Patricia Wooding – Elmore Community Services

Introduction
Before taking up the role of Chair at Elmore, I had a varied career which included re-drafting the laws of the Falkland, working as a legal analyst in policing, leading a national program of work to strike the right balance between use of police powers to conduct effective investigations and the human rights of those detained in police custody, and more. It always struck me that many of those who regularly end up in police custody have multiple needs, for example many are in need of healthcare, or support in addressing substance and alcohol misuse or anti-social behaviour (amongst other things), and therefore it seemed only natural to become a trustee of a charity that supports people with multiple and complex needs, helping them to stabilise their lives. Soon after I was invited to apply for the role of Chair…

What does your organisation do?
Elmore Community Services provides support to people in Oxfordshire. Many people with multiple needs do not fit easily into existing services and can be hard to engage. We support them to integrate them back into their communities, find the help that they need and identify the gaps in current provision.

What do you enjoy most about Chairing?
Looking back over three years I realise it has been a very exciting period to have been chair of Elmore. At first there was uncertainty about funding as our main contract was due to end, but we worked hard with partner agencies in developing the Oxfordshire Mental Health Partnership which brings together six agencies providing efficient and effective treatment, care, support and housing for people with severe and enduring mental health issues. As we have seen a recent increase in the complexity of client needs, this partnership has been able to provide improved access to services through closer working. I mentioned vulnerable criminal suspects earlier, but victims of crime may have multiple support needs too, and it has been rewarding to be chair as Elmore has extended its services to supporting victims of exploitation and modern-day slavery by developing an Independent Trauma Advisory Service. I was also lucky to appoint a brilliant new CEO who immediately won the respect of staff, trustees and partners with her open, thoughtful, inclusive and realistic approach to leadership.

Do you have a key tip or lesson to share with your fellow Chairs?
• Find out all you can about your charity by engaging with your staff and listening to them, and involve them in developing strategy. One of the highlights of my three years was discovering the incredible ethos of Elmore, demonstrated by our wonderful staff, whose commitment to the mission of Elmore and the wellbeing of our clients is inimitable. I learnt so much from them – not only about the work of the charity but also about what it truly means to work as a team;
• Ensure your board of trustees covers a wide range of expertise. I found that identifying and filling skills gaps on the board of trustees led to an excellent well-balanced board with a wide range of skills. Being open to their feedback and advice made it possible for me to be an effective chair; and
• Try and establish the key issues arising from board meeting papers before the meeting so that the meeting doesn’t get thrown off kilter by something unexpected proving controversial. If that does happen, then a quick round the table one /two minute view from each board member can get the meeting back on track.

Why did you join AoC?
I joined the Association of Chairs after reading their invaluable guidance ‘A Chairs Compass’. I learnt so much from this (and from all the excellent Charities Commission documents). I recently attended the Association’s session on good governance, supported by the Charities Commission, and benefited enormously from it, and from the opportunity to meet and learn from the experiences of other chairs. I strongly recommend all chairs to join!