Get to know our team in our new series of blog posts.
In the second blog of our new series, we asked trustee Naomi Cooper-Davis to tell us about her background and what made her decide to apply to join our Board.
What made you consider becoming a trustee for the MCLT Board?
I was a member of the People’s Panel – That’s supposed to be a secret but I’ve recused myself from involvement now I’m a part of MCLT board! So, the People’s Panel were there to give feedback to the Margate Town Deal Board. I got involved quite late but the few sessions I attended were really interesting. I couldn’t believe that I was getting excited about town planning and deciding where a bus stop would go but actually, when it’s the place you live, you really do have a vested interest in the outcomes. It was also incredible to hear about so many creative ideas for the arts, health and wellbeing, recreational spaces – I was blown away by the presentations and really proud of the town I call home.
Finding out about the MCLT and the fact that it has been created to protect spaces for creatives and craftspeople in perpetuity, that felt like a really exciting and important thing to be a part of.
I have been an actor for nearly twenty years and a creative producer at various times throughout that period. I also grew up in Kent and really understand what it’s like to be in town that felt dead end and if you wanted a creative job, you had to leave. Knowing that even though there’s a hive of creative activity in Margate, there are still parts of the communities that don’t feel included in it.
The prospect of being involved in a charity that can nurture the existing talent, and possibly widen its reach throughout Thanet, whilst also cultivating opportunity for future generations, was too exciting to miss out on.
Did you have any reservations about putting yourself forward?
So many! I think unfortunately, I had an idea of what a board member looks like, I think I also assumed they come from certain types of professional background too and that’s not me.
What I really didn’t consider, until some friends pointed them out to me, was how much my lived experience qualifies me for this role. Being a part of the board has really made me view myself differently. I have an individual lived experience, and twenty years as a creative (to varying levels of “success”) that really give me a unique perspective. I have an intricate knowledge of the creative industries but have also done plenty of everyday jobs. With that comes a lot of common sense, practicality and also a solution-based approach to things.
After the first interview (disastrous because it was over zoom and I was in a field in Norfolk on a family trip with terrible reception), I then got my friends to give me a pep talk before my final interview!
I think I had put so much pressure on myself to give a good interview that I got in my own way. For the second one I really just focused on the strengths I had to bring and here I am!
What do you think are the right ingredients for a successful Board of Trustees?
Well there’s an extensive list but for me most important is diversity of thought and experience. I think a great board is one where everyone has really different lived and work experience. You absolutely need a financial bod and people who do business every day but you also need people who understand what the people using your charities resources/programmes need.
I think when you bring all those different people together some real magic can happen.
When we had our first meeting, I was so excited by how different we all were but how we all seemed to have the same desire of making something brilliant for Margate and Thanet.
Can you tell us about the selection process?
Yes, first of all I sent in a CV and a one-page cover letter detailing why I thought I would be good for the job and what my experience was. Then we had an initial 30 minute interview with a five minute presentation, followed by a final, longer interview.
This was the most detailed interview process I’ve ever had and I would ask anyone who feels daunted by it, not to worry and to please apply. I would hate that anyone with the skills we need doesn’t apply because they are worried by the application process.
I would also say, if you have any access needs, please let us know because we will make adaptations for people happily.
What are the challenges involved with being a trustee?
I think one of the oversights often made with boards is that people who aren’t independently wealthy and who have to work or have caring responsibilities are often put off becoming board members. It’s a lot of work (depending on the charity) and it’s unpaid so you really are doing it because you believe in the cause/work, whatever that may be. It totally makes sense that boards are often dominated by professionals whose work allows them time off for voluntary causes or people who are retired/semi-retired – They have time and means to offer their time for free.
I also think it’s why it’s so important that people like me, who often think they can’t afford the time it takes actually apply. Our voices are really important and have perspectives sometimes get missed.
Our board is really trying to keep this sort of thing in mind when we look at our policies, the way we set this charity up for the future – We want to make our work and our reach, equitable. We’re committed to finding out what is needed by the creative sector by talking to them, first of all with our current survey but now we have our Community Engagement Manager – we can look at the ways we connect with the community and how information is exchanged.
I think I’m really encouraged that this board hasn’t been paternalistic or know it all – we realise that for all our strengths we’re not here to tell people what they need, we want to find out and we want to find creative ways to help people and businesses grow.
What are you enjoying most about belonging to the MCLT Board of trustees?
I love this group of people! I honestly have never been in a room with people with so many years of diverse work experience on a continuous basis. It feels like such a privilege to share and gain knowledge in this forum.
We all know different sectors and areas of industries – bringing that altogether with the joint purpose of securing property for Margate’s creatives and the creative sector is thrilling.
I also value that we are all taking this incredibly seriously. We understand that we’ve been entrusted to spend a large amount of government money in an area that has vast disparity and we really want to make sure that as many people as possible benefit from it.
What advice would you give to anybody considering becoming a trustee?
Do it! I think that if you have the skills but are worried by the time commitment, even if your contribution is only to discussion at meetings, that is a valuable contribution. You may have a perspective or idea that no-one else has.
Lived experience is incredibly valuable and in recent years is becoming more highly regarded. I think boards everywhere are made better by diversity of background and experience.
Before applying, in my own head I downplayed my experience because I don’t have a degree, I’m working class, I’m Black mixed heritage and spaces like ‘Boards’ from the outside didn’t seem safe or welcoming at all. I have been so thoroughly, pleasantly surprised by my experience so far with MCLT. The generosity of spirit that I have encountered and the realisation that I have a voice that matters in this space has been wonderful and personally, transformational.