Peggie Phinn looks back on her time on Saffron’s Board of Directors

Published: 29th October 2019

After nine years serving on the Saffron Board of Directors, Peggie Phinn has recently retired. We spoke to her about her history with the organisation, the changes that she’s seen, and her hopes for the future of Saffron.

What led to you becoming a Board Member at Saffron?

I didn’t have any history whatsoever with housing. This all came about when Emilie Hildreth (Community Foundation Manager) visited me at home and asked me to become involved, and it just sort of spiralled from there.

I actually joined Saffron in 2007 as a Customer Advisory Panel (CAP) representative. In 2009 I was approached by the then-Chair of the Board to see if I would be interested in going on the Board, and I was elected in 2010.

What was your role like when you started, being both a customer and a Board Member?

The role was very different then, and I did very much represent tenants, and staff to a certain extent. Tenants would often approach me if they had an issue with Saffron that hadn’t been resolved. This worked very well because it highlighted to the Board where issues were.

We also had Tenants Question Time, when Board and CAP Members would visit a venue, and tenants were invited to attend. Usually, people would attend if they had any outstanding issues, and again once it came to Board it was dealt with.

How have things changed at Saffron since then?

My role developed a lot over the years. I was still very much involved with tenants until probably 2017, and had limited contact with them until 2018, when that stopped being part of my responsibilities. Now, the Board has a more strategic role; it doesn’t deal with tenant issues on that level, and I think that’s right. Although I do think it’s right that the Board should still be aware of tenant issues.

Since Hannah (Harvey, Executive Director of Operations) joined us, she is very good at taking things up. It’s very important to know what’s going on, on the ground. I don’t think we’ve lost that as a Board, but it’s certainly changed from what it was. We were very much involved with everything. Since then, we’ve adopted better ways of dealing with tenants earlier and way the Board works has improved.

How else has the Board changed since you first joined?

The makeup of the Board has changed considerably from what it was, but then Saffron has evolved at the same time. We have a younger Board now, and a different Board Membership. In the past, we had five Tenant Board Members, five independent Members and SNC Councillors too.

How does the Board find Members with experience of being a customer?

What would happen is every year, an advert would be placed in the customer newsletter, inviting any tenants interested in becoming a Board Member to an open evening, after which suitable candidates would be invited to an interview. But it became more difficult as time went on to find the right people.

In 2014, we changed the criteria to say that you didn’t necessarily have to be a tenant, but you did need “user experience”. You could be a former tenant, a garage owner, or someone that takes a service from us. I am a tenant, pure and simple, and I certainly had the experience of what the user side of Saffron is like. This is such an important part of recruiting, as “user experience” Board Members make up 25% of the Board. I am sure the new Customer Voice Team will be equally keen to continue to ensure the right Board Members are recruited.

Do you have any favourite memories of your time spent on the Board?

A lot happened while I was on the Board and there were certainly some fun elements to it. Personally, one of my favourite things was the Saffron Bake Off every Christmas. As the elected judge, I was able to invite others to join in the judging. The very first Bake Off, a fellow judge was Debs Johnson, and her husband came in dressed as Father Christmas, which was good fun. That year, instead of bringing us small pieces, they brought us full portions, and we struggled somewhat but coped. I believe David Leborgne won that year, with some great sausage rolls.

Now that you’re retiring, what do you think about Saffron’s current direction?

I would say now it seems more settled to me. I generally get the feeling when I’ve walked through the offices this past year, people do seem on a more even keel.

Today there is a stronger executive and management team than you’ve ever had. If you don’t think you could speak to your line manager, for instance, I know that right at the top, James, Iain and Hannah would really listen. All in all, I think it’s changed now for the better.

Have you got any words of wisdom for staff?

The staff are lovely. I do think it’s important that when they’re invited to things, they do attend. We have had events for staff and Board members and they have been great.   Everybody gets on board, excuse the pun, and really enjoys them. Sadly, some people didn’t attend, only to remark later, “I wish I’d come”. You need to come.

I know sometimes it’s difficult, but staff should look to the future. My advice would be that this feels like a young company now; your executive team are young, so treat it like a young company; get with it, get behind it. Saffron will definitely succeed; it just needs everybody on board with it.

And finally, do you have any advice for new Board Members?

It’s a very important role for anyone to take on, particularly if you’re a tenant and privileged as I was to become a Board Member. Customer Voice will continue to encourage other people to come onto the Board. People can do it, they just need to be motivated and prepared to put the work in.