Life
Peter Taylor-Whiffen 4 May 2018 04:02pm

The best of his knowledge

John Chastney tells Peter Taylor-Whiffen how every day of his retirement brings new opportunities to use his expertise to help others

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Caption: John Chastney. Photography by Richard Ansett
John Chastney never quite knows what the days will bring. In the last 12 months he has project-managed the creation of a charity garden, answered a request to negotiate down a six-figure divorce settlement and proved a will was a forgery. He also spent much of the last two decades as a school governor in one of the most deprived areas of London. You’d call it all in a day’s work if he hadn’t retired 10 years ago.

“A lot of people face challenges but have no idea where to start to overcome them. Hopefully my experience helps them to do that,” he says.

Aside from the regular ad hoc calls and emails requesting help, he advises several charities and tours the UK’s places of Christian worship offering advice, training, negotiation “and sometimes mediation” as a tutor with the Association of Church Accountants and Treasurers, and chaired the Methodist Church’s Audit Committee.

“Charities have changed in the past 20 years,” says Chastney. “Regulations have changed, there is much more accountability – finance, GDPR, safeguarding to name just a few. Sometimes those rules seem to get in the way of the fundamental aims of the organisation, but you need to follow them, and follow them properly.”

Chastney, who lives in Hertfordshire with his wife Sue, is dispensing a lifetime of professional experience that began when he worked in insurance, then qualified as an accountant for Commercial Union in the City of London. He took a Masters in accountancy, lectured at the University of Sheffield for five years and was headhunted to run a training programme at Mazars – where he stayed for the next 30 years. Almost. “For two years in 1988 I was seconded to the Department of Trade and Industry, with the brief of going all over the world to create or bring jobs to Britain. It gave me the most wonderful experience of negotiation.”

Perhaps the most significant application of his skills came when he was invited to join the governors at Mulberry School, an all-girl comprehensive in Tower Hamlets, east London. “It’s an extraordinary place – these girls live in one of the UK’s most deprived areas. It is horrifying how some of them live, but when they come to school, Mulberry gives them aspiration to a better life.”

It has consistently been ranked outstanding by Ofsted and three years ago even welcomed then US First Lady Michelle Obama as a speaker. “Isn’t that wonderful?” says Chastney, who stepped down in 2016 after seven years as chair. “Mrs Obama was inspirational but she was there because the school is testament to the power of education and engagement. Governors govern, they don’t manage – it’s the teachers who do such fantastic work. Whether it’s advice, motivation, inspiration, sometimes all people need is someone to show them what is possible, to help them get to where they want to be. The important thing is that they get it.”
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