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Stories

Ivor Gittens

Board Member, Wales & West Housing

Being a board member is a very rewarding and fulfilling experience, from the feeling of having made a difference to that of playing a successful and important hand in changing the outlook and function of the board that you are a part of.

It is also the knowledge that you are working with others to achieve a positive and lasting outcome to the benefit of those you are serving. It brings the best out of you and also allows you to contribute in a social and practical way to the achievement of your organisation. It gives a sense of being able to look back on the growth of your organisation and think of the outcomes you have played a part in achieving.

Being a board member of an effective, fully functioning, and efficient group of like-minded individuals is a rewarding and most pleasant way of giving the most valuable thing you have to offer (your time) in a non-payment, making a difference, contribution to your fellow mankind.

Claire Russell Griffiths

Chair, Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd

Claire was the first tenant and woman to be elected chair of Cartrefi Cymunedol Gwynedd (CCG).

Brought up in the Llŷn Peninsula, I’ve been a tenant at Mynytho for seven years where I live with my husband and three children.

I was delighted and honoured to be elected as Chair of CCG. The association has homes across Gwynedd providing affordable, quality homes to those in housing need – something I am very proud of.

I recently graduated as a mature student with a law degree from Bangor University. I am now studying to become a social worker. I’m also a member of the Wales Tenants’ Advisory Panel and sit on the housing Regulatory Advisory Group. I get valuable experience and training as a CCG Board Member. As a tenant on the board, it’s very important that tenants’ voices are heard within CCG, and my hope is that we can attract more tenants to participate and engage with us.

CCG board members attend six full board meetings a year, as well as committee meetings on finance, audit, operations and HR. Like other associations in Wales many challenges lie ahead, not least in the shape of further welfare reform. CCG is embarking on an exciting new phase as we reach the end of our £136m WHQS programme. Key projects include building new homes and developing services.

Keith Abdi

Tenant board member, Taff Housing Association

Retired housing officer Keith Abdi is a tenant board member.

I became a Taff tenant in 2011 after being with the council for many years. I moved in with my extended family to a new build home in Grangetown. Having grown up in Cardiff, I know the areas covered by Taff very well. We get lots of information about events and groups at Taff’s offices and in the community, and I started going along to a few of them (Disability Awareness and BME Groups, the Residents’ Association and the Newsletter Editorial Panel). This was a great way to get to know people, and everyone was very welcoming. Things like the ‘Have Your Say’ group and Taff Tenants’ & Residents’ Association (TTRA) were very interesting, especially as I worked as a Housing Officer for many years before retiring.

Every year, Taff puts on a Summer School for any tenant interested in becoming a board member. This covers all the duties and responsibilities of being a board member, like legal duties to do with health and safety, employment and so on. It also covers how to interpret reports and what kinds of questions to ask, and outlines what each department does. For example, a board member must be aware of the difference between capital and revenue, cashflow, how development is funded and managing risk.

I attend board meetings once a month, as well as away days and small groups working on particular tasks. I like the strategy days because it gives us a good chance to talk about the future and the important challenges we face.

Nick Hoskins

Board Member, Mid Wales Housing Association

Retirement brought new challenges in social housing for Nick Hoskins.

Eight years ago I returned to Mid Wales to retire, but I soon missed the adrenalin of business after years of executive management. My plans changed when I spotted an advert for members for the board of Mid Wales Housing Association.

I have always given commitment to every role I’ve done, but I soon learnt to really excel in this new environment which required bucket-loads of passion. Being a board member is suited best to people, irrespective of background, who have the ability and desire to bring about meaningful change to those who deserve better. In the process, they can contribute their own experience to become a critical friend to both management and tenants alike.

During my time at MWHA I have been fortunate to be part of a board that has gone out of its way to ensure that the competencies of its members fit together like a jigsaw. With a diversity of interests, we do not always agree on matters and often engage in robust debates. This is part of the democratic process which allows us, with our staff, to run a successful housing association. Having been Chair for four years I recognise that all boards are a dynamic entity – we must constantly adjust to meet the needs of our own local market. We also by necessity deal with the wider issues of economic change, social reform, increasing regulation and governance. I’m part of a group of equally determined volunteers who have collective capability to bring about change and relish that our joint endeavours help to improve lives.

Nicola Evans

Chair, Merthyr Valleys Homes

Nicola Evans has enjoyed an enriching experience by joining a board.

When I joined the board of Merthyr Valleys Homes, it was mainly for reasons of self-interest! As a policy officer working for a not-for-profit membership organisation representing organisations working with vulnerable people, I wanted to step out of my ‘policy geek ivory tower’ and gain a better understanding of how services are actually delivered on the ground. Merthyr Tydfil is my home town, so when Merthyr Valleys Homes advertised for an independent board member it seemed like a perfect opportunity. I didn’t actually make it onto the board on my first try – something about favouring a person who had financial experience! However, I was co-opted onto the board – which was the perfect learning opportunity – and then became an independent board member and eventually Chair of the board.

I am continually surprised by the number of people that haven’t considered joining a board as it has given me such a rich learning experience and helped progress my career. Learning to think strategically and to provide effective scrutiny and challenge are just two of the many skills I’ve learned since becoming a board member, in addition to the general knowledge a board member gains from being part of a service delivery organisation. The skills and experience I’ve developed through being on a board has added another dimension to my understanding of policy and its practical implementation, and I’ve gained a more grounded approach to my work as a result. The management experience that I’ve gained through my role as Chair has allowed me to take the next step in my career, as well as build my professional confidence.

The formality of a board can be daunting to newcomers and I’m sure many people will admit that it takes a while to fully understand all conversations and feel confident enough to make a contribution. I’m extremely lucky to be part of a welcoming and mutually respectful board and a staff team that is incredibly supportive and encouraging. I know I’m going to be a serial board member for many years to come and I wholeheartedly encourage others to do the same.

Jemma Bere

Tenant Board Member, Wales & West Housing

I became a tenant board member of Wales & West Housing in 2014. My decision to be a part of the board was largely down to my own personal experience with social housing and the lifeline that it provided for me and my family in 2008.

I wanted to be able to give back to the sector so I saw being a board member as an ideal opportunity to do this. Being a part of the board has given me a really valuable insight into how the organisation works on behalf of tenants and has given me the information necessary to answer neighbours’ questions and queries about the association when they arise.

It has been a big learning curve. There’s a lot to take in and a lot of decisions to be made but it has been a very enjoyable and worthwhile experience overall. I attend meetings every 6-8 weeks and preparation for that involves reading through a substantial amount of papers in the week or so beforehand. One of the challenges is being able to digest and understand a significant amount of information from finance to strategy to development to community engagement, but breaking down that information and being able to understand the impact on the ground is vital.

I have felt very welcome on the board and my questions, queries and input are valued by the other members and staff. The training that has been provided has been really valuable and has given me a great deal more confidence in areas that I felt I lacked, both for the board role and outside in my working life.

Julia Hughes

Board Member, Grŵp Cynefin

Julie swapped education for housing when she joined the Board of Management at Grŵp Cynefin.

Following early retirement, after working full time in the education sector for 31 years, I was pleased to be invited to apply for a non-executive member position for the newly formed Grŵp Cynefin board. A successful interview led to me joining the board in September 2014.

I was made extremely welcome by the other board members, the leadership team and staff of the association. The comprehensive induction programme for all members of the newly formed board, which included tours of offices, housing and projects as well as meeting the majority of the staff, as well as the presentations and background information supplied, provided me with an excellent introduction to a sector which was new to me and gave me an ideal preparation for my new role as a co-opted board member.

This has given me confidence that my transferable skills and experience will be valuable when applied to the social housing sector and that I will be able to make a good contribution and hopefully help to make a real difference.

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