Greg's Story

My day job is entirely unrelated to the work Hestia does. I do project management & risk work for investment banks – lots of financial & IT stuff! But on the side, I have dedicated my time to volunteering.

It was in 2002, while volunteering at a church in West Ealing, that I became aware of Hestia. I had joined the Parochial Church Council there, and one of the other members happened to be a trustee at Hestia.

She introduced me to Patrick Ryan, Hestia’s CEO, and we discussed the expertise needed by the trustee board at the time; one was finance, and another was IT. I had a comfortable knowledge of both.

I was fascinated by the work the organisation did, and how it grew and developed its care for people, and very impressed by how it managed to give service users a voice in the organisation. When I first started, Hestia was a lot smaller, and most of the services were mental health based.

Over time, it continuously managed to change focus and service user provision, such as introducing the domestic abuse refuges, and later modern slavery service, without losing focus of the support it was already offering.

The environment for the charity sector is always changing – in my time as a trustee, we went through reductions in funding, not helped by the credit crunch.

It was interesting to see how a board of trustees would come together to decide how we could move the organisation forward instead of just wait to get squeezed by funders. We had to do it many times to ensure we could even survive.

As a trustee, it’s not all meetings. You get to go out and visit the services and meet the people using them, and the staff supporting them. Listening to the stories of the people in the services and watching how the staff would work to move people forward in life – that was the most enriching thing for me. Then returning with those stories to share them in the boardroom when relevant topics were being discussed.

There is one particular day I remember. A man had arrived at our Approved Premises, having just left prison, with absolutely nothing – no benefits and not even a toothbrush. The kindness shown by the staff was tremendous. He wanted to write a letter to seek legal help from his home country, the Netherlands, and a staff member went and bought him the postage stamps. Even though it’s a little thing, it showed that the team were engaged with his needs.

I was supposed to retire as a Trustee in 2009, but I was given a year extension. Then I was asked back for a further year on the Finance subcommittee to 2011. Then after a four-year gap I’ve now been asked back to serve shorter-term roles on three other committees. They didn’t let us go easily!

Currently I’m a member of the digital and IT subcommittee since 2020, helping to develop our digital strategy on the back of the success of the domestic abuse support app Bright Sky.

Hestia’s digital work has been one area that has grown exponentially. When I started, there was just half a person managing all the IT. You can imagine all the problems with old technology! If COVID had come along 10 years ago, it would have been crippling in terms of the old IT infrastructure and its ability to get the organisation working remotely.

The digital work Hestia has achieved is more important now than ever.

The reason I’ve stayed so long is that you can see the benefit of the time you’re putting in. My favourite volunteer roles that I’ve done are the ones to do with supporting people – you feel like you’re giving something back. It does a lot for my self-worth to feel part of a team doing so much for people’s needs.

The plan for the next few years is to keep up my volunteering and my hobbies. I’m a member of my new church’s PCC, as well as a school governor, a choir singer, a motorbike rider, a bellringer, croquet referee and a professional firework firer. I’m a trustee for a couple of smaller charities. The older I get, the more hobbies and volunteering I do. It makes life interesting!

In terms of Hestia, the plan is to be on the digital and IT sub-committee for two years and then I’ll retire. But I’m sure in a few years, I’ll get a call: “Greg, we’ve got a favour to ask you…”

Which film has impacted me the most?

The Princess Bride. Just such a lovely story really. But also a great plot with unlikely twists and turns and an amazing sword fight scene to name just a few things about it. Oh, and true love.

Which book has impacted me the most?

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. It was rather a cult as I was growing up (originally on the radio) and it made a great impact on all my best school mates and we bonded together reading each new book as it came out. Such a crazy imagination!

Which song has impacted me the most?

So many I just can’t pick one, surely. So many I love by Leonard Cohen, Neil Diamond, David Bowie, Cat Stephens, Jack Johnson. If I had to pick just one I’d say The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, from Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi. One of many operas I’ve performed in and it’s just so moving that I (like many) just cried buckets while performing every night. Enjoy it in Italian (‘Va pensiero’) or English