Why All Trustee Boards Could Benefit from an Expert Citizen

By 12th December 2016 Blog No Comments

Guest Blog for Sounddelivery posted 8th December 2016

Through our work we get to meet and connect with many incredible storytellers, and someone we really admire in this sector is Darren Murinas. In this guest blog Darren shares his experience as an Expert Citizen, someone with lived experience of multiple needs, becoming a charity trustee.

I’m Darren Murinas currently the director of Expert Citizens CIC we are group of individuals who have all been affected by what we call multiple needs which includes homelessness, mental health addiction, offending behaviour domestic violence and abuse. We believe by sharing our personal stories we can contribute positive change in the services and systems that support people in similar situations to ourselves. I’ve been affected by some of these issues for almost 30 years, I was released from prison Christmas time 2012 where I found myself homeless. If it wasn’t for the help of local charities helping me get back on my feet I could’ve ended up back in prison or worse.

I first started getting involved with Expert Citizens in 2013  and I started to realise the power of sharing personal stories and helping others to tell their own. This has become a real passion of mine in the last few years.  I became chair of the group in summer 2015, my role involves leading expert citizens to motivate positive change in local and national organisations, public speaking to raise awareness, delivering training and workshops, and most importantly empowering other experts to lead and support all organisations in Stoke-on-Trent.

I first became aware and involved with Lankelly Chase in 2014.  Lankelly Chase is a charitable grant giving foundation with a focus on people affected by severe and multiple disadvantage. We were invited to their Promoting Change residential, 150 delegates: people with lived experience, commissioners, and service providers all coming together in a safe space to start a conversation about systems change.  In early 2015 I was invited along to parliament to present evidence to a parliamentary select committee with the Lankelly Chase foundation.  A few months after I was approached by an executive recruitment consultancy to see if I would be interested in becoming a trustee and board member for Lankelly Chase.  I was really surprised and shocked that someone like me with my background would have an opportunity like this.  I soon realised that Lankelly Chase are leaders in valuing people with lived experience so I applied for the position.  The next stage of the interview process involved three telephone interviews followed by a panel interview in London,  which for me was quite a scary process as I’ve not experienced interviews before like this only in my old life and that was in a police station as an offender.

I knew this was going to be an opportunity for me to contribute many years of lived experience around severe multiple disadvantage

The thought  of been a trustee was scary at first I didn’t know if I had the experience and skills necessary to succeed in this role,  however I was successful in the interviews and I was offered the trustee position. I felt amazed excited and a little bit scared I knew this was going to be an opportunity for me to contribute many years of lived experience around severe multiple disadvantage. The first few months I felt a bit out of my depth but I was supported in every way by the other members of the board and executive team.

The benefits of having someone with lived experience on your charities board is you get real insight into what works well and what organisations need to do to build a better future,  you also get new thinkers with fresh ideas on new ways of working.

I believe all charities should have expert citizens as trustees because they have personally experienced what your organisation is trying to do and can provide you with a real insight in what needs to change make people’s lives better.  My advice to charities looking to recruit people with lived experience to their boards is that it should not be a process of tokenism, your organisation should empower the individual with lived experience so they are ready and supported to take on the trustee role. I also believe we should try new ways of working within the boardroom, when I first began my journey as a trustee that I felt uncomfortable within the setting at first. I also found it difficult with the amount of paperwork full of difficult language I was expected to read before each meeting. However the support from Lankelly Chase and technology they have provided me has helped me to succeed within this role and now my confidence is growing and my ability to be an active member of the board is shining through.

Darren Murinas is Chair of the Expert Citizens and Trustee at Lankelly Chase. Darren has used his own experiences of offending behaviour and prison life to educate and inform others. Find him on Twitter at @darrenmurinas www.expertcitizens.org.uk