Young Leaders – Meet the finalists

The five remaining Young Leaders are ready to battle it out at this year’s NHF Summit to be crowned 2019’s winner. Mark Lawrence sets to see what they’re all about…

YL front cover


Tommy Nightingale

Fun Fact: Tommy carried out charity work in South Africa, raising over £40,000 for a large IT suite and computers loaded with hundreds of learning tools.

As the only contractor left in the competition, Tommy is flying the flag for his part of the sector. But the contracts manager at United Living says there are benefits to bearing such a tag.

“I was a bit worried about what would happen in the early stages, but now I am really proud I am the only contractor to make it through,” he says.

“I work with many housing associations and local authorities, so have built up good experience in housing, and I can see a lot of potential things that might help.

“Now the competition has developed, it is more of a benefit to me.”

Describing the competition so far as “exciting”, Tommy says being nominated by his manager gave him the confidence to push on.

He calls being supported through the online vote a “high point”.

“The competition has now got some momentum, and people are coming up to me and talking about the competition,” he says. “I am looking forward to the final, but I’m obviously nervous.”

In the semi-final, Tommy pitched an ‘open maintenance portal’.

The idea is that, by allowing tenants to upload photos to the portal, increasing interactivity, and taking the platform online, issues such as poor communication, substandard workmanship, and slow response times could be addressed and improved.

The reverse would work, too, with repairs teams possessing the ability to upload photos to the portal to ensure quality.

The judges said the idea was “simple but effective”, and one that could really make a difference.

What would it mean for Tommy to take the coveted Young Leaders trophy home?

“I would be so proud,” he says. “I have had this drive early on to be a leader in the industry and be able to stand up in front of lots of people to speak about big ideas and what we are doing well as a sector.

“I guess this is a gateway to that, and I am extremely proud and really looking forward to it. I hope it will bring opportunities going forward, too.”



Katie Barker

Fun fact: Katie is related to comedy legend Ronnie Barker. His dad and Katie’s grandad were brothers!

23-year-old Katie may be the youngest candidate left in the competition, but the assistant human resources business partner at Grand Union Housing Group isn’t fazed, and despite finding parts of the competition “overwhelming”, she says it has been a fun experience.

“I have enjoyed meeting all of the other candidates. When we were at the semi-final, we got the chance to meet beforehand and listen to everyone’s presentations.

“That was great to hear nine other ideas that could be put forward across the sector.”

Facing an internal battle with herself about her age, Katie felt as if she were “a small fish in a big pond” when she arrived at the semi-final.

But she soon calmed herself and gave a strong presentation, which looked at creating the ‘UK Housing Shared Apprenticeship Levy’.

This idea proposed that associations transfer up to 25% of the Levy they didn’t use to other associations so that it wouldn’t leave the sector.

“It is something that can be easily applied, and I thought if I saw the idea on Dragons Den, it is one of those ideas you go, oh yeah, that makes complete sense.

“I think the panel saw the simplicity of the idea and saw how easily it could be applied to real life.”

After getting this far, what would it mean to win?

“If I could go on to win this competition and implement my idea for real, it would be a complete dream,” she says.

And if she were to win, Katie would be the youngest Young Leader winner ever. Does that add extra motivation?

“Being part of this competition is proving that you don’t have to be really experienced or senior to have good ideas – it shows that good ideas can come from the periphery if people are willing to listen and you have a voice loud enough to shout.

“It would highlight to me in terms of this internal conflict that it doesn’t matter that you are 23, you can do great things regardless of your age.”



Lara Chani

Fun fact: Lara once stayed up for 36 hours straight to read all of the newly released Harry Potter book.

Lara, a graduate project officer at Gateway Housing Association, says she is “not the same person as I was when I started the competition”.

Having gained support from within her organisation, Lara went on to deliver a presentation on professional standards in the semi-final, which drew praise from the judges for her ideas and delivery.

Lara said there was often a lack of knowledge in certain areas, including with leasehold customers, which led her pitching for the creation of a baseline standard for the sector.

“I entered not knowing what to expect,” she says, “shaking with nerves, but by the time I had come out, the passionate and energy in the room was infectious.

“When I left, I felt that those 10 people in the room could lead the country. I was so inspired, and it felt great.”

Since the semi-final, Lara has kept in contact with some of the other finalists.

“It has been something I didn’t expect I would get as a benefit from the competition,” she says.

“It has changed the game because it is having someone who is passionate like you are, around the same age as you are, having the same life experiences and ambitions for the industry.

“You are bouncing ideas off each other all the time – it gives you hope for the future – and I am so excited to see where my relationship with the other candidates will go. Goodness knows what will happen.”

Lara holds big views on the sector, and she is not afraid of being controversial, something she hopes will serve her well in the final.

“I talk about some controversial topics, so the win for me would suggest the sector is willing to take a step in the direction of ownership and things may be changing.

“That is huge for me, but it is huge for the industry as well.”

And as the final looms, Lara feels more excited about the prospect of winning the competition.

“I would feel like the luckiest person in the world – I would be ecstatic,” she says.

“If I won, it would be bigger than me. Everything I talk about, it is not just my voice, it is the voice of people I heard, and so the win would be for them.”



Shauna Hutchinson

Fun fact: Shauna studied martial arts for 15 years. Kateda from the age of three and Shotokan Karate from the age of six. For the latter, she earned 1st kyu and her brown-and-double-white belt (one away from black-belt).

Having two finalists two years in a row is some achievement for Network Homes. And this time, Shauna is looking to go one better than colleague Shannice.

The two have had several conversations on how to do just that. “She has told me to believe in myself and to be natural,” says Shauna.

“She said, don’t go in there being someone you are not as they will see right through that. She has made me think about my confidence and how I get people to relate to me.”

Shauna is a naturally passionate person, something she believes worked in her favour in the semi-final.

“I thought the semi-final was going to be a lot more daunting,” she says, “and I had practiced so much.

“I was passionate about what I was talking about, as I believe in changing the involvement for residents, as it is going to have a bigger impact on their day-to-day lives.

“As soon as I brought it to what I do and love, it became a lot more natural and easy.”

Shauna, who wore a yellow t-shirt during her semi-final presentation to “put a smile on people’s faces and feel more comfortable” has described being part of the competition as “empowering”, and says she is now looking at how she fits into the bigger picture.

“It has made me think about what my position is within the housing sector in terms of making a difference,” she says.

“It has been quite eye opening for me, which has been tiring, because now I am thinking, ‘I need to change the world.’”

Shauna has big ambitions, but she admits she doesn’t know how she would react if she fulfils her current goal of claiming the Young Leaders trophy.

“It is weird as I still don’t know what it would feel like to win,” says Shauna. “Just getting this far has been amazing. I was so shocked even being nominated.

“Having that accolade would inspire others to realise that everything they are doing is going to help in the bigger picture, not just to think so small.

“It makes me quite emotional to think about winning – it would be amazing.”



Joe Hughes

Fun fact: Joe regularly goes to town with his friends but only drinks half-pint beers. He is also the best tour guide in the city. What he doesn’t know about the history of Liverpool isn’t worth knowing.

Joe impressed judges in the semi-final with his vision for the future of housing: breaking down silos in local communities to provide better outcomes for those who live there.

“I’ll be honest, I enjoyed it [the semi-final],” he says. “I was quite excited when I found out that we were doing the presentation in front of the other candidates, because I was thinking we weren’t going to be doing that – it was just going to be in front of the judges.

“The day was brilliant, we sat down together, put faces to names, and got to know a little more about each other. I think the whole environment was fantastic.”

And it is for this part of the competition that Joe calls his experience so far“fantastic”, saying: “Having the opportunity to go and meet other young housing professionals has been challenging –putting extra hours – but it has been of great benefit. I have really enjoyed it.”

Joe’s colleagues at South Liverpool Homes, where he works as a neighbourhood management officer, have got fully behind him, creating at #VoteSLHJoe on Twitter to gather votes for the semi-final and providing support during the presentation stages.

“Having the backing of my chief executive and all my colleagues is just like having a really big, hard hug,” he says.

“I feel really loved, really fortunate to be in this position, and really grateful for the investment that has been put into me.”

Having been all around the country in the lead-up to the semi-final, Joe now wants to succeed in winning the final.

“For me to win this competition would be huge,” he says.

“I have been lucky enough to be exposed to a number of different organisations and important people in the industry.

“I want to make a change, and if I can be that change and be that young leader, I would be absolutely over the moon. It is a really prestigious award to win, so I am really excited for this final.”

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