Workshop: Case Study - Onboard opens the way to leadership

Francois Le Goff


Aimed at people in Nottinghamshire interested in voluntary leadership roles in their local communities, the Onboard training programme has had a near 100 per cent success rate in putting its participants into unpaid roles such as charity trustees and school governors. Demand has now outstripped supply and the programme has expanded across the East Midlands in an e-learning format.


Onboard, a spin-off from regeneration charity Nottingham Development Enterprise, started a training programme in 2002 providing participants with the skills and networks to fulfil leadership roles. The project was developed with the help of a steering group made up of representatives from the private, public and voluntary sectors.

Some people join the course to become trustees, non-executive directors or school governors, and others, already in such roles, want to upgrade their skills.

Focusing on voluntary roles across all sectors, the course is not just distinctive for the wide range of experience among its participants, but also for their age range. Current and former members include Stephan Prest, 15, who chairs his local youth tenant and residents' association, and Martin Osbourne, 41, a senior financial specialist for a bank and board member of social housing association Rushcliffe Homes.

How it works

Onboard runs its training programme in two venues in Nottinghamshire for up to 25 participants. The programme receives funding from the East Midlands Development Agency to provide a limited number of sponsored places.

Sessions, each of which covers specific topics ranging from governance to communications strategies, are held once every three weeks from January to August. Participants take part in a variety of exercises aimed at defining their responsibilities and developing their leadership skills as board members. They have to complete a group project and a personal development plan, and can choose to take a test that leads to Level 4 of the National Open College Network accreditation.


After the first year, 97 per cent of those seeking a voluntary role on the board of an organisation found a position a few months after completing the course.

Louise Seymour, principal project officer at Nottingham Regeneration, has been a trustee of regeneration charity Groundwork Greater Nottingham for two years and took the course this year. "I didn't have a lot of experience," she says. Seymour now chairs a group responsible for drawing up the job description of Groundwork's next chair after the present incumbent announced his intention to step down. "I had the confidence to volunteer for that role when it was discussed during a meeting, and I see that as a direct result of the course," she says.

Thulani Moliffe, a board member of the Nottingham Credit Union and the Nottingham City Local Education Authority, already had several years' experience in community groups when he joined the programme in 2002. But Moliffe says he always had "a niggling doubt" about whether he was doing things the right way. "I was able to meet and learn from like-minded people," he says. "The programme taught me that the only constraints we put on how to do things are those we put on ourselves."

Moliffe has since become a board member of Technical Aid in Nottingham Communities.

In order to reach people beyond Nottinghamshire, Onboard has launched a programme combining a mix of optional-attendance sessions and online learning. "Since the first courses began, demand has far outstripped availability," says Onboard director Neil Horsley. "Now, by introducing the e-learning component, we hope to make our training more available to busy people and to those with transport or mobility problems."

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