Board member in the spotlight: Danielle Oum

Danielle Oum, 04 February 2020

In our latest board member in the spotlight feature, Danielle Oum, Chair of whg, explains what makes a great housing association chair, and why we need to foster a stronger relationship between health and housing.

What attracted you to becoming the chair of whg? 

Having grown up in social housing, I’ve always understood the importance of housing on people’s lives – and, equally, I’ve been aware of the devastating effect poor living standards can have on a person’s physical and mental wellbeing.

whg has a real focus on working with some of the most disadvantaged communities in Walsall, and has established itself as an organisation that goes well beyond its scope of being simply a landlord.

As the chair of the local NHS Trust, I was excited to bring my experience in the social care and health sector to whg and see how much more could be achieved if housing and health were able to work more closely together.

We talk a lot about boards driving an organisation’s culture. In practice, what does that mean?

It is the board’s responsibility to articulate explicitly what the values and culture of the organisation are, and ensure that these are made clear throughout the strategy.

It also means understanding what it feels like to be part of the organisation – either for colleagues working in it or for residents receiving its services – by looking at workforce metrics, scrutinising reports from management, visiting services and connecting with colleagues and residents.

Any board also needs to consider how it behaves, as that behaviour will be mirrored throughout the organisation. So, do we set unrealistic targets? Do we look for blame when things go wrong or seek to learn from it? It’s important to get the balance right between supporting colleagues and challenging them. At whg, we promote openness and transparency and encourage colleagues to speak up when they feel something is not working.

As a board chair, what do you see as your role in supporting the development of board members?

It’s important to have an understanding of the skills and experience needed on the board and to make sure that experience exists within the board team.

From there, I see it as my role to give constructive feedback on areas for improvement. That might be through the annual appraisal, giving real-time feedback or encouraging board members to get involved in self-development and get to know the services offered by whg and the operations generally.

What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing the sector?

Homelessness is a huge issue facing the housing sector, and the growing number of people sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation is unacceptable. Finding the right solutions for this – and tackling the housing shortage – is crucial.

In a challenging operating environment it’s really important we get the balance right between social purpose and keeping the organisation financially sustainable. After all, if we lose sight of the communities we serve in pursuit of financial gain, what are we here for?

Another important issue is that the social housing sector has historically been a good place for people from a diverse range of backgrounds to progress, but the sector is now much less inclusive. To reach out to residents, reflect the communities it serves, and maximise the talent from the entire talent pool, the sector needs to address this lack of diversity – particularly in leadership roles.  

Like many housing association board members, you’re the chair of an NHS Trust. Do you see opportunities for board members to foster stronger relationships between the health sector and housing associations? 

Housing and health go hand-in-hand. After all, we’re working with the same communities to meet fundamental human needs. I’m using my dual chair roles to foster these relationships.

whg is now a member of the board of Walsall Together, an emerging integrated care partnership for Walsall, which will enable us to a provide more holistic approach to supporting people in Walsall to live the best lives they can.

I’ll continue to encourage cross-sector collaboration where the alignment of effort and resources will enable us to extend this work to support more families.

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