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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 Mid Yorkshire Teaching NHS Trust. 

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, innovation and research. She is Director/founder of Involve Me Digital Health Ltd and works as a digital patient safety consultant as well as studying part time for a doctorate at York St John University, studying the use of Artificial Intelligence in occupational therapy practice with older people. 

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. 

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

Shaeen is an experienced finance director with over 14 years of experience in the housing sector. 

She is a qualified accountant and a member of the Associate Members of Corporate Treasurers. She has a wealth of experience in financial strategy, business planning and treasury management. She also has experience of being Chair/Director o af Joint Venture and Commercial Subsidiary company. 

Shaeen holds a Non Executive Director position at Sheffield Children’s Hospital Trust. 

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 recently retired 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.

Karen Ratcliffe
Karen Ratcliffe
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.  

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. 

Leah Montia-Thomas
Leah Montia-Thomas
Board Member

After completing her law degree, Leah began her career providing housing law advice and representation in the Derby Law Centre. The experience of representing tenants of social landlords inspired Leah to move into the social housing sector to try and address inequality and improve the experience of social housing tenants. Her social housing career started in income collection and she gained experience in ASB, housing management and management. Leah is currently Regional Head of Services for Anchor Housing.

Leah holds a Masters in Business Administration and completed the Housing Diversity Network (HDN) board development programme in 2022 whilst an associate board member with Connect. 

Patricia Mitchell
Patricia Mitchell
Board Member

Patricia worked for 25 years as a solicitor in a professional practice. She worked with major national and international clients in insurance, banking and financial fraud and was a Board member for many years shaping strategy, business development, people development and remuneration.

Following an MBA at Bath University she joined the third sector working for Alzheimer’s Support, became CEO of Neurocare supporting people with brain tumours, and served as a Trustee of Age UK York and the Asda Foundation.

Most recently she served as a Board Non Executive Director for eight years at Sheffield Children’s Hospital and Chaired the Quality Committee and the People and Engagement Committee.

Patricia is committed to promoting inclusion in and equal access to a fair society for all.

Claire McManus
Claire McManus
Board Member

Claire has spent most of her career working in the financial services sector between the UK & US, and until recently acted as the UK Head of Employee Relations at HSBC. She now consults on matters of professional standards, regulation and policy in roles for the accountancy regulator (ICAEW), Greater Manchester Police’s Ethics Committee and for Leeds City Council Standards and Conduct Committee. Claire has worked in West Yorkshire for over 8 years. She fully believes that having a secure home is the key to enabling individuals and families to flourish.

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. She is also the nominated person responsible for ensuring compliance with health and safety requirements. 

Until recently Helen was the first Chair of the West Yorkshire Housing Partnership.  She now chairs the Mayor’s Dementia-ready Housing Taskforce. 

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 sustainability. As part of his role at Connect, Martyn leads the work undertaken by the West Yorkshire Housing Partnership in relation to action on the Climate Emergency, including working closely with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority on this agenda. He also is a member of the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission. 

Martyn is a Board member at Sheffield based Arches Housing, and for the community housing charity Canopy in Leeds. 

Martyn 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 Customer and Community Services

Christine is our Director of Customer and Community Services and is responsible for lettings and leasehold management, income collection, neighbourhood teams and supported housing. She is also responsible for ensuring Connect complies with the consumer standards set by the Regulator of Social 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 to Yorkshire 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 2020. He is responsible for financial services, business assurance, IT and change.

After qualifying as an accountant with one of the large firms, Guy moved into the not-for-profit sector in 1989. He now has more than 25 years in social housing spanning small and large associations in leadership roles. He is also a non-Exec Director of Irwell Valley Homes, Leeds Community Homes and Northpoint Wellbeing. He holds Post Grad diplomas in Charity Finance and Leadership in Housing. 

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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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