees were aged 30-39.  It is fair to say that at first it took me a while to get used to the practice, operation and discipline of sitting on a board.  By now though, it is second nature to me.  I also have had the privilege of learning from lots of different people from all walks of life.  It feels really good to be making a contribution to helping an organisation develop.

The roles are usually what you make them too.  The formal time commitment is typically to attend a board meeting once per quarter and to prepare for this by reading all the papers ahead of time.  There is always the potential to get more involved by sitting on board sub committees that look at specialist areas too.  In return for this time and the contribution it helps to make, the potential for personal and professional growth is huge and I am now much more knowledgeable and confident as a result of my board room experiences.

Using the lived experience I have too has been helpful in raising additional issues for consideration and another set of eyes on decisions.  That’s why the diversity of representation is key: the multiple ‘ways of seeing’ issues and problem solving skills all helps to add to the mix and support improved decision making.  Debate is healthy too, and having a range of views helps to bring about that in the name of reaching the best possible solutions and courses of action.

I have been really lucky in that there has been lots of flexibility too in order to enable me to participate.  Technology is great in terms of allowing the ability to dial in and Skype into meetings, meaning you don’t always have to physically ‘be there’ to attend meetings.

So my key message is..give it a go.  Being a trustee is one of the most rewarding things I do and I would recommend it to anyone.