Each month we will be bringing you a profile on one of our Board Members so you can get to know who is involved in running our business and making the decisions that count. Meet Nigel Pitt.
An unassuming individual with a keen eye for detail and a lifelong commitment to Norwich City, Nigel begins telling us where he was born: “Hersham, which was once a Surrey village, but by the time I arrived, a fairly non-descript outer London suburb.
“Like many in the post-war generation we initially shared a council house with family – until we moved up the housing list and moved into a prefab in Walton on Thames which was built of steel and like an oven in the summer and like a fridge in the winter! When my brother arrived this qualified us for a brick and mortar home on an estate in Weybridge.”
As a child Nigel was fascinated with planes as his father was a precision engineer in the aircraft industry. Nigel thought he would join the RAF and become a commercial pilot.
Nigel was a fairly slow starter at school who confounded his ‘fearsome’ primary Headmistress by scraping through his eleven plus exam and then attending secondary school in Guildford where he left with A Levels in Geography, Geology and French.
Nigel became one of the early students on the, then new discipline, of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia in Norwich – a degree in how human, animal and physical processes interact to shape our world.
Nigel emerged with his degree, a large overdraft and what he describes as ‘legendary DJ skills’. It was this underlying skill of understanding how complex systems work that has proved invaluable throughout his career.
It was at this time that Nigel realised he was more cut out for social sciences, regional planning and economic geography, and he eventually completed a post graduate degree in town planning in Edinburgh.
Nigel’s early career in planning included spells in Glasgow, Shropshire and a return to Norfolk. “I wanted to get more involved in local level planning, in making things happen and tackling the problems of bigger cities so I moved to a job in Plymouth – where I ended up staying for 25 years before retiring in 2009!”
“My career in planning gave me a lot of practical skills that I have been able to use to aid PCH with our development and regeneration projects.
“As Director of Development of Plymouth City Council I was responsible for a budget of £50m and 800 staff – from refuse collectors to chartered surveyors so I also have plenty of experience in finance and HR issues.
“Much of my work involved liaising with partners across all sectors – sometimes at citywide level and sometimes at neighbourhood level in the case of regeneration programmes in the city’s most deprived areas. Knowledge of how the city works and who pulls the strings is something that I hope benefits the Board.”
Nigel was initially involved as a co-optee on the Board of the PCH Regeneration Company: “As I was a former City Council employee, I was not able to join the main Board for four years after leaving. But this meant that I learnt an awful lot about PCH before becoming a Board Member and got to know the Directors and the Senior Management Team.
“I wanted to do it because I had retired and I hoped that I could use my skills and knowledge to benefit communities in the city. The values that I held dear throughout my working life fitted well with PCH’s ethos of ‘social heart, business mind’ and the opportunity to get involved in the North Prospect regeneration made PCH an obvious choice.”
So how does Nigel see a Board Member’s role? “The Board is there to give strategic direction to the organisation, so learning to keep out of operational detail is really important. That said, Board Members need to have enough knowledge of the nuts and bolts to be able to properly scrutinise reports form the Executive Team and on some occasions we need to be able to challenge them.
“We are not there to just rubber stamp the recommendations of PCH.”
Nigel has seen a lot of changes over his years of involvement with PCH: “Compared to other social landlords we are a very young organisation but we’ve made huge progress since transfer. Our first five years were really focussed on delivering our transfer promises and exceeding the decent homes standard across our properties.
“We also had to get some momentum on the North Prospect regeneration – for the area and to show that even as a young organisation we were capable of delivering one of the biggest regeneration projects in the South West.
“Having delivered what we said we would in the first five years, the Board had to think more strategically about the next five, 10 and 15 years. In the process we have developed an effective working relationship with the Executive Management Team but it is clear that the Board sets the direction and priorities of the organisation.
“Our recent top rating from the Homes and Communities Agency for the strength of our governance arrangements shows we are on the right track.
“I think as a group we have learnt a lot about each other – we know what Board Members skills are and know where and when we have gaps in Board skills that we need to fill.”
Nigel looks back fondly on the years he has served on the Board and as co-optee, trying to recall his favourite moments and greatest achievements: “I wouldn’t claim any achievement as mine – I’m part of a bigger team – but seeing a start on North Prospect Phase 1 and each successive phase since has been tremendous.
“Getting the funding to extend our development programme with projects like Passivhaus at Whitleigh and the Southway school scheme all give you a buzz – I know how much work goes into getting these projects moving and how important they are as we build our capacity to provide affordable homes.
“The biggest challenge we have seen so far has been the recruitment of a new Chief Executive. It’s a tough process for the applicants but it was also pretty gruelling for the interview panel which I sat on. Clive Turner was a tough act to follow and with the need to move on from our first five years at a time when big changes were happening in housing policy and funding, it was really critical we made the right appointment and I’m certain we did.”
What about the future of PCH and the Board then? Nigel tells me that as a Board they spend a lot of time looking at the risks to the organisation as it’s really important that the Board understand what might deflect PCH from what we want to achieve.
“We need to look at what the worst case scenarios are and what we would do in a crisis – but we also need to look at opportunities. PCH, alongside the Council and other partners, will be a key player in addressing housing needs in the city and in making sure that good quality, affordable homes are available to those that need them. We can also play a vital role, with other agencies, in improving the wellbeing of our residents and the strength of local communities.”
“I enjoy my role as Chair of Development Committee and Vice Chair of the Board – but it will be good for my development and for the Board’s to move on from these at some stage. The Board doesn’t get hung up about ‘status’ because everyone is valued and everyone is given the opportunity to make a positive input into the work of PCH.
“Outside of PCH I spend a lot of time trying to tame my garden and travelling, especially to remote places. I particularly enjoyed a trip to Iceland and being able to stand on the join between North America and Europe. The forces of nature and the timescale of change somehow put human endeavour into perspective.
“I also listen to a lot of music – although I seem to have developed a reputation amongst some in PCH as having somewhat ‘obscure’ tastes. I’m actually a lifelong blues fan, dating back to spending too much time in noisy blues clubs in my youth. My claim to fame was being in a small and remote pub in the wilds of the Shropshire hills for an unannounced performance by Eric Clapton in 1976 – I thought I’d died and gone to heaven!”