DDN May 2022 May 2022 | Page 14


Caroline Gitsham was appointed chair of Humankind ’ s board of trustees last month . She describes her background and commitment to social justice , and shares her hopes for the sector as she takes up the new role

Making a difference

It ’ s been quite a varied career journey as I ’ ve had 15 proper jobs to get to this point . My career started off when I was part of a youth training scheme in Middlesbrough in the 1980s when it was pretty tough to get a job . I then got a job with Middlesbrough Council as a clerical trainee and worked across three different departments . I particularly loved being in the housing team , and that led to me working in the housing departments of three different councils – Langbaurgh , Stockton and Sunderland .

During my time at Sunderland I was invited to be part of Tony Blair ’ s Social Exclusion Unit which aimed to address the barriers faced by people experiencing poverty . Many of the other people in the unit were policy people , but I was able to bring some real-life stories of the impact social exclusion was having on people and I think that was quite eye opening for them . In 2001 , Sunderland Council did a stock transfer to Sunderland Housing Group and I was able to continue to combine my passion for housing and addressing the wider issues .
Making a difference on
agendas that I care about is what motivates me . I ’ m passionate about impacting on poverty in all its forms , especially the inequality of opportunity it creates as it means that a lot of people can ’ t do things that many of us take for granted . I ’ m drawn to work that allows me to address that , as well as tackling the lack of diversity in positions of influence as things can ’ t evolve for the better if all people aren ’ t represented . All contributions matter and I don ’ t like seeing people overlooked .
Many of the issues people are facing are the same ones that existed when I started out in the 1980s . There has been a lot of change over the years but a lot of it hasn ’ t been sustainable – I ’ d like to see approaches to social exclusion be more joined up and for there to be support for grassroots organisations to drive things forward , as they know what is needed .
I first become involved with Humankind a few years ago when I went to speak at a social entrepreneurs ’ event and met Paul Townsley , the CEO , and Jim Black , the previous chair . They asked me to conduct a review of
Humankind ’ s housing work and while I was doing that I got to know the organisation , and the ethos and commitment of the staff resonated with me . A year later the chance arose for me to become a trustee , and when Jim announced he was going to be stepping back from the board I decided to throw my hat in the ring and fortunately I got the role . I ’ m really proud to be part of Humankind as I like the people , I like the culture and I like the values . We reach people that other organisations don ’ t and our holistic approach to addressing the barriers people face means we ’ re making a difference every day .
There ’ s a lot that we should be proud of at Humankind , but especially the way we adapted during COVID and the number of innovative pieces of work staff are doing to improve services for the people we support . We have been doing a lot around governance , developing regional networks and increasing our influence for the benefit of our service users
In terms of future priorities , I ’ m keen to build on our governance work and increase diversity on the board . I also want us to use data and technology to move interventions
' Many of the issues people are facing are the same ones that existed when I started out in the 1980s . There has been a lot of change over the years but a lot of it hasn ’ t been sustainable .'
and support systems forward . We ’ re also working on the new five-year strategy and it ’ s my hope that with that we can create a consistently high standard across all of our services and be at the top of the sector ’ s benchmarks . I want us to be an organisation of choice for staff , service users and funders .
Caroline Gitsham is chair of trustees at Humankind