As part of our new feature launching in the summer Board Bulletin, Jack Gould, Board Member at Ashton Pioneer Homes, answers a few questions about being a younger tenant board member and promoting diversity on boards.
Jack Gould is a board member of Ashton Pioneer Homes
24 June 2019
You recently joined the board of Ashton Pioneer Homes. What inspired you to become a housing association board member?
I wanted to have a positive impact on my neighbourhood and thought joining the board was a great opportunity to do that. It helped that Ashton Pioneer Homes has a smaller, community base (close to 1,000 homes) when compared with some of the larger players in the sector. The identity of the housing association is closely linked to the local community and that really appealed to me.
Housing associations and their tenants have stood on the frontline of major political battles over the past decade. That also had a strong influence on my decision to become a board member. Grenfell threw all this to the forefront of everyone’s mind. Moving into a high-rise flat in Greater Manchester a month after the fire in London, I remember tenants describing the pang of anxiety they felt whenever sirens started up in the summer evenings.
As a tenant and a younger board member, what unique skills and qualities do you bring to your role?
Tenants can bring valuable experiences and perspectives to board discussions on a whole host of issues. It’s a unique position that I try and utilise to build stronger links between strategic boardroom discussions and the everyday social life of the estate.
We’re setting up a community cinema on the estate this summer and celebrating 20 years of the housing association with a social history exhibition. Most importantly, we’ve finally been able to begin to address some long-standing problems with rubbish bins around the estate.This had become a huge quality of life issue for some tenants. Behaviour change is part of the solution and we’re being proactive, monitoring the problem in all our tower blocks, and regularly updating tenants on what we’ve doing. Hopefully this approach means there’s not that familiar sense of powerlessness and alienation.
Being a younger tenant board member means I’m hopefully able to provide a little bit of vim and gusto towards projects like these that can make a difference to people’s lives around the estate. It’s not a quality unique to younger members, but sometimes as you get older, responsibilities to your family develop and you don’t have as much extra time as you once did.
The position also makes you reflect on what exactly the relationship is between the two environments – what connects board members to the life of the estate? How do board discussions around corporate priorities and KPIs translate into the daily concerns, fears, hopes and needs of tenants? Do the board and the tenant base have a sense of shared identity? These are important concerns, especially for tenants who feel like they are too often ignored and overlooked.
As a relatively new board member, is there any insight or advice you’d like to hear from your peers across the sector?
Looking ahead, the housing association sector has many oncoming challenges to face, including another £14bn in welfare cuts over the next three years, uncertainty over Brexit, the drift over to a cross-sector response to Grenfell, and the continued rise of for-profit housing associations in the 2020s – to name but a few.
The sector may change dramatically in response to some of these challenges, but peer leaders must continue to articulate a principled sector response, based on the long-held ideals upon which housing associations were established.
I was lucky to catch one of David Orr’s last speaking engagements as Chief Executive of the Federation – his view on the importance of board members as long-term stewards of the association resonated deeply and was really motivating.
Kate Henderson’s emphasis on housing being fundamentally about life chances and about creating a better society reflecting our aspirations has been similarly inspiring. It’s this direction and rhetoric the sector needs to encourage more diversity.
What advice would you give to younger people and tenants interested in joining a board?
Boards want and need your perspective. Invest time in developing a solid understanding of the world housing associations operate in, but also be confident in knowing its ok to ask simple questions at a board meeting. In fact, others around the table might want to ask the same thing. Sometimes it’s ok to be a little naïve! Often these simple questions can lead to more illuminating discussions.
I should also mention podcasts such as the Federation’s Housing Matters or Inside Housing’s podcast. They can be really valuable, not only in being able to compress incredibly complex issues into an easily digestible format, but also doing so in a fun way.
What advice would you give to housing associations looking to attract a more diverse audience – including younger people – to their boards?
The Social Housing Green Paper’s suggestion of tackling stigma by holding more street parties was criticised for being a bit lightweight. But there is a kernel of truth in it, especially when it comes to attracting more diversity. Post-Grenfell, the clamour has been for more tenant involvement and oversight in housing management. But tenants able and willing to take on all of this – sometimes rather laborious – responsibility don’t spring that readily from the ground.The emphasis for housing associations has to be on supporting the vitality of a much wider, healthier tenant base for those people to emerge.
Housing associations should articulate how being a young board member can be a fantastic opportunity for young people with a passion for politics and community organising. Many are interested and engaged and capable if given the chance!
Board member in the spotlight is a new feature in our Board Bulletin to help you get to know your colleagues from across the sector. If you would like to take part, or you’d like to nominate a colleague, please get in touch.