How to buy a palace. And other thoughts on being a charity trustee.

I have just stepped down after almost six years as a Trustee for Hartlebury Castle Preservation Trust. I have previously been a trustee for a range of heritage sector organisations including professional development, strategic, and heritage preservation bodies.

I thought I’d put down some thoughts on being a charity trustee. I hope this is useful to those who want to know more or are considering becoming a trustee.

Being a trustee is a fantastic professional and personal development opportunity, a chance to give something back, an opportunity to diversify your networks, a way to develop your CV, and gain management and leadership experience. Great. But. It is more than going to meetings. It is hard work. And it is a lot of responsibility.

So. What did I achieve?

  • I helped save a unique piece of heritage for public use.
  • I learnt a lot from working with my fellow trustees who were from diverse backgrounds and had a wide range of professional experience between them.

Best bit?

Scariest bit?

  • Spending £2m of public money purchasing a historic building.

Would I do it again?

  • Yes. But not for a while. The responsibility is significant. Being a trustee is stressful at times.

Fancy it?

Then. Your go-to information source is the Charity Commission website. This provides advice for trustees, on governance, and annual reports for all registered charities. You cannot spend too much time on this website.

To get the best out of being a trustee.

  • Identify the charity or area of charity work you feel strongly about.
  • Consider which skills you can offer.
  • Think about what you would like to learn more about.
  • Be clear about what you will not do.
  • Then look for vacancies.

Essentials before you sign up.

  • Know your responsibilities.
  • Look at the charity’s annual report and accounts.
  • Also the website. Does it say what the charity does? Is it up to date? If not why not?
  • Understand the charity’s governance. Is it incorporated or unincorporated? Is it a company limited by guarantee? A CIC or a CIO? Ask the other trustees (if they are not clear – do not join). Do your own research (what are you liable for if it all goes belly-up?).
  • Meet one or more existing trustees.
  • Ask if you can join a board meeting as an observer.Does the chair manage the meeting well? Does every trustee participate? How do they interact as a group?
  • Is there clarity on money in the bank and up coming commitments? Does the Treasurer bring a copy of the latest bank statement?

By the time you decide to become a trustee or a trustee director (if you are not sure which it is, you have not done your research) you should know the Charity Commission website and your chosen charity very well indeed.

And. Just so you know.

If you work for a charity being a trustee will give you insights into your own board and the responsibilities and choices they face. This is not necessarily a good thing…

Posted in Careers, Fundraising, Heritage, History, Museums, Trustee | 1 Comment

I wrote to my MP to express my concerns about racism and the rise of the far-right

Some people in this country are living in fear. This is wrong. I am not sure what I can do. But. I can ask those in charge what they are doing.

I wrote to my MP to express my concerns about the impact of the EU referendum outcome. You could too.

Dear Harriet Baldwin MP,

This morning you suggested that those who were signing the petition for a second referendum should join a political party. My response was that whilst there are individual MP’s I respect, the major political parties have behaved appallingly. They have been deeply divided, resulting in poor messaging on both the Leave and Remain campaigns. Over the last few years the Conservative Party has delivered divisive messages on the NHS, social welfare and immigration.

I voted Remain because I believe the European Union is a symbol of unity.

My greatest worry is not the economic impact or the loss of freedom of movement for European citizens. It is that the Leave result has legitimised xenophobic and racist behaviour. You will have seen the stories of people being told to leave the UK on social media, face-to-face on the street, and by letters through their doors. I fear that our society will become increasingly racist and that this will lead to the growth of extreme right-wing political parties.

I would like to know what you are doing to:

  • counter racism,
  • create cohesion between different communities,
  • proactively combat the growth of the far right.

I will not join a political party until one convinces me that it is committed to delivering on the above. In the meantime I will support charities and organisations can demonstrate impact in working towards these aims.

Yours sincerely,
Rachel Cockett
[West Worcestershire]

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They stole my flag

The 1980s. When I was young the Union Flag was a symbol of the far-right. When I saw it I felt a bit wary. Who was flying it?  And why? And were they looking at me?

Image: By White Flight - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

National Front march from the 1970s. The movement from which the BNP would emerge by 1982.

The 1990s. The whole Cool Britannia thing changed that. In 1996 there this rather fabulous collaboration between David Bowie and Alexander McQueen. Great artists both. How could the flag not be cool?

David Bowie, Coat by Alexander McQueen

David Bowie, coat by Alexander McQueen

2012. At the London Olympics there were plenty of reasons to wave it, from the amazing opening ceremony, to the achievement of our athletes. It could be a celebratory symbol. I felt pretty happy about it.

Mo Farah celebrates winning the men’s 5000m final at the London 2012 Olympic Games

Last week. I drove into my station and a large group of UKIP Leave campaigners were flying the Union Flag alongside banners that said: “we want our country back”.

Today. I walked past a scarecrow made for a parish competition (it’s a rural thing). It was decorated with ‘GB’ signs and Union Flags. In fact, based on the scarecrow design, the theme was tennis and the flags were celebratory. But. I still felt uncomfortable. Like I did in the 1980s.

They stole my flag.

Yes. I do want my country back.*

*still working out the most effective way to do that.

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Oh England

You gave me my birth
Then you made me pay
What is it worth
Cast me away
You’ve really done it now
Dying in my arms
You stand here with nothing
But you’ve still got english charm

Oh England, you’re my home
My heart’s heart
Crashing thunder of love
You’re a place of the poor
Open wound
The lost rites of love

You cut your own throat
Then you let it bleed
Misleading your people
From what they all need
Roots forgotten
That’s what we all say
But what does it matter
You’re the USA

Why is it England
I feel like rubbish on your streets
Why is it when I care
I feel incomplete
Why does our future seem
Such a feat
When will our consciousness
Finally meet

England My Home
The Levellers

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Goodbye to an old friend


I moved to Birmingham. I lived in the city centre, almost next door to Central Library. For a year it was my local lending library. I used it occasionally for borrowing books for several more years. In time I become aware of its huge reference collection.


The reference library served me well whilst I researched and wrote my Master’s Dissertation. A helpful librarian showed me how to use the index card system and how to get more books from the stacks. Over many months she became (in my head…) *my librarian*. Almost every reference source I needed was there.


I started work at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. The Library was a neighbour once again. We worked with Library colleagues on collections digitisation projects. Some still exist. I learnt about the Library’s amazing photography and local archive collections.

14 December 2015

Demolition of the Library began.


Every day people gather outside the Museum and take photos of the work as it progresses. My days at work are accompanied by the sounds of demolition. My office overlooks the Library. I have a privileged view.


The escalators rarely worked. The lifts often broke down too.

The cafe was…  erm… extremely municipal.

The ceilings were low and loomed menacingly.

The staff office spaces were pretty grim.

The striking Brutalist architecture had been disfigured with a tacked on shopping centre (though the Gregg’s was handy…).

The surrounding spaces such as Paradise Place were…well…post-apocalyptic. Though I kinda liked that.

The demolition is incredible to watch.

I loved this building.
Goodbye old friend.


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Fabulous free images from British Library

British Library offers over 1 million free vintage images for download.

News story here.

Have a play with the British Library Flickr site here.

My name in fabulous typography.

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Ken Hughes. A growing legacy.

A while ago I wrote a blog about artist Ken Hughes because I owned a sculpture by him. I commented at the time that he seemed to have had a successful artistic life but that there was little about him out there.

I had assumed that Ken Hughes was no longer alive. Then a researcher contacted me via my blog. Then his daughter contacted me. And Ken is still alive.

I also discovered I have another piece of ceramics by Ken. A plaster tile, also purchased by my grandma.


Ken Hughes, tile, 1996


Tile, reverse, signed 'Ken Hughes'


Provenance, my grandma's note

This morning I got into work to find a lovely two page hand written letter from Ken. He said that maybe he hadn’t undertaken as much self-publicity as he should have. I wrote back (not hand-written I am afraid) reflecting that maybe those of us that come after should all help towards creating a legacy.

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