Using my skills to help local families

Karen Walker

Karen Walker’s skills have helped develop services for local families and steer a charity through a pandemic. Here, she gives her advice on being a chair and her pride in being one. 

I was appointed as the Chair of 1st Place in May 2019. 1st Place is a Children and Family Centre centre at the heart of the Borough, Bankside & Walworth locality in north west Southwark. Many of the issues that our families face are replicated around the country, and our trustees support 1st Place in developing their services for local families. 

I didn’t serve as a trustee at 1st Place beforehand but I did have previous experience of being a trustee. I was attracted to the role of chair because I felt that I could use my skills to support the charity’s fantastic Children and Family centre and day nurseries.

I’m currently a chief executive at a medical charity, but my former career included being an early years professional, working at the National Day Nurseries Association to develop a quality assurance model for the sector, and supporting the implementation of the National Standards Framework and the Ofsted inspection.

I hoped that my experience could be put to good use to develop services that met the needs of local families. 

I hoped that my experience could be put to good use to develop services that met the needs of local families. I also wanted to continue to support the development of early years policy, securing a robust early years sector that delivers excellent services to all within each locality. 

The role of chair

As a chair, my role is to support the Director and her senior team in developing policies and practice to meet the needs of local families. We think about the whole family, supporting both parents and carers of the children who attend our settings. This includes running classes on child development to help them understand the important role that they play in enabling their children to grow and develop in their own time and in their own way. Something that is vital in today’s modern society.   

When I took on the role, I was certainly not expecting to chair an organisation through a pandemic! I am extremely grateful that 1st Place had such an incredible director and senior team to lead the charity through the very difficult times we had. The pandemic did offer opportunities to review our work practice, to implement changes and to assess where we need to go next. However, its impact on our families has been huge and has highlighted the importance of a robust early years sector to give stability and support to families in very stressful and trying times.

The qualities of a good chair

A good chair needs to be able to listen, they must also be prepared to be bold. When the director or the team have new ideas that perhaps raise more questions than they can answer, it is the role of the chair and the board of trustees to listen and explore the possibilities of those ideas. It is also the role of the trustee board to offer support in times of crisis, to ensure their presence is known to service users and  that they are available to them if needed. 

If you want to be a trustee or chair, you should ensure that you and the charity are a good fit. You should also look at your skills and consider what you can bring to the charity. Be prepared for the amount of time that you will need to devote to the role. Sometimes it can feel like a lot! It is therefore important to manage your time well.

Being a chair is really rewarding. It is very satisfying watching the organisation grow and sharing in its successes. 

It is also vital to remember your strategic role and avoid getting too involved in the operational day-to-day activities because then it becomes hard to see the wood for the trees. Being one step removed from operational activity can give great insight and that can be of real value to the charity.  

Being a chair is really rewarding. It is very satisfying watching the organisation grow and sharing in its successes. At 1st Place, the focus is on securing the best possible start in life for young children and their families, and I’m very proud to play a part in that.

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