Note: the browser you are using is out of date and this website may not work properly. Please upgrade your web browser.

blog • Story


Megan Raybould

29 October 2020

We chatted to Carys about her experience applying for trustee roles and how to find your feet in the first few meetings. Carys is a trustee at Northern Stage, and she explained how they actively worked to be inclusive.

Carys became a trustee of the theatre aged 21. She’s passionate about increasing young people’s awareness of boards and governance and the roles they play within organisations, especially within cultural industries. Currently, Carys works at the University of Sheffield editing website content, and volunteers as an editor with the online theatre writing site A Younger Theatre.

Tell us about your journey to become a trustee.

I did a lot of work with Northern Stage Theater while I was studying at Newcastle University. I used to write reviews of their shows and I started working with them on community outreach and participation. When I saw they were advertising for young trustees, I applied and that's how I ended up here.

I’ve been a Trustee there for just under a year now.

What was the application process like?

They held a pre-application session where anyone could just drop in and find out a bit more about the role. I went to that and then I also met up with the Chair of the board of trustees to have a chat with him about what the role involved.

Northern Stage was really good at actively seeking out applicants and took a proactive approach to diversifying their board, rather than waiting for people to come to them. They weren't just saying, "we're open to people applying", they were actively saying to people, "go for it - we’re interested in you". It was a great way to engage more nervous applicants, such as myself.

What were the first few months like on the board? What have Northern Stage done to be inclusive?

Again, I think they did a really amazing job.

You could tell that it had been a long time coming, and a lot of thought had gone into the process of how they were going to recruit and induct new trustees.

When I was appointed, I and the other new young trustee were given a ‘buddy’ who we could ask any questions. They were there for you if you ever need to say:

"oh, I don't understand this document”

“What's it for?”

“What do I need to read in it?”

“How much am I supposed to know about it?"

All the normal questions a new trustee might have!

Before I went to my first board meeting, I had already been to a meeting before as all shortlisted applicants were invited to one. That had been really helpful because we all got a feel of what the meetings were like, so I felt more comfortable in that first proper meeting.

They began the meeting with Simon, who's the chair, saying: "okay, we just need to establish right now that even though these two were recruited as young trustees, they are trustees in the same way that everyone else is, and they have all the same kind of rights to speaking and space as everybody else has in this room". And I thought that was really good, because it's the kind of thing that could come across as patronising if it wasn't done correctly, but it very much felt like everybody was sort of really eager, keen, and onboard. From the outset it was made clear that we were trustees just like the rest of the board members, even though we had been recruited as specifically young trustees, just as boards regularly look for a new trustee with a background in finance, etc.

I think the buddy system is good, but beyond that, the rest of the board and executive members of staff at the theatre have been great not making you feel like you're asking a stupid question and creating a really welcoming environment.

When we got to the end of our first three months, my fellow new young trustee and I had a meeting with the Chair. In that meeting, for a couple of hours, we just kind of threw anything forward like, "why do we do that?", or, "what's the point that?".

In the board meetings it was made so clear early on that they were keen for us to ask questions, even about things that may seem like they're sort of every day. A fresh perspective asking "why do we do that?", encourages the whole board to consider it and sometimes they realise "actually, why do we do that? There’s a better way.". Before we moved onto the next agenda item, there was always a pause and time to ask any questions too.

Finally, I think they're just incredibly responsive, which makes you feel like you can ask questions because when you do, you get a positive response of action out of it. We had a question about understanding the accounts, so they set up a meeting with the head of finance to talk about it. By listening and acting on what we’re saying - you feel like you’re being sincerely valued, which dispels some of the imposter syndrome that can come with being a young trustee.

I feel like the whole organisation has shown a real willingness to learn as much from us as we are learning from them, setting up a culture where questions can be asked freely in both directions.

Has anyone helped you on your young trustee journey?

Someone who works within the theatre, who I had worked with on reviews for several years prior to my trusteeship.

I had gotten to know her a bit more from seeing her around a lot at shows and talking to her in intervals. She works in a similar field to the one I am interested in getting into, so picked her brains once or twice about how she got to where she got to and she would sometimes send me information on opportunities I might be interested in, such as this one.

I’d seen the role advertised but had thought: "I don't really know a lot about governance, that's not really my thing". But then, she asked me: "how do you know that if you've never done it?" I was quite resistant to the role at first, writing it off as something I wasn’t qualified enough to do. Retrospectively I’m really grateful to her for encouraging me to go for it.

What do you feel is the biggest misconception that you have about this topic of charity and young trusteeship?

I think a big misconception is the amount of personal pressure and responsibility the role comes with. Obviously a sense of responsibility is important when you’re in a position like this, but as long as a board is well run, you don't feel like the weight of an entire organisation is on your shoulders. You're part of a large team working together, so I definitely feel that sense of camaraderie.

What would you say has been the most important skill that you've developed or have since developed?

I think it’s my confidence and ability to speak up in a room to people, and knowing when is the right time for me to say something. That has been a really valuable skill which I have carried over into professional and voluntary roles I have.

I can be hard when you first start out on your trustee journey, because you're around a bunch of people that you admire. They are usually older, more established in their careers and you look up to those people. So you're very self conscious about, "what if I say something wrong?” and “Why am I here, what can I contribute?”. I think being able to dispel that sort of self doubt and getting better at telling myself that I am not only wanted, but useful in these spaces has been a big step for me.

What do you wish you knew before you started the role?

I think I wish I knew more about what sort of conversations happen in a boardroom. Sometimes it feels like discussions in boardrooms are under lock and key and people outside of it have no idea what's going on in there. I wanted to better understand how trustees sort of communicate. Things as simple as the fact that there's a Chair, you often look over accounts, and then you have, I don't know, X, Y, and Z conversation. In short, it’s about knowing the practicalities of board meetings.

I also think understanding accounts and financial reports is a challenge for lots of new trustees. That's the thing that I really struggle with. And, I think younger trustees often have less experience managing money on a personal level; we are less likely to have mortgages or large incomes. That just makes it all a more unfamiliar process, and one I am still grappling with.

What’s been the biggest challenge so far?

Overcoming my  imposter syndrome. Despite how many people tell you that they're glad you're there, it can still take a while to sink in. Historically and institutionally, boardrooms haven’t been places that young people ‘belong’ in, similar to how many sections of society who aren’t used to holding dominant power can feel in those spaces. Shaking off that feeling can be hard, but I feel like I'm sort of getting increasingly good at it.

And I think getting over it has been helped a lot by being a part of the Young Trustees Movement. Being able to speak to other people about it, and realizing that there's this whole network of people nationally who are going through the same thing. It really dispels the feeling that I as an individual am not enough for the role, and highlights the institutional issues with boards.

What would you say has been your greatest reward so far?

For me, it’s the sense of pride that I get from being a part of something that I care about so much. And being able to look at an organization I have admired for years and think I’m part of and think: "yeah, I've got something to do with that".

It’s such a gift to feel like you're facilitating positive change in an industry, region and institution you care so much about.

Free Champion Training

Join a 1 hour training session to understand the power of young trustees, have a framework to understand how to approach board diversity and take practical next steps. New dates are added every month.

Join the Model Boardroom Series

Learn how to think like a trustee and engage with governance, all through exciting mock boardroom scenarios.