Introducing Helen Baker Chair of Dimensions
Having originally trained as a social worker, I have worked across health and social care, housing and education – often all at once! I have set up and managed a number of charities but have gradually moved across to take on more trustee and non-executive roles. These have included chairing NHS Trusts and board roles with central Government bodies, but all my current roles are in the not for profit sector. The two main ones are founder/Chair of the sector’s graduate programme, Charityworks and Chair of Dimensions.
Dimensions is a not- for profit organisation providing a wide range of services for children and adults with learning disabilities and people who experience autism. This includes those with complex needs and/or challenging behaviour. Dimensions supports around 3,000 people and their families throughout England and Wales, enabling people to be part of their community and to make choices and decisions about the things which matter most to them.
Why did you become a Chair?
My first role as a chair was for a mental health charity in Westminster in my early thirties. I stepped out of paid work for eight years when my children were young, but continued to stretch my professional experience and capacity by taking on a number of more flexible, unpaid roles during that time. This first chairmanship used my knowledge of running a local authority mental health service, but opened up a different strategic leadership role which was completely new to me, but suddenly made sense of my skills and the way I see the world – and I have never looked back since!
What do you enjoy most about Chairing?
As a chair I am positively encouraged to do the thing I enjoy most which is making connections between people, organisations and ideas to open up new possibilities. Without the strong proportionate governance which a good board can bring, organisations waste energy and capacity on chasing the demands of commissioners, regulators and public expectation. A well governed organisation can focus all this energy and capacity on working with the people it supports to transform what is possible and having the opportunity to lead this is what really motivates me.
Do you have any key tips or lessons to share with your fellow chairs?
Build an ambitious but clearly focused strategy linked with sound risk management systems so that the board and executive team really understand what they have to watch to keep the organisation safe and developing. This clarity also really helps to engage staff which is what fundamentally transforms what the charity can do.
Why did you join the AoC?
I am excited about the new networks which AoC has already opened up. Chairs have to keep a level of distance to do their roles well so the chance to meet and share skills and experience with others in the same role is invaluable . It is too easy as a chair to think so much about supporting the development of others that there is little space or resource left for continuing to build your own learning. Aoc is a timely and really welcome prompt to do just that.