Supporting patients better and connecting with the community: why I’m thrilled to be part of Helpforce

24th October 2023

Lara Trustee

Our new trustee, Lara Sonola, reflects on her reasons for joining our charity from her perspective as chair of a community-based charity and her background in strategic development in the health service.

When Vy, our Communications and Content Manager, asked me to write about joining the board at Helpforce, my mind initially went blank. I’d spent weeks thinking about my reasons for applying for the role in the lead up to my interview but now I was here, on the other side of that process, I had no idea where to start.

Reason for joining number 1: programmes that make a difference and need to grow

I started writing this while on the tube, listening to a talk radio programme about the rise in patients waiting for consultant-led elective treatment in England. As I listened to callers describing waiting for months and, in some cases, years, I was struck by the impact that level of uncertainty was having on their lives and ability to make plans for the future. I pictured myself in their place, and could really see the immense value of the waiting well programmes Helpforce has set up with NHS trusts.

Our waiting well contact centre programme supports NHS trusts to recruit volunteers who update patients who are on their waiting lists, answer any questions they might have and help them prepare when their visit is imminent.

I’m looking forward to getting out and about to visit waiting well and other programmes, so I can understand what more we can do collectively as a board to expand their reach further.

Reason number 2: building links with and support for the wider voluntary sector

Back to my tube journey. I reflected on what I wanted to achieve at Helpforce and what I can bring to the role.

As chair of a small community-based charity delivering support to older people with the help of volunteers, I saw an opportunity to share my perspective as Helpforce seeks to build links with charities such as mine. We rely on volunteers to deliver our services and have noticed a downturn in the number of volunteers joining us since the end of the pandemic. We are thinking hard about approaches to revive a dwindling resource.

Further, as we rely on funding from statutory bodies and charitable trusts, we are keen to think about more sophisticated ways to demonstrate the value of our volunteers as part of those bids, which Helpforce’s Insight and Impact tool will be able assist us with.

Reason number 3: volunteers must reflect their communities

It’s key that charities and their boards think more about whether those who volunteer fully reflect the communities they serve and how we can collectively build a reciprocal relationship with them.

Reciprocity is about ‘give and take’ and, as people navigate increasingly busy and complex lives, we need to think about the value of volunteering to the individual as well as the benefit to society as a whole. We expect compensation for paid work, but expect individuals to give up their time without considering the impact that has on other aspects of their life.

If we want to broaden the base and diversity of our volunteers across age, race, disability, social class and a myriad of other intersectional identities, perhaps it’s time for a more nuanced discussion about the benefits of volunteering to the individual. This could be in terms of increasing their career prospects, broadening their networks or the mentoring and support a charity can provide.

Reason number 4: encouraging more young people to become trustees

Finally, I’m passionate about advocating for and encouraging younger people and particularly those from under-represented backgrounds to consider board and trustee roles. I joined Age UK Wandsworth in my early 30s and, in hindsight, I wish I’d considered it even earlier in my career.

As well as providing an opportunity to use my professional skills to support a local organisation and give back to the community, it has broadened my perspective in numerous ways – from my confidence in meeting local politicians, to my ability to think strategically, assess complex information and juggle multiple priorities.

I hope that I can be a positive example of the value of these roles, and show that they can be done while working, rather than waiting until later in life as younger people have a valuable perspective to add into the mix at board level.

I’m excited to think in more depth about all the areas where I hope to contribute, and others as I settle into my role as a Helpforce trustee, and I’d like to hear from you. Do contact me on my Linkdn and let’s have a conversation.