Hammersmith Reflections – Our retiring Chairman, Mike Smith, reflects on 12 years as a trustee
It’s become a tradition at Hammersmith United Charities that retiring trustees are invited to share their reflections on their time at the charity at their final board meeting.
It’s one of the ways in which we try to maintain an “institutional memory” and maximise the benefit of our experience and history – which now stretches to more than 400 years.
So what did I want to pick out as the most important things I’d learnt in my 12 years on the board? The first thought I wanted to share was that our rule that says trustees must retire after 12 years is a good one. We’ve benefitted enormously from continuously bringing in as trustees new people with different perspectives, experience and skills. And I’m very confident that I leave the charity in good hands, with a team of able and dedicated people, who are also a diverse group, not just in visible ways, but also in the way they think about and respond to the problems and opportunities that arise.
As someone whose professional background is accountancy, naturally I wanted to talk about the risks we face and how we manage them! But my views on that might not have been what people expected. We live in an age when pundits and the media are only too eager to tell us what might go wrong, and it would be easy to be paralysed by fear of all the external threats we hear about – Brexit, international trade tensions, terrorism, climate change, and all the rest. But a look at the history of our charity since its foundation in 1618 shows just how resilient it’s been to events much more traumatic than anything current trustees have lived through – HUC has survived the English Civil War, plague, two World Wars, and no doubt many other crises that only historians remember.
So, while being aware of the risks, and doing what we can to mitigate them, we have to recognise that the future is largely outside our control; our task is to concentrate on the specific areas where we can make a difference and improve people’s lives. We will make mistakes from time to time, of course, but the greatest mistake would be to attempt less than we’re capable of.
We have made ambitious changes over the last decade or so, expanding and improving our sheltered housing, developing our grants programme, and working with our sister charity in Fulham to establish United in Hammersmith & Fulham, a new charity aiming to help local people and organisations to make this an even better place to live. We must continue to be ambitious, because despite the great improvement in living standards since the middle of the twentieth century, there are still many people in need.
The last thing I had to say to my fellow trustees was to thank them for making it so enjoyable to work alongside them. Being a trustee has sometimes been hard work, occasionally a little stressful, but always rewarding. It has been a great privilege to play a small part in an organisation which has been helping Hammersmith people for so many years.