First cohort join housing association scheme to increase diversity of board members

Five people with a range of life skills and experiences have started an exciting new development programme which could turn them into board members of the future.

County Durham-based believe housing recently welcomed the first cohort to its Board Trainee Programme, as it seeks to increase the diversity of non-executive directors across the housing and third sector.

The trainees have a wide range of professional backgrounds, from running a family business and a top job in a power station to charity leadership, consultancy work and a career with the police.

And their variety of everyday experiences such as parenthood, community volunteering and life as a housing association tenant offer the diversity of thought believe housing hopes to bring to the talent pool of potential board members.

Judith Common is Chair of the Board at believe housing, which manages more than 18,000 affordable homes and provides a range of support for customers and communities.

She said: “We know believe housing and the wider housing sector needs greater diversity at all levels.

“Our vision at believe housing is ‘life without barriers’ so we’re constantly looking at any barriers and what we need to do to remove them.

“We recognise that all too often applicants to non-executive positions are from similar walks of life, they’re typically board ready.

“So we created this programme to enable people with different lived experiences to bring fresh thoughts and ideas to boards, to really challenge the status quo. This programme aims to remove barriers that might be holding them back.

“We hope these first board trainees benefit from the opportunity to develop their skills, knowledge, experience, and confidence.

“And hopefully they go on to enrich boards of the future, whether that’s here at believe housing or another housing provider or charity, helping them to make the best decisions for people and communities in our region.”

The first five board trainees to join the two-year development scheme are Victoria Worrall, Amy Mooney, Lindsey Wood, Kirsty Hopkinson, and Jo Costello.

Amy runs her family’s heating business and learnt about believe housing while researching housing providers with a social and environmental conscience.

She said: “I’m proud of my business today. It’s not always been plain sailing but hard work, mixed with determination and a willingness to accept trial and error as part of the process, has always seen us through.

“I was born on a council estate, I didn’t go to uni, and remember feeling confused when asked in a job interview what my dad did for work.

“I like that believe housing sees value in the individual and understands the advantages that people from different backgrounds could bring to a board.”

As deputy manager at the Peterlee-based charity East Durham Trust, which supports communities to overcome economic and social decline, Lindsey already knows the third sector well and understands the issues facing people in the region.

She said: “Working in this community for over 13 years, I see the huge impact housing has on an individual’s circumstances. If someone is out of work, or if their home isn’t a safe and secure place to be, it is going to be more difficult to face other challenges in life. It isn’t just about the home, it is about neighbourhoods, a community, how safe they feel.

“Working for a smaller organisation, I’m always looking for outside opportunities to develop. This programme is an opportunity to learn more about the housing sector, its structure, and how it works.

“I hope to bring a set of skills and expertise that benefits both.

“I’ve been a resident of East Durham all my life.

“It is time our area, the whole of the North East, gets what it deserves. The potential to have an influence is what I hope the programme gives me.”

Kirsty was drawn to the programme by believe housing’s vision of ‘life without barriers’.

To become a HR manager in the nuclear industry she had to overcome company norms, which historically required decades of experience to become a senior leader. And as a volunteer with Girlguiding UK, she has helped provide social opportunities for young people outside of school.

Victoria’s job as a project manager for Durham police is centred around delivery of ICT projects and she always focuses on the communities and people who need those services.

She said: “I’m also a single parent to a nine-year-old daughter and came to see the value that believe housing brings to communities through a brilliant forest school and garden that they have helped fund.

“When I saw the board trainee programme advertised, I jumped at the chance to apply and potentially have a role in supporting local communities across Durham.

“I saw it as a chance to learn more about a really important sector, and work with an organisation that understands the value in diversity and the qualities that individuals can bring to the table outside of professional qualifications.

“I would never have thought a board position would be an option for me, so this is a great way to develop my skills and confidence and learn from some experienced and inspiring individuals.”

Jo is a believe housing customer and is passionate about improving the lives of marginalised people. Working as a freelance consultant she helps organisations with training, organisational reviews, and strategic development and has supported several small and medium sized women-led charities.