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Meet the Team: being "on the Board"

20 Feb 2019 Article Image

Welcome to the first in our "30 Minutes With...." series where we meet the people who are Grampian Women's Aid.  Today we're chatting with Judith Sutherland.  Judith is Langstane Housing Association's Director of Housing and Social Justice and a member of the Grampian Women's Aid Board of Trustees. 

Q: So, Judith, tell us a little bit about your background and what got you thinking about joining the GWA Board?

A: I left University with a law degree and have spent most of my professional life working in the housing environment.  While working with Aberdeenshire Council some years ago, I was on a domestic abuse monitoring group. This is where I became specially interested in domestic abuse as a societal issue and got me thinking about ways I could help. I felt I had practical skills I could bring to the organisation at board level that would in turn assist the organisation support women and children living with domestic abuse. 

Q: How did you go about joining and what was the process?

A: I knew Alison Hay, the manager at GWA, in a professional capacity and talked with her about my thoughts about joining the board.  I then went along to the Annual General Meeting to learn more about GWA and the scope of their work.  I was quite sure by this time that I wanted to contribute to the charity, so I then completed an application form and was invited along to meet with representatives of the Board. The meeting was very much a two-way discussion where we could each get to know each other, ask questions of each other and discuss my potential role and the skills and experience I would bring with me. At the end of the meeting, I was delighted to be invited to join the GWA Board.    

Q:  So, following on from that, what skills and experience do you bring to the Board?

A: My law degree helps us to keep informed about new and changing legislation, specially in relation to housing law and policy. I also have a Postgraduate Diploma in Housing Management and twenty-five years’ experience of working in housing, mostly social housing and student accommodation. So, I can advise on a broad range of housing related matters. 

Q: What difference can the Board make to delivery and development of the service?

A: The GWA Board is made up of women from a range of diverse professional and personal backgrounds ensuring we have a broad mix of skills and strengths.  We take a strategic view and plan where we can for long term stability.  We each of us have a network of contacts. We use these not only to help find solutions to challenges faced by the organisation but also to publicise domestic abuse as society’s issue and to promote the good work that Grampian Women’s Aid do.

Q: Since you’ve joined, what has been the highlight for you of being on the Board?

A: I attended a special event run by GWA to mark 40 years of Women’s Aid in Scotland. It was very well attended and consisted of supporters in many different capacities, partner organisations and women who had used or were currently using the service. I heard so many positive comments about Grampian Women’s Aid that night. It was clear how well respected the organisation is and how the work we do has such a positive impact. It was very uplifting and made me proud to be a part of GWA.

Q: Has anything disappointed you about the experience?

A: Nothing about my experiences on the Board.  However, the challenges we face in accessing and securing funding is frustrating.  In addition, funding is often for a limited period, say 2 years, and that makes it hard to plan for the longer term.

Q: We know how important and influential society’s response to domestic abuse is.  How would you like to see GWA influence that response?

A: Through our work, and by being part of the broader Scottish Women’s Aid organisation, we can make important changes to policy and legislation. The passing of the Domestic Abuse Bill in Scotland last year is a good example of that.  Now, not only physical abuse, but psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour can be prosecuted. We helped make that happen.

Q: We hear a lot about “good governance”. What do you think is most important in terms of good governance of GWA? 

A: The Board is crucial in ensuring good governance. We challenge and support the manager and her team ensuring policy and legislation is followed and that internal procedures are robust and effective.  We have an overview of what is happening as it happens and can react quickly to challenges.  Recently, for example, we had concerns around refuge availability.  Using our experience and networks we were able to put measures in place to help resolve the issue.

Q: Finally, Judith, what would you say to encourage others to join the Board?

A: It’s a great Board.  We meet regularly and we each have role where we can bring our experience and expertise.  We have open discussions and move things forward and are always respectful and supportive of each other.  In short, we make a difference to the delivery of a hugely important service.

Thanks to Judith for taking time out of her busy schedule to chat with us about what it's like to be on the Board. If you are interested in joining the Board of Trustees here at Grampian Women's Aid, you can email us at info@grampian-womens-aid.com, or call us on 01224 593381 and ask for the Manager.