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MEET CASSIE O'BOYLE

Megan Raybould

29 October 2020

Cassie is a trustee at Friends of Our Libraries in Sutton Coldfield where she’s been the Secretary for 8 months. She started her trustee journey at as a Sabbatical Officer at University. We chatted to Cassie about her experience of being a trustee and her thoughts on trusteeship.

Can you tell us about your professional and trustee journey so far?

I went to the University of Nottingham and I studied English and American studies. I went to university with the premise that “this is what everybody does, right?”. I was interested in the subject but I didn’t have a particular job in mind.

What massively shaped my career was getting involved in my Students’ Union. It’s very cheesy but I was involved in as much as I could be. I was a Course Representative, I volunteered and ultimately that led to me running as a Sabbatical Officer in my final year at University. Being a sabbatical Officer is usually a full-time job and it’s someone that is elected to lead the Students’ Union and represent the voice of students. I was the education officer for 2 years at Nottingham and as part of that I was a trustee

My focus in that role was campaigning on things related to education and the academic experience. Before I went to University, I didn’t know what a Students’ Union was and I was the first in my family to go to University - I’m pretty sure my mum had never ever seen a University before and so open days were the first time anyone in my family had really engaged in higher education.

I finished my role at Nottingham last summer. Straight from there I started in my current job at University College Birmingham Guild of students. So I’ve transitioned from being an elected officer to a staff member. Now, my job focus is on community building, student engagement and representation.

It’s been an interesting journey because I definitely never expected to be here!

Where are you a trustee of now?

I’m now a trustee at Friends of Our Libraries Sutton Coldfield. It was originally a campaign group to save the local library, now we’re a charity and we deliver community events and activities to encourage people to engage with the local library. I started in November last year, so I’ve been there 8 months now.

How did you decide the career path you wanted to follow?

During my time at university, I decided I wanted to stay around higher education for a while.

When I was younger, I didn’t know that the third sector existed in terms of job options - other than fundraising, I didn’t realise just how many opportunities there were for peoples careers.

What I have realised, and has shaped my career path, is that the values of an organisation I work for are really important to me. Making sure that I believe in the mission of an organisation and having the opportunity to make a real difference to people’s lives - that is what really impacts the jobs that I’m likely to apply for.

What was your first trustee role like?

When I was a trustee for the first time in my role as a Sabbatical Officer.

Students’ Union Officer roles are quite a niche type of trusteeship. You work for the organisation, you’re politically responsible for it as a representative but you’re also holding legal/reputational and financial responsibility over the charity too. It’s a role that can be difficult, but with the right support and guidance - incredibly rewarding.

I resigned from the board after about 9 months of being a trustee. That was a difficult experience for me and is part of the reason I was interested in being an Ambassador, knowing that I’d have benefited from a network of trustees to talk things over.

I am now a trustee for a different charity, but it was a little bit scary deciding to take on this role. I had to ask myself “should I do this again?”. In the first trustee role, I found some decisions being made didn’t align with my values and what I believed was the right thing to do. I was nervous about stepping down but it was important for me. In that respect it was almost an easy decision, I think I would have found it harder to stay.

When did you know you needed to step back from the board?

I remember there was one particular board meeting where decisions were made that I didn’t agree with and so it felt instant at the time. Though on reflection, I had been feeling uncomfortable for probably six months before that. I think I’d given the situation the benefit of the doubt but when I realised that we weren’t going to reach the resolution I had hoped for, I knew it was time for me to step down.

If you had a piece of advice to give to yourself during that time, what would it be?

The first thing I’d say: it was okay to be feeling like that. After I stepped down, I was really hard on myself and felt like I was just rubbish at being a trustee. There were other trustees who I know had similar feelings to myself, but knew the role of the board was to make decisions for the benefit of the charity itself. I compared myself to them, because they were getting on with it and thought - “I’m just not very good at being a trustee, It’s not in my skill set”. Now I’m reflecting, I would tell myself that that step back was absolutely the right decision and now I feel even more prepared, developed and ready to be a trustee - in part, due to having that experience.

Secondly, I’d tell myself to communicate more. I wish I’d spoken up more and tried to address how I was feeling and that I’d have spent time articulating my frustrations. But, that’s easy to say now - at the time, tensions were high and that’s a really difficult thing to do.

Ultimately, my message now would be that it was fine to be upset and to have found that situation difficult but it doesn’t define your ability.

How would you define success for yourself?

A good day is one where I’m just happy to go to work. I think it’s uncommon to wake up and think, ‘I’m really looking forward to work today’. I’m incredibly lucky because I do have that and that has been a big factor in feeling successful - enjoying my work and taking pride in it. Another measure of success is seeing the people around me develop. I have been lucky enough to have people in my life and my career that have done that for me - given me the support and guidance to grow and develop and I’d like to be doing the same for other people.

I’m learning to find success in small things. I’m a perfectionist and so I put a lot of energy into my work but I can also be really hard on myself when things don’t go to plan. I’ve worked hard to focus on celebrating the smaller milestones that I’m proud of.

What is a goal you’d like to achieve?

I think I’d like to do a masters. I’m passionate about education and how transformative it can be. I just want to carry on learning throughout my life. It doesn’t need to be formal education, but learning new things and new skills is important to me. I’m currently learning British Sign Language and (attempting) to learn Irish. I work in an education setting and I want to practice what I preach!

Do you think you had any misconception about trusteeship in the past?

I think that I had that idea that if you’re young, you don’t have the experience or knowledge to add to a discussion. That can be really difficult to overcome, and this feeling of imposter syndrome plays a big role for a lot of young trustees. I think for many of us, this intersects in our gender, sexuality and race too - making this movement even more powerful in being able to tackle that. I think the Young Trustees Movement gives us an opportunity to break down those barriers that so many young people face in engaging as a Trustee.

What is the greatest skill you’ve developed in your trustee journey?

I would say communication and the ability to tell a good story. Being able to listen to people telling their stories, sharing my own and finding common ground. That plays a huge art in developing relationships more generally. I’d not only learnt those skills but I’ve developed my confidence in them too.

What’s been your greatest reward on your trustee journey so far?

For me, it’s meeting a truly diverse range of people that I’d have never met otherwise. Being a trustee has taught me a lot about challenging biases. I’ve met many unlikely allies that have spent time and energy to bring me into conversations. When I started my current role, I was new to the local area so building up that network of connections on my board has helped me to settle in. It’s been the same for the Young Trustees Movement - I’ve met people and developed friendships with people I’d have otherwise never come into contact with, that’s really powerful.

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