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Tenants on Boards

by Maureen Dowden & Bernadette Hewitt

We have been invited by Supporting Communities to provide this blog as a follow-up to our recent webinar held on the 16th of March 2021.

Our experience of tenants on Boards is extensive, and we provide our views from different perspectives.

Bernadette Hewitt has been a voluntary member of numerous community organisations for over 30 years and is currently the Tenant Chair of Glasgow Housing Association (GHA), the largest housing association in Scotland. Maureen Dowden was the Director of Governance at the Wheatley Group with over 35 years of experience nurturing tenant involvement at all levels, including being part of the Board. Maureen is currently the Chair of Dumfries and Galloway Housing Partnership, the second largest housing association in Scotland.

Between us, we know a lot about tenants being on Boards, the expectations, responsibilities, accountabilities, and rewards.

The success of having tenants on the Board requires commitment from both sides to make it work.

Bernadette spoke about the role of tenant Board Members at GHA and their commitment to attend Board meetings, read the papers, contribute to the discussion at meetings, and, importantly, understand what is meant by collective responsibility.

She firmly believes that having tenants on the Board brings a wealth of experience in how services are delivered and what is important for tenants and communities. However, she also highlighted that tenants on the Board are not there to raise their own issues or those of other tenants and must be clear about the importance of using the processes in place for all tenants to raise issues. There is no special treatment for Board members.

Maureen talked about what a housing association needs to do to support tenants and give them the best opportunity to succeed as a Board member.

In particular, she commented on the organisation’s responsibility to provide clear policies and procedures, have a named person (such as a company secretary or governance officer) to drive the process, and make sure that there is a framework for coaching, mentoring, and personal development for tenant members linked to a structured continuous development programme for the whole Board. Maureen believes that this is the foundation of good governance.

Both Bernadette and Maureen are proud that tenant board members at their organisations have a clear opportunity to gain invaluable experience, develop new skills, and build confidence which can be helpful in many areas of their life, including employability.

While there are clear benefits, there are also challenges. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, and we know we can’t plan for everything, but that is not a reason to prevent tenants from joining the board. Instead, any issues must be dealt with quickly and with dignity.

The housing association's role is to enable sound and effective governance through a framework designed to achieve a balanced Board with the key skills and experience required to inform the decisions taken by the governing body.

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