Donna has been on our Board of Trustees for 6 years and takes over from Heather Benjamin who has stepped down after six years as Chair. Our Trustees are all volunteers who share the ultimate responsibility for the charity and govern how it is managed and run. They ensure that our work increases the quality of life and happiness of every individual we support.
Donna has over 20 years’ experience in business and finance, including working for KPMG. In her working life she is Finance & Performance Manager at First Rung, an organisation that provides innovative learning and employment opportunities for young people. As part of the senior management team there, Donna leads on the financial management and strategy.
We got the opportunity to sit down with her to talk to her about her new role as Chair, what her plans are and how she’s seen perceptions of disabilities change in her time at the charity.
Can you tell us more about how you got into charity work?
I’m originally from Australia. I came to the UK on secondment as a chartered accountant about 26 years ago and I’m still here! I started supporting charities when I took a bit of time off to have my children. I started volunteering for the charity Mind in St Albans, I was the treasurer there, and then about 5 years ago I decided I wanted to work in the charity sector. I wanted to work with organisations that were making a difference to peoples’ lives.
I now work for a training organisation which is a charity. We recruit and educate young, unemployed people in North London. We help them get them into further education or apprenticeships.
How did you come to Walsingham Support?
What I really wanted to do was volunteer my business and finance expertise to a charity. I felt that I wanted to use my skills in a positive way.
It’s very easy for individuals with disabilities to be marginalised. Fortunately, we’re moving in the right direction where there is more awareness and a legal framework around discriminating against individuals of all abilities. But there is so much more to do.
I was introduced to our chief executive, Paul Snell, a number of years ago and there was an opportunity to join the Board of Trustees and I jumped at it. I knew that Walsingham Support was a leading provider of highly personalised support for individuals with disabilities and I feel privileged to be able to use my skills to benefit those who need support.
In the 6 years you’ve been at Walsingham Support, how have you seen perceptions change?
It’s been really positive. I’m so excited how the personalisation of services is changing things. One size doesn’t fit all, and every service should be tailored to an individual’s needs.
A lot is changing. I think care is evolving all the time, but it is still slow. We know with personalised support that care is improved, societies are enhanced, and people are happier. It’s heart-breaking that this isn’t happening faster, but I think things are going in the right direction.
Why is Walsingham Support different from other organisations?
What I love about Walsingham Support is how everywhere I go and everyone I meet; they all have commitment and enthusiasm and ultimately a deep respect for the individuals we support. The people who work for the organisation never cease to amaze me. I’m so proud to be associated with the charity.
Everyone is different, with different needs and abilities and our services reflect that. The services are as unique as each individual we support. We get to know each individual really well, designing practical innovations that enable personal choices, improve life skills and strengthen links with family and the wider community. That’s what makes our work so vital and life changing.
What do you bring to Walsingham Support?
I’m really committed to the organisation. I prioritise my work with the charity, it’s an important part of my life. I’m passionate about it. The business and financial side is my biggest asset as I’m good at cutting through issues and getting to the crux of the matter. It’s about the big picture and how best we can support individuals with the resources available, as well as how best we can support staff.
I just want the organisation to thrive and continue. It has the right ethos and the right people to work for it to really make a difference.
What are your plans for the next 12 months?
Part of my commitment over the next year is to go and visit every region. I want to spend time with as many people as I can because it’s so important that I understand the issues staff on the frontline are facing.
I’d like the rest of the Board to do more visiting of services as well. It’s about being grounded about the day-to-day of Walsingham Support. Letting frontline staff know that we care, we’re all working towards a common goal and we want to listen and understand people. We want to do the best we can for staff and the individuals we support with the resources we have.
What does the role of Chair do?
The Chair is an ambassador of the organisation and I lead the Board of Trustees. It’s a role that is required by law, Trustees are there to protect the interests of those we support.
Walsingham Support is a fantastic organisation and we need to be telling more people how great we are and the difference we are making.
My focus is to go out and meet people across the organisation. I would like to understand what’s different in the different areas. I’d like to get under the skin of the organisation and the issues on the ground.
On a recent visit to a service I learnt that the carpet wasn’t suitable as it was making a couple of individuals with early onset dementia very stressed and they couldn’t walk on it. There’s nothing wrong with the carpet in the sense of it being worn out or it need of maintenance, but it isn’t supporting them in their living environment. If you don’t go out and see the services, you don’t see and understand these things.
Outside of work and volunteering what do you do?
I’m a massive theatre buff – I go once or twice a week. I’d love to write a play and I have a play I want to write. I went on a playwriting course, but it was then I realised how hard writing is and haven’t been able to finish it. Something for the future!
Farewell and thank you to our out-going Chair
We wanted to say a big thank you to Heather Benjamin for all her commitment and hard work as Chair over the last 6 years. Heather is retiring from her work with Walsingham Support to explore her board portfolio further.