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Newport City Homes sponsorship feature: Looking to the future

A new board structure lies at the heart of a new phase for Newport City Homes.

Newport City Homes has become the first community benefit society in Wales to adopt a single-status board.

Newport City Council relinquished its ‘golden share’ and nominations rights to the board as part of this change, which the city’s largest social housing provider hopes will be the catalyst for its ambitious development plans.

A large scale voluntary transfer (LSVT) created in 2009, the association’s former board structure saw 15 board members fall under three distinct categories: residents, council nominees and independents. It also saw the council hold a third of voting rights for some resolutions.

This structure served both Newport City Homes and the city council well in the housing association’s formative years. It gave Newport City Homes stability, support and shared knowledge so it could focus its efforts on achieving the Welsh Housing Quality Standard (WHQS), while blossoming into the association that it is today. It also gave the city council an input into decision-making and reassurance that the needs of residents were being met.

‘When the stock transfer took place, there were some bedding-in processes, perhaps on both sides. But we have an excellent relationship now,’ said council leader Debbie Wilcox (left). ‘Housing is such a fundamental right. As leader of the Welsh Local Government Association, I don’t just have a Newport perspective; I have a Wales-wide perspective. Good housing is absolutely essential to the wider development of every aspect of living in Newport and across the country.’

The completion of WHQS in 2015 saw Newport City Homes set its sights on growth and on helping Welsh Government tackle the country’s housing crisis. New leadership was brought in to help it achieve this, as it transitioned into a maturing housing association.


Building new homes is now one of the association’s main corporate priorities and it has big ambitions. It was this mission of regenerating communities that drove the changes to the governance structure.

‘Newport is a city of change,’ explained chief executive Ceri Doyle. ‘In 2014, I challenged everyone at the Newport Summit to redefine the narrative of the city. And this is being done in abundance. We have a diversifying labour market, whether it is blue chip SME start-ups, breweries, eateries, fashion or retail, national companies and entrepreneurs have embraced the opportunities Newport offers.

‘Across the city new buildings seem to be popping up daily. But these are merely physical manifestations. The real change is happening at ground level in our communities. And it was evident that we needed to change to reflect this.

‘Just as we required new skills to deliver, the board recognised that we needed new skills to govern. This is why [former chair] Jane Mudd and I felt it was so important to work with the city council to change our board and give us the skills we need to tackle the growing housing needs in the city.’


With their historical ties and as committed partners on the local public service board, there was already a good working relationship between Newport City Homes and Newport City Council. In addition, they have been working closely to consider the impacts of the potential reclassification of registered social landords (RSLs) in Wales.

In fact, the national picture played a critical role in the council’s decision to allow the changes to governance. As did the need to focus on more partnership working in light of austerity cuts totalling £57 million in six years.

‘Legislation will be coming forth that will affect housing associations,’ said councillor Wilcox, ‘but I don’t like doing things just because I’m forced to. I like to do things because I want to do them and because I believe it is the best thing to do. Councils can’t do everything anymore. Therefore we need to build strong partnership working.

‘I weighed up the options and looked at what was best for the people of Newport. If you get a wider board membership with a different skill set, that will push the organisation forward, which means you do a better job and build new homes and you set down, excuse the pun, better foundations… that is a win-win situation as far as I’m concerned. We are leading the sector with this decision.’


There are now up to 12 board member places and all members have been recruited on skills. The council now has only one vote too, making it an equal partner with a resident share member vote.

However, despite these advantages, this was not an overnight decision; nor was it necessarily an easy one: ‘It took a lot of foresight and courage for the board to recognise its strengths and the skills needed to meet the challenges we face,’ explained interim board chair Nicola Somerville.

‘We looked at models across the sector and the country. We had to ensure that what we were proposing was right. Without the hard work of former chair Jane Mudd behind the scenes we wouldn’t have been able to deliver this.

‘We were delighted with the response to the open recruitment exercise, and we now have a fabulous mix of skills. Our board members have backgrounds in the private, public and third sector, as well as expertise in finance, marketing, development and academia.

‘We are going to capitalise on this expertise to deliver for the people of Newport.’

But are these changes superficial?

‘Certainly not,’ stated Ceri Doyle. ‘The corporate governance of any organisation is its bedrock. It underpins everything from culture and risk, to how decisions are taken and how people are treated. We recognised that new skills were needed to support the robust corporate governance of a complex social business.

‘Our former board members have handed the gift of a well-governed, forward-thinking social business to a brand new board that will continue the NCH journey, involving and engaging residents along the way.’

This is a point echoed by councillor Wilcox: ‘Public sector organisations need good governance. What they don’t need is necessary burdens holding them down. We have to be responsive to the changing needs of the city and ensure that we make decisions that will have a lasting positive impact in our communities.

‘I would like as many social houses built as possible. The best way of delivering regeneration and settled, secure communities is through good housing.’

Interim board chair Nicola Somerville at the opening of the new community hub in pillgwenlly with Stuart Laird, chief operating officer of United Living


Newport City Homes started building its first new homes last year and has since unveiled multi-million illound regeneration proposals for Ringland and large-scale development plans for Old Town Dock in the heart of the city centre. Both schemes will see hundreds of new homes created.

‘We’re now in our development phase,’ said Ceri Doyle. ‘Our ambition is to become the social and physical regeneration vehicle for the communities we serve, in Newport and south east Wales.

‘With our new skill-based board and with our core purpose always ensuring we put residents at the heart of what we do, we can lead sustainable regeneration to greatly improve outcomes for our residents.’

And what does this mean for the people of Newport?

‘Better services and greater positive outcomes in communities,’ stated Nicola Somerville.

‘Our residents overwhelmingly tell us that their key concern is service delivery. This is what matters most to them. And it’s because of this, that our new resident engagement strategy supports our new board structure.

‘The changes to board certainly don’t mean less input from residents. Over the last eight years, we have developed robust and effective mechanisms for resident engagement, encompassing a strong focus on continuous improvement, with a full strategic review taking place every three years.

‘Our residents can influence how we work at strategic, corporate and operational levels. So, whether we are informing, consulting, engaging or co-producing services with our residents, our strategic DNA ensures the impact on residents is our first and foremost consideration.

‘This, coupled with our new skills-based board, will be the catalyst for an exciting future for us. It’s time to stretch ourselves and do even more for Newport communities.’

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