Meet Our New Chair of the Board of Trustees: Simon Dowe

Meet Our New Chair of the Board of Trustees: Simon Dowe

Simon joined Switchboard as Chair of the Board of Trustees at our AGM in December 2021. He became a trustee for Switchboard in 2019 bringing with him extensive experience in shaping and changing organisations in challenging environments

Here he talks his proudest achievements, LGBTQ heroes and how he found himself going from drama school to rural Romania.

How did you first get into the charity sector?

In 1990 when I was at Drama School I had a part time job working for The Body Shop. Their Foundation had recently started working in a remote part of Romania following the fall of Ceausescu and the horrific discovery of state-run orphanages across the country. After an initial appeal for clothing and toys the Foundation decided to focus on 3 orphanages in rural Northern Romania to continue and expand care for the children. Amongst their plans was an annual summer playscheme and they put out a call for a drama specialist. I first helped to run the playscheme as a volunteer for 8 weeks in summer 1991. This was a life changing experience on every level and the rest is history. 

What drew you to Switchboard?  

As someone who’s formative years were pre-internet and mobile phones, I remember how valuable Switchboard was to me and others in the community. The fact that we are still here so many years on is a testament to the fantastic teams that have gone before us. I am immensely proud to now be a part of the current team and feel a huge sense of responsibly to ensure the future sustainability of our amazing organisation. 

What do you hope to achieve as chair? 

My primary aim is to build on the past to secure the future sustainability of the organisation. I aim to do this through the development of our organisational strategy, which we are currently working on. One of the areas I particularly want to focus on is diversifying our income sources and increasing our profile. Alongside this we need to maintain the high standard of our services and the commitment and loyalty from all our stakeholders, from clients to volunteers to staff. 

What has been your proudest professional achievement to date? 

I drove my colleagues into Kosovo, with the first convoy to enter after the ceasefire on 11th July 1999. The following day a colleague and I went to find a village we had read reports about called Cabra. Cabra was a small Albanian village outside Mitrovica on the Serbian side of the river. As a result it had been shelled then bulldozed to the ground. The villagers had all fled to the neighbouring hills for safety led by their Mayor, Osman Rama. 

We found the village and the returning villagers in the process of discovering their destroyed homes and community. Within 24 hours we had installed our portable shower units, plumbing them into a pipe that someone identified as where their kitchen sink used to be.  Over the coming weeks and months we worked with the community to clear rubble to make space for tents so they could return home.   

From day one their primary concern was the children and youth, getting them back to school was their main concern and the only thing they ever asked us for was a school. 

The proudest moment of my career was the day we officially opened the new village school. The school brought, and continues to bring, international attention and prosperity to the village and more importantly fulfils the wish of Osman Rama, who sadly didn’t live to see it completed, to ‘invest in the future of our children, they are our most precious resource’. 

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing LGBTQ communities? 

 Internalised discrimination. It never ceases to disappoint and enrage me how cruel and judgemental we are towards each other. Some things I have witnessed or been subjected to by other members of the LGBTQ community cast a shadow over some of the amazing things that have been achieved and fought for over decades and generations. 

Every so often we all need to take a good long look at ourselves and ask ourselves if we are truly walking our talk. 

What do you like to do when you’re not working? 

Travel, theatre, eating, occasionally cooking, and spending time with friends 

Who is your LGBTQ hero? 

Every person who has gone before me, no matter who and no matter where, that has enabled me to live freely and with joy, without shame or fear.