Meet the RVA Team – Herjeet Randhawa, Advice Worker

Continuing our new series, in which we ask members of the Reading Voluntary Action team to tell us about their work, and reflect on how things have changed over the last few weeks. This week we meet Herjeet Randhawa who has been RVA’s Advice Worker for 4 years, supporting trustees and managers of Reading’s voluntary and community organisations with legal and governance queries, to build capacity in the sector. Herjeet’s role is a dynamic and varied one that includes one-to-one sessions with trustees and managers, organising training on how to run a charity, and delivering the RVA Safe and Sound Quality Award.

How has your role changed since the coronavirus outbreak?

The biggest change has been keeping appraised of the daily shifting landscapes in legal and governance matters, including the government updates, employment law and, of course, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme – and getting this information out clearly and quickly for Reading’s voluntary and community groups. It’s a hugely uncertain time for all at the moment, including those who run charities, and RVA decided early on in the pandemic to create a Coronavirus Community Action page, overseen by my colleague Demelza, so we could help organisations easily access resources and information.

The Advice Service saw a huge demand in the first month – for employment-related advice and governing in a virtual world – as groups adjusted to the crisis. Then there was a slight reprieve, and I used this to plan forward. I sent out a survey to trustees and managers so that I could get a good bird’s eye view of what charities and groups most needed support with, and how best to get this support to them. The survey closed last week and I will shortly be advertising the support programme, which will include digital training and events. I’m really happy to be supporting charities to take this step back and map out what’s coming. Despite all the uncertainty, I think this is a real opportunity for trustees to work closely and compassionately together and hone their governance skills, which will certainly create stronger charities going forward.

What has been the most challenging part of the changes over the last few weeks?

Like many people, working from home has thrown up challenges. I’m an extrovert by nature and have missed the daily contact with colleagues in the office and colleagues in the wider sector at our training, events and in-person sessions. However, we’ve all adapted incredibly in this sector and remembering all the different ways people are helping their communities right now is so impressive. Aside from that, I really need to sort out better biscuits – I’m failing the RVA team in that area!

One of the things that stands out for me is how colleagues in the sector and in other sectors in Reading have really come through for each other. I can definitely see that there’s more co-production and sharing of best practice and information.

Have there been any positives to lockdown for you?

One of the things that stands out for me is how colleagues in the sector and in other sectors in Reading have really come through for each other. I can definitely see that there’s more co-production and sharing of best practice and information. That’s probably my highlight – it would be great to keep this going. Personally, the lockdown has given me a chance to sort out my garden (yes, I’m a lockdown rookie gardener!) and my partner and I have been taking tea breaks in our front garden to get to know our neighbours better, which is a great way to stay connected on a local community level and not get too carried away with all the sensational reporting in the news.

As we start to look to a future shaped by coronavirus, are there things you are particularly concerned about or hopeful for?

I am hopeful that we are working towards a more equitable society and we’ve definitely seen societal indications of this e.g. recognising key workers. It would be great if we could translate this into more equitable opportunity, where we use the power and privilege each of us hold to empower others who are less heard. I would love to see this translating across all sectors, roles and institutions, and of course this is a core value of many charities. Perhaps it is as simple as exploring our own blind spots and those in our organisations, and identifying where we can open up space for others?

If your charity would like to explore more diversity on your board, you have some examples of how you’re achieving this, or if you are someone interested in the role of trustee, do get in touch by emailing advice@rva.org.uk. You can find RVA’s Coronavirus Community Action page here.