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Meet the team

Diane French
Diane French
Chair of the Board

Diane started her career working in homelessness and mental health as a project worker and referrals officer for supported housing. She then moved into a variety of local policy and commissioning roles based in Public Health – gaining a Master’s degree in Social Policy on route. Moving to national roles – she worked with the National Treatment Agency, the Healthcare Commission and the National Audit Office and got further involved in the NHS through NED roles with primary care and clinical commissioning groups.

She became a Director for a national mental health charity in 2010, and then joined a national learning disability charity as a Director in 2015. She completed her Master’s degree in Executive Management with Ashridge Business School in 2017. She became CEO of Reside Housing Association in 2018 and led them into a merger before semi-retiring in 2021 and moving to North Yorkshire. Diane is passionate about issues around equality and person-centred, quality services and so was delighted to join Connect as Chair in 2021. Diane also works as an NED for Sanctuary Care and the Picker Institute.

Alicia Ridout
Alicia Ridout
Deputy Chair of the Board/Senior Independent Director and Member of the HR and Governance Committee

Alicia is a UK registered Occupational Therapist who works in digital health safety and innovation. She is Director/founder of Involve Me Digital Health Ltd and Partnership and Clinical Innovation Director for ETHOS Ltd regulatory compliance services in medical software and health IT systems.

Previously, she was Deputy Programme Lead in a Cancer Alliance Personalised Care team and the Deputy Director of mHabitat, an innovative NHS digital service. Alicia is a master’s graduate with over 30 years of experience across industry, NHS (mental health and commissioning), private healthcare, higher education/research and the third sector, and with significant experience delivering transformation programmes. She is also an active Rotarian and Trustee of Carers Leeds.

Shaeen Azam
Shaeen Azam
Board Member and Member of Audit and Risk Management Committee

Shaeen is the Director of Finance at Wakefield District Housing Association (WDH) who owns and manages over 32,000 properties. Shaeen has over 15 years experience in the housing sector. 

She is a qualified accountant and also a member of the Associate Members of Corporate Treasurers. She has wealth of experience in financial strategy, business planning and treasury management. She also has experience of being a Director/Chair of the subsidiary company of WDH and currently is a board member of the private housing developer Joint Venture company of WDH. 

Joe Bradley
Joe Bradley
Board Member and Member of Audit and Risk Management Committee

Joe is a former Executive Director working in the IT industry. He is a Trustee of Ripon Community Link, which supports adults and young people with learning difficulties to maximise their independence and a Trustee with The Avalon Group, a major regional social care provider based in Harrogate. Joe is also the Chair of the local parish council.

He was a senior business leader with over 30 years experience leading organisations that delivered customer/operational services and software to the Public Sector. In his last 10 years, he was the Executive Director of Northgate Public Services. His passion for the Public Sector, in particular Social Housing, has been his driving force throughout his career. He has worked with many Social Housing providers, both here in the UK and also in Australia/New Zealand.

Sharon Gillott
Sharon Gillott
Board Member and Chair of HR and Governance Committee

Sharon is a Chartered Accountant with over 30 years’ experience of working in professional practice and industry. Her work has mainly involved advising owner-managed businesses and she has extensive experience of providing strategic business and financial advice as well as acting as a trusted adviser to management during periods of change.

She has always undertaken volunteer roles alongside her professional life and these have included acting as a mentor to young people starting businesses and 4 years as a school Governor serving on the Finance and Governance subcommittee. She is currently a Trustee and non-executive Director of a national charity which provides educational advice to families and carers of young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

Tahir Idris
Tahir Idris
Board Member and Member of HR and Governance Committee

Tahir commenced his career in housing in 1989 as a trainee and after a rapid rise in the ranks has held many senior roles since. Experienced in transformational change management, both strategic and operational, with a strong focus on communities, tenants and residents. Experience includes working in a wide range of housing associations, ranging from small, community-led associations to industry-leading providers, such as Places for People and Together Housing groups. Tahir has also run his own Assistive Technology consultancy, supporting housing providers and social services in delivering innovative technology based solutions.

Currently Tahir is an nationally recognised equality and diversity specialist, having helped lead on a pioneering transformation of his employer’s governance structures to become far more diverse and inclusive. He is also one of ten equality specialists on the National Housing Federation’s national EDI group.

One thing that keeps Tahir driven is a passion for the housing sector and a desire to make a difference.

Hasan Karolia
Hasan Karolia
Board Member and Member of HR and Governance Committee

Hasan is a Chartered Surveyor and property advisor to the Department for Transport and Highways England, advising on all aspects of property & asset management. He has extensive experience in delivering major projects and a strong track record in providing professional property advice to a range of public and private sector organisations.

Hasan’s most recent work includes undertaking the role of lead regional property advisor an a number of key national infrastructure projects throughout the north of England. 

Karen Lythe
Karen Lythe
Board member

Karen is Assistant Director for Strategic Housing at Doncaster Council. Her work ranges from the design and delivery of the council’s ambitious Council House Build Programme to homelessness prevention, partnership working with St Leger Homes and other housing association partners, supporting better conditions in the private rented sector and home energy.

Karen is a member of Northern Housing Consortium Board and qualified as a member of the Chartered Institute of Housing in 1994. In a long-spanning career within local authorities, Karen has also worked extensively on sub-region and city region work in South and West Yorkshire.

Joel Owen
Joel Owen
Board Member and Member of HR and Governance Committee

Joel has significant experience working in the social housing sector and is currently the Director of Development at First Choice Homes, Oldham as well as holding previous senior roles at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Housing Trust as well as Yorkshire Housing. He has a successful track record in managing complex development and asset teams, but is also passionate about volunteering, as A Non-Exec Director of St Georges Crypt CIC, a homelessness charity based in Leeds along with being a Trustee of Abbeyfield York Society.

His development portfolio includes general needs housing, supported housing (care and extra care), large-scale regeneration and exemplar developments such as the nationally renowned Derwenthorpe in York. 

Jane Toole
Jane Toole
Board Member and Member of Audit and Risk Management Committee

Jane retired recently after 20 years as a senior commercial and IT lawyer, mainly working in-house for a major building society based in Yorkshire, then as a consultant in a Leeds-based commercial legal practice.  Before she became a lawyer, she worked for the Bank of England in London and as a marketing consultant for KPMG in Leeds.

For the last 3 ½ years, Jane has been a volunteer director of Leeds Credit Union, a community-based co-operative providing affordable financial services to its members, in particular those struggling to access traditional financial institutions.  LCU works closely with a number of housing associations.  Jane has also been a school governor.

David Wilmhurst
David Wilmhurst
Board Member and Chair of Audit and Risk Management Committee

David is retired, but as well as being a board member of Connect he is an elected governor of the Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. David had a varied management career in different sectors: food manufacturing, financial services and health. His last role was as head of corporate assurance at the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

He was responsible for providing risk-based assurance to the Department of Health, senior management team and Board Assurance and Risk Committee. David has a BA (Honours) degree and a master’s degree in business administration.

Helen Lennon BA Hons, MCIH, MBA
Helen Lennon BA Hons, MCIH, MBA
Chief Executive

Helen is our Chief Executive. She is a passionate advocate of social housing as a choice and foundation to a healthy life. She is driven by her desire for people to be treated fairly and equally. Helen’s background has involved her working with homeless people at Leeds City Council and in various voluntary organisations. In the 1990s, Helen joined The Ridings and through her varied roles in housing management, asset management and supported housing, she helped build the association into the successful and stable organisation which is now Connect.

Helen was appointed as our chief executive in 2016 and has since been leading the transformation of the business to make sure Connect continues to be strong and successful.

Helen also chairs the West Yorkshire Housing Partnership, Leeds City Region Housing Association Partnership and Ongo Communities.

Martyn Broadest BSc (Hons), CIHCM
Martyn Broadest BSc (Hons), CIHCM
Director of Home

As Director of Home, Martyn is responsible for leading our teams in maintenance, asset management, development, procurement and customer services. He is also responsible for our Thrive community space and café, in Dewsbury. Martyn first joined The Ridings in 2002 after working for Leeds City Council in a range of environmental, senior housing and regeneration roles.

Christine Fox
Christine Fox
Director of Neighbourly Places

Christine is our Director of Neighbourly Places and is responsible for lettings and leasehold management, income collection, neighbourhood teams and supported housing. After leaving Hull University in 1983, Christine spent several years working for small voluntary-sector supported housing providers in Liverpool and Bradford, before moving to London in 1987 where she held several management positions for a housing association. She returned in 1998 and took up the post of Director of Housing at West Yorkshire Housing Association.

Guy Millichamp
Guy Millichamp
Director of Finance and Resources

Guy joined Connect as Director of Finance and Resources in November 2020. He is responsible for financial services, business assurance and information services.

Guy has a long and successful track record in social housing, starting in 1997 with English Churches Housing. He spent over 13 years at Yorkshire Housing, latterly as Director of Finance, before joining Connect. He has also been a Board Member at Rochdale Borough Housing since 2017.

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Connect Housing Association Limited is a charitable association registered in England and Wales under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 (Company No. IP17445R) and with the Regulator of Social Housing (No. L2285).

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