Peter Stanford: For a trustee, this is no holiday season

Time off from the daily grind allows trustees to form new ideas and new perspectives on their role, writes our columnist

Peter Stanford says there is something liberating and empowering about doing something for nothing
Peter Stanford says there is something liberating and empowering about doing something for nothing

When it comes to August, we in the UK are a lot more continental than we used to be. In Italy, Greece and Spain, everything – apart from beach bars and trattorias – closes down for a month when the sun is too hot for work.

But in overcast Britain during the summer holidays of my childhood, my dad would go to work each day in his suit, tie and coat, as if it were mid-February.

How things change. In my world, publishers, agents and newspaper editors are busy shifting deadlines back to September to cover the August lull. Try the London Underground in mid-August at 8am. No rush-hour crush of smelly armpits. You can have a carriage to yourself.

So is August when trustees get a holiday? Can they leave a skeleton management team to get on with things in that allegedly quiet period and disappear to the beach?

When my kids were small, I was able, being freelance in the day job, to head off for the whole six weeks of their summer vacation to the north Norfolk coast. I was, I would loudly protest, officially working, open to all offers of commissions; but I did rather take my eye off the ball trustee-wise. In fact, I might even have missed a few mobile messages from our chief executive.

Bad signal, I told him – and it was true – when he called back because it was urgent. He even went one better and started holidaying up there himself. So I can claim no great credit for staying loyally on watch in the closed season. I was given no choice.

But do we trustees actually deserve a holiday? Now this might sound a bit cheesy, but a part of me has always regarded being a trustee as a bit of a holiday in and of itself. Not because I lounge around and do nothing when I'm on trustee business; nor because I switch my mind off. I certainly don't underestimate the complexity and legal responsibilities that go with the role.

But there is something liberating and empowering about doing something for nothing. That's why I never want trustees to be paid. It would become just another job in portfolio careers.

It might be the famously big blue skies in north Norfolk, or the ebb and flow of the tide through the salt marshes, but I always find myself thinking harder and deeper and (he says modestly) better when on holiday. It's a bit like an informal awayday, but for one person only. No flip chart, no agenda, no PowerPoint.

As your brain empties of the clutter of everyday working lives and school runs as surely as the tide empties out into the sea, there is a space left for new ideas and new perspectives on the things that really count – and among these I include, very prominently, being a trustee. So a holiday is not really a holiday at all. Honest.

Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster, and was a charity chair for more than 20 years

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