Trustee talk: The reluctant chair of the board

Pam Stewart, chair of Urban Forum, discusses her unexpected appointment with Paul Jump.

I have held a number of chairs and trusteeships. I was chair of Westleigh Community Partnership and joint chair of the Leigh Township Forum. But I wasn't a trustee of Urban Forum, and it hadn't crossed my mind to put myself forward.

I was at the AGM last December because WCP is a member. At the meeting, the chair, Ed Cox, said he would have to step down. I had a conversation with the chief executive, Toby Blume, and he told me some members felt it was time the organisation went back to the community and that we needed to look further afield than London for a chair. We couldn't think of any obvious candidates, so he said: "What about you, Pam?"

After some consideration I said I would put my name forward if we didn't get a better candidate. The appointment wasn't made behind closed doors in smoke-filled rooms; we advertised on our website and in sector magazines but didn't get anyone suitable. So I was appointed at an extraordinary general meeting earlier this year.

The board comes together six times a year for full meetings. There are also honorary officers group meetings and sub-groups two days a month, but it is nothing really. There are usually 16 trustees - although we have vacancies at the moment. We are in the process of doing a board skills audit, which I will continue.

I would personally prefer a smaller board and leave the detail to three or four sub-groups. I don't like meetings that go on for hours. I don't know whether a smaller board would work at the forum, but that is the way forward that is in the back of my mind.

All the existing trustees were offered the chair but none of them wanted it. Most are just grateful we have a chair in place. One trustee did make derogatory comments at a meeting about me not even having been a trustee. I said: "Would you like the job?" He said he didn't have time. Everyone else is very open and warm. They send me emails updating me on various things.

Even though I live in Wigan, our meetings are still held in London. We have members from all over the country and it is easier for them to get to London. It is a practical solution in the end.

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