Focus on: Gillian Walton

News – 3 March 2022

Gillian has been on Grand Union’s Board for more than eight years and, before that, worked in housing since the 1970s. She’s played a pivotal role in recent Board transformations, including the recruitment of new members, while helping Grand Union prepare for the future socioeconomic environment.

She said “I think I cried when I was asked to become a Board Member at Grand Union. I was very flattered and pleased; having spent most of my life working in housing, it’s a sector I feel passionately about.

“The most rewarding thing about being a Board Member is being part of an excellent organisation that feels like a family. From meeting customers, either at schemes or by door knocking on estates, I’ve seen the difference Grand Union makes to people’s lives. It’s a real privilege to be a part of that.

“Being on the Board also keeps my brain occupied; I never quite adjusted to full-time retirement so it’s great to have a focus. There’s people from across all walks of life on the Board, with different backgrounds and skillsets, so that’s very inspiring.”

As a Senior Independent Director on Grand Union’s Board, much of Gillian’s role focuses on governance and remuneration. It’s a fairly new role to be implemented across housing assocaitions, so Gillian is still finding her feet in this evolving position.

“I’ve expereinced a variety of roles on Grand Union’s Board, but this latest one is something completely brand new. I’m responsible for dealing with any problems we may face, such as issues between the Chair of the Board and the CEO – though fortunately we haven’t needed to resolve any such issues!

“I work closely with corporate services to report on governance, reviewing regulatory frameworks, policies and strategies and evolving to changes that may be taking place in the housing industry.”

Recently, the maximum term for individuals on Grand Union’s Board was decreased from nine to six years. It’s been a dynamic time for Gillian and the Board, who have had to adapt to a changing environment and help recruit new members.

“We were faced with a huge challenge when the maximum term was reduced, not least because most of our Board had already served the full term! So, over the past year we’ve been going through a transformation, steadily recruiting new members while also ensuring we have enough ‘original’ members to ensure a smooth transition.”

Transformation isn’t an alien concept for Gillian, who helped managed numerous stock transfers – a process where local authorities dispose of their housing to an external organisation, predominantly housing associations – during her career.

“The main principle of stock transfers was to make sure the customer’s voice was listened to. This is something which has proved tricky since the early days of social housing; even in the 1800s, social housing pioneer Octavia Hill stated her objective was to make sure her tenants’ voices were heard.

“That’s something I’ve carried with me into my position on the Board and above all else, I want to ensure that we keep the customers at the heart of everything we do at Grand Union. To achieve this, I’m eager to recruit customers on the Board and our Executive Director of Operations, Phil Hardy, is working hard to ensure we listen to customers.”

Like many others, Gillian found herself with extra time on her hands while shielding during the coronavirus pandemic. She used the time to train as a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA), something which she now finds useful in her position on the Board.

“Becoming an MHFA was mind-stretching and I’m so glad I did it. While we can’t always solve our colleagues’ problems, simply encouraging them to talk to us, so we can support them, is key. I’m keen to see this mental health awareness being communicated to our customers too, so they know we’re here to help them if they’re struggling.”

Looking forward, alongside recruiting new members, the Board will be focusing on Grand Union’s commitments, particularly its aim to become carbon neutral by 2050, while continuing to build more homes, stronger communities and better lives.

“Becoming carbon neutral will be a huge challenge for us and will involve a lot of investment and risk mitigation, something which we will have a big involvement in on the Board.

“We also want to help ensure that our growth of new stock is in line with growth of our welfare, benefits, support services, community investment and more. We’re not just building affordable homes but building great lives too.

“It’s going to be an exciting and rewarding few years, but not without it’s challenges. That’s why I’d encourage anyone with a passion for social housing to apply to join us on the Board.”