Interview: Tim Waldron, chair, YMCA England

The new broom: Waldron takes over after the recent leadership upheaval.

Waldron: fresh start
Waldron: fresh start

It could be said that Tim Waldron has the YMCA in his blood. The new chair of the Christian young people's charity grew up attending a youth club at his local branch in Plymouth, before rising through the ranks to be elected to the charity's most influential post earlier this year.

Waldron, who is head of the charities department at law firm Coffin Mew, took the post after former YMCA England national secretary Angela Sarkis was forced out of the organisation and former chair David Bedford, facing a no-confidence motion from other trustees, resigned a few days later (Third Sector, 16 April).

The handling of Sarkis's departure, which coincided with the organisation's national conference, drew criticism from insiders. Delegates were informed of her decision on a slip of paper and the matter was never mentioned publicly, even though she was due to give the keynote address.

Waldron, who joined the board only last November and was elected chair at his second full board meeting, says discontent with Bedford, who refused to give the full board precise details of why Sarkis was leaving, was never aired at board meetings.

"At my first one, it was made clear that change was coming, and we began preparing for the eventuality of Angela moving on," he says. "There was never a vote of no-confidence, nor a proposed one. I can't say what individual members might have been thinking, but such a move was never proposed."

If he had been chair at the time of the conference, he says, he would have handled the departure of Sarkis differently, although he is at pains to point out that he does not want to disparage Bedford's leadership.

"This is not criticism of David, but I would have given the movement the opportunity to discuss it," says Waldron. "My preference would have been to have moved from closed conversations during the assembly to an open forum for discussion."

Waldron's most pressing priority over his three-year term will be to lead the organisation through a review that could result in splitting the responsibilities of the national secretary, who has hitherto been expected to manage YMCA England, lead the national movement and be the external face of the organisation.

"Those are three distinct roles requiring three quite different skill sets," he says. "I don't think a person with all those skills necessarily exists.If they did, we wouldn't be able to afford them."

According to Waldron, the review will not result in moves by YMCA England to take away the independence - which he says is a "blessing and a curse" - of its 135 associations, which are autonomous charities affiliated to the national body.

"I cannot envisage the federated structure being changed or collapsed in the same way as in the YWCA," Waldron says. "I struggle to see ways in which that would be beneficial."

A name change is also out of the question. "There is strength in that name," he says. "Village People have a lot to answer for, but I have never had a discussion about changing it."

He thinks a crucial question in the review process will be whether the organisation, founded by George Williams in 1844, can find a way back to its roots. "We need to reclaim part of our history," says Waldron. "Williams was a social entrepreneur before the term existed, and all he did was about helping young men achieve their potential. The other part of his motivation was his Christian faith.

"We need to revisit that history, understand how that has developed over the past 160 years, contextualise the historical roots and take hold of them in the 21st century."

Waldron CV
2008: Chair, YMCA England
2007: Trustee, YMCA England
2006: Vice-chair, Kingston & Wimbledon YMCA
2006: Head of charity & community team, Coffin Mew LLP
2004: Trustee, Kingston & Wimbledon YMCA
2002: Operations manager, Oasis Trust
2000: Corporate counsel, Nomura International
1998: Trainee solicitor, Bond Pearce LLP

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