I retired in 2016 as deputy chief executive at Arts Council England and decided that I wanted to carry on working as a non-exec director. I’m used to leading large complex regulated organisations and I'm drawn to organizations that improve people’s life chances, especially those who are the most disadvantaged. At the moment I’m also chair of the dance company Ballet Black, and a non-exec director of the Enforcement Conduct Board, a new organisation set up to regulate Enforcement Agents (more commonly known as bailiffs) to ensure fair treatment of everyone who is subject to enforcement action.
Previously I’ve been a non-exec at Channel 4 and at University College London hospitals. The breadth is wonderful because it means I'm learning all the time. They’ve all got a similar thread running through them; all citizen-facing and reflect my values.
I hadn’t been directly involved in housing before: my career started in education. But I was a Director of Education in an inner-London local authority which was responsible for its own social housing. And as a senior civil servant I was working across departments to join things up for the benefit of socially excluded young people, and I worked closely with what was then the Department of Communities and Local Government. Everything I do has really been about unblocking obstacles to ensure greater life chances for people: housing is essential to that.
Without a doubt the biggest strategic challenge we’re facing is how we do the most we can to keep our residents safe, warm and dry by investing in our existing homes, at the same time as building new homes for the future. I'm really proud of what we're doing on regeneration. We’re helping to regenerate Clapham Park, a joint venture with the Countryside Partnership to deliver 2,400 new homes and community facilities. We’re talking to existing residents and working with them to help strengthen their local community.
Yesterday I spent the day in our Nottingham offices; went on a visit with our repair service and listened in on our customer helpline. I love days like that. People outside housing might be surprised by the range of things that we do, beyond our core purpose of providing roofs over heads – for example giving people advice on debt and on benefits, and working with young people to improve their opportunities for employment.
I’m very proud of putting together an excellent board. To be amongst that group of highly performing, really skilled, diverse people is quite a joy. Out of 12 members, almost half are people of colour and half are women. We have a balance of people who have very longstanding experience in housing and those bringing strong experience from other sectors; and a range of age groups. We have been absolutely determined that we would be diverse.
We wouldn’t entertain a recruitment long-list that wasn’t diverse, because it doesn’t give us the choice we need. It really makes a difference to the quality of the discussion on our board. It’s important to ensure we have representation but actually it is about having different mind sets. When facing a challenge, we have different perspectives around the table.
My question for the next participant is: in your view, what are the best ways of keeping in touch with the voice of residents?
People who don’t know me might be surprised to learn that I’m a proud grandmother who loves cooking for my nearest and dearest. I’m also taking weekly French lessons. That’s really challenging but I enjoy it!