Last night (Wednesday 21st September), George House Trust (GHT) held its Annual General Meeting. It has a unique governance structure, one that fully involves the people who use GHT services and the volunteers. It is part of what makes the culture of GHT, a culture where everyone is valued, everyone is equal.
To be a member of GHT, and to vote at the AGM, you must be a service user or a volunteer – 50% of the 134 volunteers are people living with HIV and may use GHT services as well. Members elect 10 trustees to serve for a term of 3 years. 50% of the trustees are people living with HIV. GHT runs a training course for people who would like to become trustees so they are more able to contribute and better prepared to deal with the complex and difficult issues that arise. Members conduct an appraisal of the trustees and have recently been involved in the selection and recruitment of a new, externally recruited, chair.
“GHT has supported me as service user for over 10 years and through some of the hardest times in my life. By encouraging and supporting me to become a volunteer and then a trustee it has meant that I have been able to experience and contribute to the development of a fantastically unique organisation”
At the AGM and at 4 members’ meeting each year, the Chief Executive and the Chair of GHT are open and transparent about what is really happening. They talk about the problems of funding and long-term sustainability and any other issue impacting the organisation. There is no attempt to soft-soap or manage the members. They tell it how it is.
For example, after many years of refusing money from pharmaceutical companies 18 months ago GHT, after extensive discussions with members and their agreement, decided to change the policy. It was up to the members.
The openness, transparency, and involvement that characterises the governance structure permeates and reinforces the culture of the organisation. Everyone is passionate and committed and work together. People can’t be categorised. Someone walking down a corridor at GHT might be a trustee, a volunteer, a person using the services or all 3.
The involvement of people who use the services and volunteers means that the organisation is kept “real”, it focuses on what is important and what will make a difference to people with HIV.
Photograph taken by Ed Sprake Photography