As 2020 came to a close, we said goodbye to the Chair of Southway’s Parent Board, Sam MacWilliam. Having joined the Board back in 2011, Sam served as Chair for four years and led on many excellent initiatives to improve Southway’s services and benefit the community.
Before she stepped down, we spoke to Sam about her experience as a Board member and why it’s vital for social landlords to involve tenants in decision-making.
How did you get involved in Southway’s Board?
I had been interested in the joining the Board for a while, but felt I didn’t have the capacity; I had some caring responsibilities which took priority. About a year later, my responsibilities had eased and, after some encouragement from an existing Board member, I applied.
It was a little nerve wracking, as there is a whole interview process, but I was very determined. I had wanted to get involved even before Southway acquired the council’s properties, as I wanted to ensure they remained social housing. Now that my situation had changed and I had the capacity to join, I wanted to be in a position where I could help to keep our homes affordable.
I passed the interview and was a Board member for 5 and a half years before applying to be Chair.
What did you hope to get from your time on the Board?
When I started as a Board member, I wanted to ensure that our homes were safe and protected. As I grew into the role and learnt more about social housing, I wanted to better understand the sector and help to make the best decisions possible. Before I became the Chair, we went through a lot – there was restructuring, the 1% rent cut – I wanted to be sure Southway was committed to our communities, both tenants and staff.
What did you enjoy most during your time as a member of Southway’s Parent Board? Were there any particular moments or achievements that really stand out?
There’s been a few! Getting involved with Tenant Energy Champions and becoming Carbon Literate was great. I was proud to help to train 56 staff in carbon literacy. I’m also very proud of the inception and development of our Quids in Food Clubs, and Southway’s Shared Ownership schemes; there’s such a lack of affordable housing in South Manchester, so I’m proud to have been involved in trying to fill that gap.
Did your time as the Chair change your perception of Southway and the Housing Sector?
My perception of Southway changed pretty rapidly after joining the Board, as I got a better understanding of how its run!
My perception of the Housing Sector also changed quite a bit. As a Board Member, I was involved in a UK-wide group called The Board Room, an experience which was pretty enlightening. I found that not all Housing Associations appreciate the skills and experience of tenants.
I’m really proud that Southway doesn’t have that issue – they are, in my opinion, quite a rarity in the sector in that they are very ready to include tenants in their decision making. It is really important that the sector doesn’t pull away from tenants’ input when making decisions, as they have so much insight and experience you won’t find elsewhere.
What are your plans for the future, post-Chair?
My plans were to look for paid Board positions - though I must admit, I’m enjoying the break! I’m still keeping abreast with the Social Housing sector and I would like to continue working there.
I did gain a few qualifications during my time in the Board, including a higher learning qualification in Board and Governance, and a Distinction in Level 7 Strategic Leadership. As well as this, I believe I have the skills and ability to find my new role.
What would you say to any tenants who are interested in getting involved, but perhaps aren’t confident that they are right for governance?
Joining Southway’s Board will absolutely broaden your horizons and is well worth doing! Even if you feel nervous, please don’t hold back; any support you need is freely given. Southway’s Governance Team are fantastic and are there to work with you all the way.
The skills and experience you have as a Southway tenant cannot be offered by anyone else; your time and skills are really valuable, and you can absolutely make a difference.
Would you like to join a Southway Board or Committee?
Would you like to get involved as a Southway Board or Committee member? We’re always looking for tenants who are keen to get involved and share their skills and experience.