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UCL alum shares experience of volunteering as Chairman of London Gay Men’s Chorus

By Joe O'Brien, on 20 January 2020

Written by Anthony Hull, MSc Construction and Enterprise Management 2011 & Project Manager at Network Rail

Background to the London Gay Men’s Chorus

The London Gay Men’s Chorus started in 1991 when 9 guys decided to sing Christmas carols at Angel Station to raise funds for the Terence Higgins Trust.  It has since grown to become a registered charity with over 300 members.  Other than performing and entertaining, educating and inspiring through song, its mission includes:

  • To provide a safe, supportive community for gay men to socialise, exchange ideas and have fun; and
  • To work with schoolchildren, teachers and parents to eradicate homophobic bullying.

When did you join the LGMC and why?

I joined the LGMC in January 2014. I had been in the choir at school and the work the group were doing and the events they took part in really struck a chord with me and something I felt I would love to be a part of. The rest is history.

Why did you decide to take on a volunteer role within the Chorus?

I felt that I had something to offer the group with my background in project management, as I could see that the work of the chorus consisted of many background parts that may not be immediately obvious. I have never been one to sit on the side lines and say what I think should be done – I want to get in there and play my part.  I particularly wanted to offer some support and give back to an organisation that was providing me and continues to give me such personal joy and contentment. I had no intention or wish to be the chair when I joined the committee, but as my time in various trustee roles lengthened, I gained the confidence to step up and take forward some of the ideas that had been forming in my mind.

As chairman, what are your main responsibilities?

I am both the lead for the internal management of the chorus as well as lead external representative with other organisations and have a varied mix of responsibilities both legal, strategic and operational. Firstly, I lead the Board of Trustees, which on a practical level involves the chairing of meetings and developing of the agenda each month as well as agreeing the roles and responsibilities of those on the board. I also have lead accountability for ensuring that the Chorus is complying with its legal obligations as a charitable company. The second part is strategic in terms of ensuring the chorus has a strategy and action plan in place to meet its objectives across the year and is always looking two to three years ahead, as these are the kind of timescales we need to work to in terms of planning for the shows, performances and tours we undertake. The third element is very practical day to day operations. Our trustee board currently also acts as the management committee, so I oversee a range of issues which require attention. These can be anything from ensuring we have refreshment provision at rehearsals to ensuring we have made our Gift Aid claims to ensure we have a good cash flow.

How have you found balancing your ‘day job’ with your Chairman responsibilities?

This is a huge challenge. My day job is a project manager for a range of construction schemes ranging in value of between £5m to c.£2bn. As with all projects, there are peaks and troughs of activity across a year and the biggest challenge is ensuring that I dedicate a portion of my time to my work as chair, whilst balancing with the needs of what I am paid to do. I don’t always get that right and too much focus in one area can cause a backlog in the other. A key lesson I have learnt is around ensuring I undertake activities in little and often bouts of work, prioritising what needs to be done, working gradually on some of the bigger ambitions our chorus has and also delegating to those who can dedicate time to a given task.

What would you say have been the top three benefits you’ve been able to action on behalf of the charity during your chairmanship?

I would say that the top three issues I have been able to bring in my time since being elected have been a much improved and more professional approach to our management of performances and events, right from the first contact to close out, payment and feedback at the end. I am working to ensure that we plan our years ahead in a much more systematic way in order to ensure that the chorus has a wide range of opportunities for members, whilst balancing the resources and finances available. The third area of activity is to get a greater focus on our financial sustainability. We have many ambitions about how we would like to do new projects, but we need to ensure we have a much more consistent and strengthened position – no different to any other charity no doubt!

Would you recommend volunteering / charitable work to others and if so, why?

Yes, I definitely would. I say this because volunteering and doing charitable work offers a way of enacting change and making an impact in an area which is of personal importance to you. It also allows you to bring skills from your day job and vice versa and brings a lot of satisfaction.

Where can people find out more about the LGMC / get involved in the charity?

You can visit our website at www.lgmc.org.uk for more information. Alongside joining and taking part as a singing member, you can also support our work as a non-singing member. Later in 2020, we shall be appointing external people to our board of trustees to bring a different perspective when making decisions and also skills that we may not have internally at present. Do keep an eye on our website for information about that or contact me on chair@lgmc.org.uk.

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