Blog : August 2017

Toynbee Hall

Toynbee Hall


Who was the client and what were their challenges?

Toynbee Hall are based in the East End of London and give some of the UK’s most deprived communities a voice, providing access to free advice and support and working together to tackle social injustice.

The board was going through a significant period of transition; a new chair had recently begun and they wanted to ensure that the relationship between the board and executive team was as clear and productive as it could be. This included helping improve the clarity of board and executive roles and responsibilities, decision making and strengthening working relationships built on trust.

did we help?

We spoke privately to each member of the board and executive team, enabling them to express their version of the challenges and opportunities ahead for Toynbee Hall. This allowed a level of honesty about some of the issues that had previously caused friction on the board and a feeling that this ‘baggage’ could be left behind. Following a very productive away day we put together a report including suggested areas for action, divided into those for immediate review and some more long term briefs. A particular area of priority was the relationships firstly between the board members themselves, and secondly between the board and senior executive team.


What impact has this had?

We were able to help deal with issues that were widely known, but had not been fully addressed previously. We helped the board to work through how it conducted its business in a more strategic manner and work more productively together and with the executive team. Following the away day, a new chief executive was appointed and our report is being used as a source document for identifying priority governance questions.


Without Practical Governance’s intervention and process we wouldn’t be at the point we are at now. Going back to the stage before we engaged with Practical Governance, the board at Toynbee was going through a significant period of transition and there was a lot of baggage that needed to be moved on.

We felt a degree of nervousness about the away day and about how it would work, but we didn’t need to because it was managed in such a way that it was an incredibly powerful day which has served us in good stead. Our board is conducting its strategic business in a much more thoughtful way, and working to a much more strategic level. We have a clear set of actions that we are fully behind as a board and executive team.

David Warner, Trustee & Chair of Finance Committee, Toynbee Hall

What did we learn

Our work with Toynbee Hall has underlined the importance of trust and clarity in board and executive roles, and the importance of confidential one to one sessions before away days like this. It has also made us think about when and how we provide ongoing support to our clients. In the case of Toynbee Hall only a limited follow up was required, however we know that many of our clients need regular follow-up conversations and further sessions. The need for and type of follow up work is as unique as each client is and something we will now discuss with all clients at the start of every project, as well as at the end. 

How long did it take?

We held one to one conversations with each member of the board and executive team during January 2017 and followed this up with an away day in March. Our final report was presented to the board in April 2017. The work was carried out over a total of 10 days and was overseen by Bob Thust and Sarah O’Grady.

Fordhall Organic Farm

Fordhall Organic Farm


Fordhall Organic Farm, in Market Drayton, North Shropshire is England’s first community-owned farm and has been organic for over 65 years. The farm is open to the public as an enjoyable and educational resource all year round.

We supported the staff team to help refine and articulate their core values, and explore exactly what they meant in practice. This helped a growing staff and volunteer team to bond more closely with the unique mission of Fordhall Farm and have a common understanding of their role in contributing to this. 

Who was the client and what were their challenges?

Fordhall Organic Farm, in Market Drayton, North Shropshire is England’s first community-owned farm and has been organic for over 65 years. The farm is open to the public as an enjoyable and educational resource all year round.

The Farm was established with a clear sense of there being a shared vision, mission and values. That sense was still shared strongly by many. However, over time they have grown in size and taken on more staff and they felt that now was a good time to reaffirm these in order to:

  • ensure the unique Fordhall Farm ‘character’ was retained
  • more effectively use the values to drive strategy and behaviour
  • more effectively use values to communicate with and engage with key stakeholders

How did we help?

Fordhall Farm was carrying out an annual strategy review and as part of this process we reviewed its values across the organisation and how they related to its vision and mission. Getting these values right, and working through how to embed them firmly in the day to day operations and decisions that all staff, volunteers and board make has started to enable greater consistency in service, stronger working relationships, and greater clarity in how the farm communicates its unique vision, mission and character. An important part of this was to ensure that the responsibility for delivering the mission would be shared right across the organisation, and not just held with the board and leadership team.

This work was carried out over a period of four months during which time we interviewed members of the staff team and members of the board, worked closely with the farm’s strategy consultant, facilitated an away day and developed a realistic plan for approval by the board and staff.

What impact has this had?

The work on values is now being embedded throughout the organisation, for example within the interview process, marketing, induction processes and events. They are finding that staff feel part of a more cohesive organisation and understand how they all fit together.

The values are understood and being expressed by all members of staff and not just the senior leadership team. The board will include a nominated rep who will make sure that the values stay central to board discussions.

Whilst the Farm’s relationship with volunteers was already strong, having a clearer understanding of the values has strengthened this very special bond with its volunteers. Staff have received a training session on values and how to pass them on to any new staff, ensuring that the spirit of the values underpins everything achieved at the farm now, and in the future.

“Prior to the work with Practical Governance, everyone wanted to feel more connected and whilst we have team meetings and away days they couldn’t always feel the links internally because all of our projects are very different. The process helped everyone to feel like they are critical cogs in the bigger wheel, so it’s much clearer to people not just what they should be doing but why they are doing it.

It’s been valuable to have someone external work with us on this, because they have time to do it thoroughly and take an objective view.   It was really lovely reading the values to our volunteers, they all said yes, this is what Fordhall is to me. That’s been really good and has strengthened our bond.”

Charlotte Hollins, Custodian, Fordhall Farm

What did we learn:

Following our away day with Fordhall Organic Farm, we arranged a session with the farm’s strategy consultant to follow up on the actions and ensure they were realistic and taken forward quickly. This has proved really important in ensuring the work landed – even after a really positive away day it can be easy to lose momentum once people get back to work. This project has also reaffirmed our belief in the power of values when you properly work through what they mean for people day to day, rather than just words on a page. 

How long did it take?

The work was carried out over a period of 4 months and took a total of 4 days to complete. The work was overseen by Bob Thust & Becky Claydon.