Being a Trustee in Touch

At QHT we work to support small charities and other non-profits who provide accommodation in order to make their projects a success. One of the things that makes us different is that a trustee forms a personal link with applicants that we wish to support, and acts as a channel of communication during their relationship with QHT. We call this role ‘Trustee in Touch’. With experienced organisations the role can be mainly liaison; for some of the smaller organisations – and especially those starting out on providing housing – the Trustee in Touch can offer an outside eye, and a helpful perspective supported by the experience and guidance of our Council of Management.

For many projects we appoint a Trustee in Touch and all of our trustees are expected to act in that capacity. QHT provides training, both formal and informal, which adds to the trustees’ personal experience with property and informs the way that Trustees in Touch interact with applicants.  We believe that our strength as Quakers is to be our authentic selves when we meet with applicants and our caring approach, supplemented by the accumulated knowledge and expertise of the Council, can provide great support.

The Trustee in Touch relationship often starts with an application that we like - but in which there are a few questions that we want to resolve. If possible, the Trustee in Touch will visit the project site and meet the team, ask some questions and take pictures to help present the project to the Council for a decision. The questions can be as simple as asking how services will be connected, about drainage or flooding issues, or about the planned construction method. For example, everyone will say that they are building to a “good” standard of insulation, but we need to know precisely what that means and to ensure that their architects/technical advisers are aware of the technical standards/EPC ratings that we aim to have our projects achieve. These are outlined in our application form and we are serious about ensuring that they are implemented.

Asking searching questions early on can help the applicant to think afresh about the project and strengthen their plans. The point is not for the trustee to understand every aspect of their answer, but to gain information needed to inform our decision and to help the applicant to see parts of their project in a new light. Trustees in Touch can bring specific knowledge and expertise. For renovation projects they might have specific experience about hard-to-insulate aspects of a building like sloping ceilings and solid floors, and thinking about these issues is much better done early on.

Not every project that we visit will get QHT funding, but we are frequently told how helpful the trustee visit has been, even by those who have been unsuccessful. For those that do get QHT support the relationship with their Trustee in Touch can grow and deepen over several years and sometimes over multiple grant cycles.

Our help is not just about the specifics of the projects, it can also be about the organisations themselves. One project on which I was acting as Trustee in Touch wanted to provide transition accommodation for those completing rehab, and they were so keen to get started that they applied for funding before their first set of annual accounts had been completed. My first visit included explaining why a reserves policy was needed and unfortunately their application was not successful, as we felt that they were not ready to take on such a project.

The next year they applied again and we were delighted to award them a grant to part-fund the purchase of their first move-on flat. That proved a great success and so they applied to us for funding for a second flat. We were unsure about their organisational capacity to take on this work and so suggested that they might benefit from a Health Check Service Grant. They accepted this offer, and took on the consultant’s suggestions, strengthening their Board with new Trustees who brought in a range of skills, and upgraded their organisational structure. The next time they applied for funds to help them purchase a second flat we were again pleased to help them.

They applied for a third time, in this case to develop a property for use by those still in addiction. Again, we counselled that more time was needed to consolidate the organisation and its current work, and again their response was to rethink and make some changes. Their next application for a single bed flat as move-on accommodation for women was accepted.  

Our work with this group was not only successful for them in terms of getting funding from QHT, it also greatly reduced the stress that they would have experienced had they gone ahead less well -prepared. Crucially, it also made their applications much more credible with other potential funders - who could see how thoughtful and well-developed their proposals and structures were.

Of course not every project is like this, some require only minimal support, but the formal and informal assistance that QHT offers through our Trustees in Touch can make a real difference, and working in this capacity with our highly motivated and inspiring applicants provides for us one of the joys of QHT trusteeship.

Barbara Potter, trustee, Quaker Housing Trust