Ken Batty has been on the front lines of standing up for the rights of the LGBT+ community since the 1980s when he was heavily involved in political campaigning and setting up the Albert Kennedy Trust (now AKT). He became a trustee in the 90s and is now a proud ambassador.

Ken balanced his love for social change with an executive career in large global technology companies and has lived in London, Paris and Hong Kong.

He is now focused on the public and third sector, having served a four-year term as a lay member on the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

Ken joined the board of trustees at Mosaic LGBT+ Young Persons’ Trust in October 2019, and he remains inspired by their mission of supporting, educating and inspiring LGBT+ young persons. He also serves as a Non-Executive Director of the East London NHS Foundation Trust and a council member at the Queen Mary University of London.

How did you become a trustee and what interested you in becoming a trustee?

I was first a trustee back in the early 1990s for the Albert Kennedy Trust, the UK’s LGBT+ youth homelessness charity. Back then, lots of young people were thrown out of home when they told mum and dad that they were gay or lesbian.

A group got together in Manchester to set up a charity to tackle the issue – I knew lots of the people involved and they asked me to help from the start. Eventually, I was invited to be a trustee, and honestly, it was something of a baptism of fire.

This was during the time of Section 28 and we faced a torrent of anti-LGBT+ prejudice. The Charity Commission took a lot of pushing just to register us; News of the World and the Sun were writing horrible articles about us; a parent even publicly accused us of kidnapping his son from the family garden in Wales – he had actually been referred to us by Centrepoint in London when they found him sleeping rough. It was a very difficult time.

However, we were determined and had chosen a trustee board with strong skills. Within 5 years we were running sessions on how small charities should manage their finances, sponsored by the Charity Commission. More than 30 years on, AKT is still going strong and has helped thousands of young people in the LGBT+ community.

How did you make the move from Trustee to Chair and how did you prepare?

I have been involved with several charities since that time with AKT. I have focused my interest on what I learned during that time:

  1. Ensuring the charity is well run,
  2. Risks are understood and mitigated,
  3. There is a vision for the future and a clear strategy on how to get there.

I made the leap from Trustee to Chair when Peridot approached me to see if I knew anyone who would be suitable for a Chair role at Mosaic LGBT+ Young Persons’ Trust – the main LGBT+ youth service in London.

I looked at the role and thought ‘why not me?’ I was very interested and, crucially, I had the time to do it. Time is a hugely important factor in considering becoming a chair, alongside passion. I also had some expertise in the activities of the charity.

I spent a lot of time finding out why the previous Chair was moving on, what challenges he had faced and how much time he devoted each month.

You can immediately know if the activity of the charity interests you, but different charities require hugely different time commitments. A small charity with no staff often has the trustees and, particularly the Chair, doing a lot of work. A very large charity has staff to do everything, allowing the Chair and the Board to focus on the strategy.

You must consider how much time you realistically have, and then see if that is enough for the charity you want to support.

What does your role as a Chair involve? Where do you spend most of your time?

Formally, it is about chairing meetings and ensuring all the voices are heard. In reality, it is much more than that.

The largest time commitment for me is managing our Executive Director. The charity was his idea, he set it up and established it, and it is very much his vision for what an LGBT+ young persons’ service should be – for instance, it is because of his view we say “young persons” and not “youth”, which he believes conjures up images of teenagers sitting looking miserable, dressed in hoodies, smoking and drinking.

As Chair, I must walk a fine line between following his vision and the legal responsibilities of the Trustees. Fortunately, we get on very well, have a common vision for what we want to achieve, and our discussions generally focus on how best to do that.

One thing we are clear about is that I am the manager. The other Trustees mainly interact with him through me, in the same way you would in a corporate environment. I learned back at AKT you cannot have a Trustee Board managing staff – it just doesn’t work.

How do you maintain a good relationship with the CEO?

Firstly, we talk very regularly –a couple of times every week with face-to-face meetings monthly.

Secondly, we openly share our concerns, usually those that have arisen at the Board. While maintaining confidentiality, I share the various viewpoints of Trustees and the final view we reached.

Thirdly, he is involved in all decisions. As Trustees we are interested in strategy, safeguarding, financial strength, and long-term risk. We keep out of the day-to-day running – he is more than capable of handling that.

What qualities do you think are important for those in a trustee role?

Firstly, a sense of collegiality. While you need to express your views openly and with candour, you need to be willing to support the overall view. Research shows that good boards socialise together as well as work together. The trust that is built makes the whole thing far more effective.

Secondly, you have to put the time in. You need to prepare – read the papers, reflect, and determine what information you need to achieve the goals. Furthermore, you need to get out and see the charity in action – otherwise, all that you know is curated by the CEO’s report. You need to be confident that you have a good understanding of the reality on the ground.

Thirdly, you need to speak up and have a point of view. You must use your expertise and experience to give a different perspective.

Thank you to Ken Batty, for sharing your inspiring story and your insights into what being a trustee entails, from the perspective of at Chair! You can follow Ken on LinkedIn here.