Meet the board member: Nicola Knowles

Nicola Knowles, 27 March 2023

In my current role I do a lot of housing related policy work and public affairs. I fell in love with the sector and the mission and learned so much, I felt like I had a lot to give back. The fundamental mission of giving people a safe, warm, affordable house really speaks to me. How are we supposed to get on in life if you don't have a stable roof over your head?

Shal used to be one of my members when I worked at the National Housing Federation so I’d already had good experiences meeting their residents. Housing associations have to be anchor organizations in communities: that's what Shal does.

Being on a board has been a bit of a learning curve, but totally worthwhile. Board members have to be a critical friend but also the custodians of the values that you want your organisation to embrace. It’s not just about bricks and mortar and the financial foundations. We are talking about tenants and their experience; it’s really reaffirming to see that in practice.

Our board meetings start with the chair’s report and include feedback from tenants. It's really nice to hear first-hand, it reminds you why what you’re doing is so rewarding. That’s my favourite part.

We can’t turn away from issues with maintenance and ensuring our buildings are safe. With the cost of living, we know there’s going to be tenants having to cut back on heating, and the health implications of that for children or people with respiratory issues – that terrifies me. The thing that worries me most is that entrenching poverty and inequality. That’s hugely challenging.

How do we champion resident voice? Taking a step back and purposely thinking about how everything is going to affect our tenants; being really deliberate about that. In my own experience as a tenant, more often than not when I was disappointed with my landlord it was because I felt othered or less than. I don’t want to be part of an organisation that is like that. We don’t shy away from talking about tenants and we have some really robust discussions around it. It leads to a culture where we consider tenants in every decision we make, and that’s the way it should be.

One thing my fellow board members might not know about me is that I’m a secret nerd. I really like board games and play Dungeons and Dragons at least once a week.

My question for the next board member would be how do we balance the different important priorities in the sector? How do we ensure our stock right now is safe, energy efficient, warm, at the same time as developing more homes?