Governance, Trustees

Life in the time of Coronavirus – a trustee’s experience

Phyllida Perrett, Trustee at DSC, talks about being a trustee during the current pandemic.

It’s staggering how much has changed since DSC embarked on its new financial year only 15 weeks ago! In January we were really excited about the future. We had just appointed five new trustees and their induction was well underway. Towards the end of the month we celebrated our 12th Social Change Awards with 200+ guests at the House of Lords which was hosted by our good friend Lord Richard Dannatt. 2020 had started well.

Fast forward to March 2020. Suddenly overnight the nation was in lockdown – and so were all of DSC, anxious and not knowing what on earth to expect. And then it became clear – no more face-to-face events or courses.

Which is when it hit us – hit me: charities’ incomes had almost vanished overnight and DSC was no exception. Our income plummeted overnight. So, if we were going to be able to help the tens of thousands of other charities survive to support the people, families, children they work with,  how could we survive to do that?

Step forward DSC’s inspirational CEO, Debra Allcock Tyler and brilliant senior team: Bronwen, Jay, Yvonne, Ben and Annette. We as a board collectively and quickly agreed decisions would need to be made at pace so that DSC remained in business and focused on the most important issue for the sector: remaining in business to serve the vulnerable.

DSC’s team needed regular, speedy, on-hand support to make decisions which were unthinkable only a few days earlier. We wanted to maximise our support to them and minimise the amount of extra work.

The wider Board appointed an emergency Covid-19 Board Working Group. Three trustees were appointed and delegated authority.  William Butler chairing the working group, Andrew Purkis and I began meeting weekly on-line with Debra and key team.

Awful decisions had to be made. It hurt but we initially had to furlough not far off 70% of our staff. All our staff, both furloughed and non-furloughed, took a 20% pay cut. We re-worked budgets, projected income and cash flow predictions and made new financial models: best case, worse case, most likely case. We agreed what the non-furloughed team needed to focus on and prioritise. And we knew we had to take some bigger risks than we would normally have. I never expected to make such a decision but within days I was digitally signing a very large Covid Business Interruption Loan Scheme application.

Our skeleton crew are working extraordinarily hard so that we can both can get the whole team back together and still respond to other charities’ needs and requests. We prioritised helping our colleagues in the sector in every way we could introducing a new daily bulletin to update everyone on sources of crisis funding and keep them informed as to what other resources which might help. We introduced our Espresso Express ten minute training videos and made our Training on Line offer available for free – which in the first few days had over 200+ downloads last week alone.

Our job as charity trustees is to govern and take decisions as a Board and to scrutinise and check decisions speedily and with diligence. But without trust it doesn’t work and I thank our staff and my fellow trustees, who have given us their trust to help steer DSC through this strange, frankly frightening time.

I don’t know what the future will look like, but I do know that DSC and thousands of other organisations in the sector, are working harder than any of us could reasonably expect: I salute you all.


Phyllida Perrett is a trustee at DSC and third sector consultant