This month Neighbourhood Watch Network is proud to welcome Ian Bretman as the new Chair of Neighbourhood Watch Network, as our previous Chair, David Huse, steps down from the role. We thank David Huse for the enormous amount of time and effort he gave to Neighbourhood Watch and his excellence in bringing the charity forward in-line with our 3-year strategy in ensuring Neighbourhood Watch’s relevance in today’s world.

Deborah Waller, Senior Communications and Digital Manager at Neighbourhood Watch Network, took the opportunity to interview and welcome Ian Bretman.

Ian, we are so excited to have you on board with us. I’m sure our members are fascinated to know more about you. Can you give us a brief introduction to your background?

Hi Deborah, thank you for welcoming me. I am thrilled to be joining Neighbourhood Watch at this exciting time for the charity.

I started my career in the commercial sector back in the 1970’s, as a management trainee for Shell Oil and then with the Salter Group, best-known for their scales and kitchen equipment. That work took me all over the country in the 1980’s and opened my eyes to life in communities beyond London. I then moved to the voluntary sector working on fundraising and charity trading and this led to a job with Oxfam. They were pioneering what we now know as Fair Trade, with a focus on handcrafts but with the aim of extending this to products like coffee, tea and chocolate. This work led to the establishment of the Fairtrade Mark in 1994 and I have spent most of the last 25 years developing that concept in Britain and around the world.

I was Deputy CEO of the Fairtrade Foundation in Britain for several years, and then led work on governance, strategy and external relations for the international secretariat based in Germany. I’m really proud that much of the work I used to do from Europe is now being done by a new generation of leaders in Africa, Asia and Latin America and after a few years mentoring and advising those colleagues, I stepped back from full-time work with Fairtrade a few years ago, although I’m still active as a volunteer and member of the international board.

Since then I have looked for ways of applying my knowledge and skills in other areas and I have chaired a Citizens Advice service in North London, championed public & patient engagement and equality & diversity for a NHS Clinical Commissioning Group and served on the boards of Timewise Foundation and the Social Enterprise Mark. If there’s a common thread to all this work, it’s under the heading of “empowerment” and supporting the efforts of individuals and communities to challenge the status quo and to take more control over their lives. I feel that my new role with Neighbourhood Watch will be a continuation of that journey.

The work you have done in the Fairtrade Foundation is remarkable. Can you highlight more of what attracted you to Neighbourhood Watch?

Like a lot of people, I have been very disturbed by the polarisation of society over the past few years, and especially the way that some social media platforms, which ought to provide new ways for people to come together, have contributed to division and tensions. I was looking for a role with an organisation that would empower people to strengthen connections among neighbours and within communities so I was excited to see this approach reflected in Neighbourhood Watch Network’s strategy for the next few years.

What do you hope to bring to the role of Chair of Neighbourhood Watch Network?

I hope that my experience with a wide range of grass-roots community organisations around the world will be help support the staff team in developing Neighbourhood Watch as a diverse and inclusive movement, reaching out to all communities in England and Wales. As part of that I want to make sure that the Network’s governance supports that objective and that the Board listens to members and other stakeholders and responds to their needs. I think this already being done well but there’s always room for improvement and I shall be looking for feedback and ideas from colleagues and stakeholders about how we can build and extend existing good practice.

And Ian, last question, can you tell us what are you looking forward to most in this new role?

The power of a network is in its people. I have a list of people and organisations who want to meet me as part of my induction into the role and I’m excited at the reach of Neighbourhood Watch and that range of stakeholders who contribute to our mission. I am really looking forward to making new contacts, listening and learning in the coming months.

Thank you very much Ian, and one again, we are thrilled to have you joining us.