Wednesday, 7 September 2016
Governance in Norfolk!
Happisburgh is a stunningly beautiful village on the coast in north Norfolk. But woe betide you if you pronounce it as it is spelt because it is of course "hawsbro". Though I rather like "Happisburgh" pronounced as you would think. It sounds rather New England like...
Anyway I spent 3 days there recently staying with old friends Denise and Stephen Burke, old stalwarts of our sector. Indeed Stephen used to be one of my bosses as an ACEVO trustee (I use the term in a rather loose sense!).
So we mixed business with pleasure and spent some time visiting charities and social enterprises in north Norfolk. First up was Age Concern Norfolk, a well-established and prominent charity. We had a really interesting discussion on governance issues with a good CEO, Hilary McDonald, who clearly gets the need for strong governance in the charity world.
Then onto the Benjamin Foundation in Norwich where the new CEO Tony Ing has been in post for a year since he took over from a founder CEO. Although that brings its own challenges it was great to see the charity willing to confront and explore the next steps in their journey. It was interesting to explore some of the issues around "founder syndrome". As I know from my time at ACEVO, this has sometimes led to very problematic governance. The drive and determination of a founder in the early stages of creation and innovation need to give way to a more steady state professional style operation and it's a challenge to make the transition carefully. Good luck Tony. It's a great charity and doing impressive work with the homeless in Norwich and Norfolk.
A contrast was meeting the CEO of a social enterprise in the community transport world. Matt Townsend, a CEO who relocated from the inner city London world of social housing to run North Norfolk Community Transport, brings a wealth of talent and experience to this new challenge of trying to provide an effective rural community transport system. They’re lucky to have such a strong and impressive CEO.
And finally on to a learning disability charity where I met the founder and current CEO Helen Dalton-Hare. She rather made the point that not all founders are a problem as she was buzzing with energy and commitment. She runs About With Friends, which she set up because she saw that many people with learning disability had no social life or many connections with the community. And she provides support and training for employment in an area where there is such huge discrimination and ignorance about learning disability. I bought jam! Provision for learning disability in Norfolk is pretty poor and she was rightly rather leery about the so called "transforming care" agenda. We all need the pioneers and advocates of the third sector who see a need and are determined to tackle it.
Overall I think these visits bolstered my belief that what the sector needs is an authoritative source of advice and support on governance. So my work in "Charity Futures" is important. I got a strong feeling of interest and curiosity about what I'm up to. There was strong agreement this we need to "sort governance" in our sector. But it is also clear to me that this is such a big canvas there is no point in jumping in with solutions at this stage. So my journey of discovery will continue. Interesting that the picture on governance in our sector is not significantly different in a largely rural area from what we see in London or nationally.
And finally I can recommend Happisburgh. Come and see the wonderful lighthouse. And the looming church and the pub where Conan Doyle wrote one of his Sherlock books....
Perhaps the biggest lesson overall from the visits was that people generally find it difficult to know where to go for advice and support on governance. Once upon a time the Charity Commission had more resources to provide that support. They don't now and in any case have whittled their emphasis to regulation, not advice. That has left a gap. So where do people go for advice on a scheme of appraisal or induction? Authoritative advice on what is good practice?