At the close of 2017 Bill Stow, Chair of our Board of Trustees for the past three years and a member for a further three, handed over the baton to his successor Lynne Berry OBE. Here he shares his thoughts on the challenges and rewards of being at the helm of an important charity and why he is optimistic for the future.
Leading the Board of an important charity through a period of significant change and challenge can be a serious business. I’ve been fortunate to have a diverse Board of lively and committed Trustees (all of whom are volunteers) with a wide range of experience. We are united around a strong belief in the importance of sustainable transport and the role of Sustrans in making it easier for everyone to walk and cycle.
My six years have been a roller-coaster of funding feast and famine, especially in England. We’ve had to take some difficult decisions on restructuring and downsizing, as well as providing strategic direction and fulfilling all the other roles of charity Trustees under increasing external scrutiny.
If all that sounds a bit thankless – far from it. It’s also been enormously rewarding and great fun to see what Sustrans does in every part of the UK.
Connecting people and places
When I started on the Board, the Connect 2 programme to extend the National Cycle Network into the heart of communities was just coming to an end. Working with local authorities and other partners, we generated large amounts of funding to supplement generous Big Lottery money for more than 80 projects linking paths and communities, often with dramatic new bridges over previously insuperable obstacles.
Transforming the journey to school
The end of that big capital programme coincided with the beginnings of a boom in our work in schools and workplaces, funded through local authorities, often in very ethnically diverse areas. We measure the results of these programmes, which consistently lead to much greater use of walking, cycling and scooting instead of the car for the school run.
Over the forty years since Sustrans began we have reached well over a million young people in this way. Even with austerity biting, local authorities want to continue these programmes because of the multiple benefits they bring. But we would like to do so much more.
Our impact across the UK
This work, and other projects on community led street design, were a revelation to me. I became a supporter of Sustrans over 20 years ago because I was inspired by the National Cycle Network and the importance of sustainable transport for tackling climate change. It’s been an eye-opener to learn that our impact goes much, much wider!
In my time, the Board has sampled one of the new Quietways in London, seen different aspects of the major Scottish Government walking and cycling programme which Sustrans manages, ridden greenways in Birmingham and Belfast (a particular interest of mine as I am also Vice- Chair of The Wildlife Trusts) and everywhere met our wonderful, creative and enthusiastic staff and volunteers. It’s been a great privilege to be involved with such an amazing organisation.
Reasons for optimism
What of the future? There’s no disguising that these are difficult times as funding continues to grow tighter. We are extremely lucky in our dedicated and generous supporters but we need to see more commitment from government, of the sort we have in Scotland and London, to make a big impact.
But I’m optimistic. The case for more sustainable transport is overwhelming, whether it be carbon saving, tackling obesity and promoting well-being, air quality, making our towns and cities pleasanter places to live and work and thus attracting business. As a flexible, creative and well-managed charity, experienced in partnership working, Sustrans is well placed to offer solutions to all of these problems at local and national levels.
I leave the leadership of Sustrans in good hands. Xavier Brice, our CEO, has brought strong strategic direction and new ideas; and Lynne Berry, my successor as Chair has an amazing range of experience in the charity and public sector, as well as being an ardent champion of the benefits of walking and cycling. I’ve told her that it will be challenging but enormous fun.
Finally, my thanks to all our staff, supporters and volunteers. I know just how much you contribute to our success in a huge variety of ways. We couldn’t achieve what we do without you.