Parent organisation of Community Links, Foundation and Bridging the Gap

View from the Chair

Claire Vilarrubi has a wealth of experience working in criminal justice and is passionate about supporting those who are likely to fall into the criminal justice system and how to prevent this from happening. She joined the board for Foundation in 2012 and became Chair in 2018. She remained in that role when Foundation and Community Links merged to create Inspire North.

In this blog, she talks about her role as Chair of the Inspire North Board of Trustees and some of the joys and challenges that the role provides.  

I spent about 20 years in the prison service, half of that as a forensic psychologist, and then as a prison governor. My last post was at Leeds Prison in Armley and I first came into contact with Foundation there. They used to provide housing support to the men leaving prison and they had workers based in the prison.

I was always really impressed by the staff that worked for Foundation and the commitment, enthusiasm and passion that they showed when providing a much needed service. When it comes to rehabilitation, people often talk about employment, but first and foremost you need housing and somewhere safe to live. If you think about a hierarchy of needs, it’s right up there as a fundamental thing. I used to visit people in the Foundation office and it was like a breath of fresh air. What they were doing helped remind me why we were doing what we were doing in the prison service as a whole.

When I left the prison service, the Chief Executive of Foundation at the time invited me to join the board and I just jumped at the chance, both in terms of being able to support an organisation that I held in high regard, and also in terms of what I could get from it by broadening my skill set. It was a good way for me to learn the ropes of a different organisation and a different setup, and I’m still learning new things now.

I remained Chair of the board when Foundation and Community Links joined together to create Inspire North. Life at an organisation like Inspire North is never dull. The kind of work that they do is innovative and creative, so you’re always learning, and the landscape of the voluntary sector is constantly evolving, especially in recent years because of certain pressures. I’m also a Trustee for Together Women and in the time that I’ve been involved in both organisations, I’ve always felt that I’ve got as much out of it as I’ve put in.

One of the joys of being a Trustee is working with a fantastic bunch of people with a range of skills from a range of backgrounds – people who I probably wouldn’t ordinarily work with in my day-to-day life. I learn a lot from them and the conversations that we have, and sometimes that can be challenging in the best possible way.

Being Chair of the Board is a bit like being a prison governor in that it can be a sort of lonely position to be in and ultimately the buck stops with you. But that’s fine. It’s about using the support that’s there and maintaining a good relationship with the Chief Executive Ruth Kettle, the Senior Leadership Team and other colleagues on the board.

A couple of years ago, I was asked what advice I would give to someone thinking about becoming a Trustee. What I said at that time was, “If you’re thinking about becoming a Trustee, then just go for it” and I suppose that’s still true, but I’d probably be a bit more measured now in the sense that I would add: “If you can find the time to do it…” Because I don’t think that’s always true for everyone. If you are thinking about becoming a Trustee and you’re at a point where you feel like you can do it in terms of your personal and professional life, that you can commit time to it, then you will always get back more than you give, so on that basis I would say go for it.

I’ve just started my last term of office as Chair of the Inspire North Board. When I took on the role, I never thought I’d be doing it for this long. It’s good for an organisation to have new Trustees and when the time comes, it will be good for me to step down. We’ve got a range of new Trustees joining the board who are from a diverse range of backgrounds and with a broad range of skills which is bringing new life to the board and that’s fantastic to see. Inspire North is a great organisation with an exciting future – it’s good to know it will be in very safe hands moving forward.

You can learn more about our other Trustees here.