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blog • Story


Hadel Mirza

25 March 2021

Nina is a languages graduate and aspiring classical/choral singer. She has a longstanding interest in charity and volunteering, now increasingly from a strategic, future-proofing, and climate-changed perspective. She is currently a trustee at Earthworks St Albans. We chatted to Nina about her experience of being a trustee at an environmental charity and her thoughts on the importance of having young people on boards.

Why did you decide you wanted to be a trustee? How did you first hear about what a trustee was (lots of young people don’t know)?

I first heard about young trusteeship during a Getting On Board online webinar encouraging young people to do just that – to get on boards. Obviously, that’s easier said than done, but the webinar really revolutionised the way I thought about my relationship to charity.

The way I wanted to engage with charity and governance had also metamorphosed during my final year of university. Whilst at university, I participated in fundraising events and ran singing workshops for SEND pupils and prison residents, and was active in various environmental groups. Then in January 2020, I 'engaged' with a social issue in a completely different way. I boycotted my choir’s tour to Canada because I realised that the huge carbon emissions of flying paradoxically put the music and people I loved at risk. I wrote about the (personal) challenges of changing a culture for Flight Free UK, and concluded that young people really could be strategic about future-proofing the activities they love, and that I cared enough to push for change and punch above my weight.

How did you get involved with Earthworks?

Returning home from university, I was keen to get involved with local charities. Because of Covid, many hands-on, spontaneous volunteering opportunities that young people might usually get involved in disappeared (this was quite disempowering at first as it was clear the need was greater than ever!), and so I began to seriously consider applying for a trusteeship.

I also started to see Covid as a symptom of our destructive relationship with the natural environment, and was alarmed at how it was increasing inequalities globally and locally. I realised that environmental issues were inseparable from human health and exclusion issues - and that the correlation between social justice and environmental justice wasn’t being acknowledged as much as it should. They’re two sides of the same coin.

When Earthworks accepted my application to join the board after a few weeks of observation, I was delighted. Earthworks has sustainability at its heart, working in the interests of both people and planet. It is a place where everyone is welcome and feels safe and valued.

Why is what they do so important, what impact does it have?

Earthworks St Albans was set up in 1995 in response to the Care in the Community Act to support adults with learning disabilities (the Earthworkers) to learn horticultural skills and work together in a nurturing community setting. The 3-acre site, complete with meadow, sensory garden, the Warren, bike storage, personalised planters and more is SUCH a nice place to be - an oasis of inspiration for what a sustainable, inclusive future might look like.

People and place rarely coexist so harmoniously, and it’s wonderful to see what a great reputation Earthworks has cultivated across the district, and how the staff have responded with such care (and plentiful bunting) to the Covid restrictions so that Earthworkers could stay connected from home. I would love to see all charities consider their responsibility to the planet as thoughtfully and long-termly as Earthworks do.

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

It's been tricky to get to the site with all the restrictions, but when I have, the welcome from the staff and Earthworkers has been so warm. There's always lots to be getting on with on site, too, but everyone's been very generous with their time. I’ve also been amazed at how much I’ve learnt in such a short space of time, and owe huge thanks to my Chair and other board members for their listening and encouragement. I hope I’ve been able to contribute a different perspective, some digital know-how, and an enthusiastic belief in Earthwork’s vision and potential! It's definitely helped me be more assertive and understanding in my 'other hats', too.

It’s not always been easy to follow everything – not least government announcements – or to understand the difference between operations and strategy – and I still feel like apologising for myself quite a lot. However, there’s been a really sympathetic atmosphere in board meetings and I get the impression that we’re all curious about how challenges and change feel - and how we can best navigate them together as a board.

What’s the biggest misconception you think people have about this topic of young trusteeship?

I think older trustees often assume that young people are better suited to operational tasks - and might be a hindrance to the high-level stuff. And young people - if they've heard of 'trustees' at all - often think they're just old retired people. There are misconceptions on both sides, so young trusteeship presents a fantastic opportunity for everyone to learn and benefit.

Some people may be hesitant to apply for trustee roles and think they don’t have much to offer a trustee board. What is your advice to them?

It makes me sad how many people my age don’t think they have access to or deserve a place at the table. I want to help young people understand that there are lots of people rooting for us, and that naive moral conviction isn’t a bad thing! If we feel like an inconvenience, then it's good to remember that there are actually real dangers of not having young voices in strategic roles - for example young people being alienated from the people who are supposedly acting in their best interests!

I’m a great believer that if you feel courageous enough to take the plunge, you make it easier for everyone else!

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