Nicola Evans was just 30 when she became Chair of Merthyr Valleys Homes, after becoming interested in housing while working as Policy Officer for Cymorth Cymru. Now Rights and Equalities Lead for the Older Persons Commissioner for Wales, Nicola tells us the links she has found between housing associations and social care, and what her role as Chair has meant for her professional development.
“During my time at Cymorth, I worked quite closely with housing associations from a homelessness perspective, so when the opportunity came up join the board of Merthyr Valleys Homes, I jumped at the chance to see things from the other side.
Now in my role with the Older Persons Commissioner for Wales, the links between social housing and delivering a sustainable social care system is even clearer. The housing crisis doesn’t just mean the need for more homes, for me, it’s important to look at the types of homes we need to in order to ensure we build the rights types of homes that meet people’s care and support needs too – there’s a clear human rights angle to tackling this issue.
There’s an inevitable crossover between my day job and my role as Chair, which has allowed me to grow professionally.
When I first became Chair five years ago, it was quite a daunting experience. There weren’t many young, female chairs of housing associations at the time so people were often shocked when they realised that I was the chair and not there to make the tea!
Board members in general tend to be older and often male so it’s important that we actively encourage more people from different backgrounds to apply for roles in order to broaden the diversity in the boardroom. That may mean that we need to do things differently to ensure that this happens – after all, diversity of opinion is the cornerstone of good decision-making, and good governance is vital in order to continue challenging ourselves as organisations and learn from sharing best practice across the sector.
For me, the skills that I have gained, and the networking opportunities I’ve had have far exceeded any challenging aspects that come with being Chair. And though the role can often eat into my personal time and annual leave, I bring skills back to the day job which are invaluable. For that reason, I’m always keen to encourage young women to think about joining the board of a housing association and I’m really pleased that Merthyr Valleys Homes is supporting Chwarae Teg’s ‘Step to Non Exec’ initiative which offers young women aged 21-30 the opportunity to gain practical experience and training on governance and the non-exec role.”
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