National Trustees’ Week runs from 7-11 November and is a time for charities and third sector organisations to celebrate the achievements of nearly 1 million trustees across the UK. All this week, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Community Foundation will be showcasing its own trustees and how their work reflects this year’s theme of ‘making a difference in changing times’. As our external environment continues to change, we face new challenges. The positive impact trustees make is invaluable to a sector that is now as important as ever to benefit society, we thank them for their time, commitment and effort to help communities across Hampshire and Isle of Wight thrive.
An interview with Jo Ash CBE, HIWCF trustee
Can you tell us a bit about your background and what attracted you to the role of HIWCF Trustee? Why HIWCF?
I joined the trustee board whilst CEO of Southampton Voluntary Services but am now retired so with a long-standing connection with the local voluntary sector in Hampshire this is a good way to continue use my skills and knowledge to support the sector in its invaluable work.
HIWCF has 11 Trustees, what are the advantages of having a trustee board made up of people from all sorts of backgrounds with different skills and experience?
The current board has trustees with experience across the voluntary, public and business sectors which bring a good mix of skills and knowledge to the governance of the Foundation. We live and work across the different areas of Hampshire, Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight, so collectively understand the different community contexts and challenges. HIWCF is strongly committed to equality and diversity within our work and in order to reflect the rich diversity of our different communities we are always looking to widen our trustee mix. Whilst we have some balance in terms of gender and other protected characteristics, as with many boards we could do with some younger trustees as well as reflecting wider diversity in terms of other characteristics.
What do you think is the most common misconception about poverty and disadvantage across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight?
Certainly coming from an urban city background where deprivation indicators show the city to be in some of the worst 10% – nationally, there is an external perception that all of Hampshire is part of the affluent South East – England’s green and prosperous land. The levelling up agenda seems to have been focused on a North / South divide, whereas poverty is just as acute in parts of our area as in any Northern area.
There is acute poverty in our cities as well as pockets of relative deprivation in more rural communities across our region. As trustees, we have recently spent time reflecting on the detailed information available for each local authority area in order to inform our priorities and decision making as well as to help articulate to our donors and supporters why support for our communities is so essential – especially in post-Covid times and the current cost-of-living crisis.
Based on your experience of working with HIWCF and knowledge of the applications that come into us, what do you see as the biggest risks or barriers facing third sector organisations in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight?
There are so many factors impacting on the current capacity and future sustainability of voluntary sector organisations. After a decade of austerity measures cutting capacity to the bone for so many groups we thought COVID had created the perfect storm – impacting simultaneously on increasing demands, adjusting to different delivery methods often online, alongside loss of volunteer capacity and reduction of fundraising.
If that hasn’t been challenging enough, before there has been much chance to recover and take stock, the current cost-of-living crisis is seeing organisations face huge surges of demand from a widening pool of families and people who are seeking their help whilst struggling to make ends meet. In addition, both volunteering and fundraising options will be further squeezed as people simply don’t have the spare time or cash to participate – plus the core costs for organisations will be increasing as utility bills and cost of essential supplies increase inexorably. I think as many groups have used up their buffer reserves during the Covid years, we will inevitably see some groups having to reduce their services or close in the coming period. That is why support for the sector from HIWCF and other funders is so critical at this very challenging time.
What do you think is unique about HIWCF’s approach to third sector organisations and non-profits across the region and how can HIWCF help the local community?
I think HIWCF’s role is to work collaboratively with others, including local Councils of Voluntary Service, to understand and support voluntary sector organisations through directing core and activity funding to groups who are best placed to help people in their communities rather than trying to get directly involved in local communities which are many and varied across the large geographical and broad demographic area we cover.
Has there been a moment during your time as a Trustee that has really stood out for you?
I would be hard pressed to single out any specific moment or group – rather it is the cumulative impact of reading so many grant applications from groups, small and large, which are beavering away in their local areas and making such a difference in people’s lives. The sheer diversity and scale of commitment is humbling and the frustration of never having enough funds to meet all the worthwhile project ideas is acute sometimes. The visits to projects have been enlightening to get behind the scenes sometimes and to hear about the work first hand.