Peter Stanford: Trustees have a moral duty to charity staff

We should look beyond their safety and employment rights and take some responsibility for their wellbeing in a wider sense, says our columnist

Peter Stanford
Peter Stanford

'Moral' is not a word we like using any more: it's too churchy and judgemental. 'Values' is much cuddlier. But being old-fashioned and a bit churchy, I cling to the notion that, as trustees, we have a 'moral' responsibility towards the employees at our charities.

Some of it is pretty straightforward and enshrined in employment and anti-discrimination legislation. The rest comes under the loose heading of 'wellbeing'.

I have had several stabs at getting this right. For years, I used to attend the Aspire staff Christmas party, sitting with the chief executive in the corner. I realised my mistake only when, one year, a 17-year-old new recruit drank so much so fast that he collapsed in the ladies toilet.

After I'd revived him, I called his dad to come and pick him up. "And what on earth is a man of your age - and a trustee to boot - doing letting a schoolboy get into this state?" his father bellowed at me.

It was a fair point, though from my corner table it was hard to see the bar and harder still to monitor who was returning to it too often. Yes, I had moral responsibilities, but they were impossible for me to carry out without being the ultimate party pooper. So that was my last Christmas party, which may be a cop-out - but I'm sure the staff would say it was a relief.

There must be other ways of discharging moral duty. I was fortunate enough this week to be sent by a newspaper to interview the remarkable and inspiring Jane Tewson, the founder of Comic Relief. Now based in Australia, she was back in the UK to promote her latest book. Dying To Know: Bringing Death to Life confronts the taboo of death. Instead of dense text, there are 60 double-page spreads, each containing an idea or challenge, accompanied by a picture.

Next to a tombstone inscribed with someone's name and the traditional born-died formula is the line "It's not the dates that matter, it's that dash in between".

This collection of thoughts about respecting age, looking death in the face and preparing for it in an ordered and thoughtful but not mournful way is full of practical tips.

It tells you everything you've ever wanted to know about the technicalities of cremation but were too scared to ask. It even recommends making an 'emotional will' - a way of bequeathing your favourite recipe, book, film or even a secret you've kept from your loved ones.

The book was released to help promote Dying Matters Week, set up by the National Council for Palliative Care. But Jane has greater plans for it.

She would like it to open up a social dialogue about death, an issue that is too often swept under the carpet. She believes that by talking about it we can improve our own wellbeing and connect better with other people.

To that end, she is encouraging both charities and businesses in Australia to buy the book - at a discount bulk rate - and give it to their employees.

I'm absolutely with Jane on wanting to smash the taboo we have around death in western society. So, with my moral trustee hat on, I plan to persuade my fellow trustees to buy a copy for each and every one of our charity's employees.

It is, after all, pretty illogical to ask them to spend all day working to improve the welfare of our target audience if we, as trustees, don't accept a broader moral responsibility for their welfare too. Will you join me?

- Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster, chair of Aspire and director of the Longford Trust

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