Our Board

Advance’s Board has the ultimate responsibility for how Advance is run, and for determining its strategic objectives and future development.

The Board Member Register of Interests is here


Jonathan Higgs, Chair of the Advance Housing and Support Board

Jonathan Higgs was appointed as Chair of the Board in April 2024. Jonathan is a highly experienced housing professional with significant experience gained in the sector. 

Jonathan is the Chief Executive of Raven Housing Trust and has also been the Chief Executive of Gloucestershire Housing Association and Oxford Citizens Housing Association.  Jonathan has non-executive experience gained in several roles, most recently on the Board and Audit Committee of Two Rivers Housing Group and Placeshapers where Jonathan has also been vice chair for a number for years. 

Jonathan is passionate about ensuring everyone has equitable access to the housing and support they need to enable them to succeed.

Martin Barrow-Starkey

Martin Barrow-Starkey started his career as an Apprentice Electrician at the Sellafield Nuclear reprocessing site, then gained a BEng (Hons) in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Northumbria University. Martin spent much of his early career working within the rail industry, with 12 years’ experience across various roles including a directorship for services and facilities company, Carillion. He also helped oversee a £150m p.a. project for delivery of facilities services for the UK’s financial and commercial sector.

Martin spent 9 years in Volkswagen Group UK, in which he held a variety of senior management positions, leading Parts Logistics and over £250m independent sales for the Group. He was also Head of Vehicles Sales for Skoda UK, as well as the Head of Group Fleet Services and Sustainability.

In 2020 he joined Construction company FM Conway as A&A Operations Director and was responsible for the strategic and operational development, implementation and overview of the division, as well as being responsible for all 7 asphalt plants.

Whilst his career has taken him across various industries, Martin’s main goal has always been to work in a personable environment with people at the heart of a business, with the aim of supporting, energising and transforming the teams around him to deliver amazing results. 

Martin is a member of the Advance's Audit and Risk Committee.

Mark Coates

Mark Coates was appointed to the Board in July 2019. His recent career has been in the voluntary, social enterprise and housing sectors – he is currently Chief Executive Officer for a youth charity in the West of England, and previously held Executive Director roles with large housing associations where he was responsible for their supported housing and related support services. Prior to that, Mark had successful careers within the private sector (creative/music industries) and as a solicitor.

Mark is passionate about social justice, and was motivated to join Advance having been impressed by the organisation’s work, and seeing an opportunity to help make a difference for its customers.

Mark is Chair of the Service Quality Committee.

Jane Harrison

Jane Harrison was appointed to the Board in October 2023. Over the last 13 years Jane has worked at Director level in both large and small organisations, reporting to the Chief Executive or Board, as well as leading the Board as Chair at Ability Housing, a specialist provider of housing and support.  Prior to becoming Chair at Ability Housing, Jane was Chair of their Audit, Finance and Risk Committee overseeing risk management, audit and financial management.

Jane’s previous experience as an external auditor drives the importance of maintaining effective systems and controls and identifying how to confirm strong assurance regarding controls operation, the basis of risk management.

 Jane is Chair of the Audit and Risk Committee.

Nigel Hills

Nigel Hills’s career started in Midland Bank where he worked for six years in both a local and a London West End branch.  He joined Salvation Army Housing Association (saha) in 1984 as a Finance Officer when the Association owned just 10 hostel properties and one general needs scheme. Nigel was able to pursue his accountancy qualifications whilst progressing his career within the Association and is a fellow member of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountancy. He became Director of Finance of saha in 2004 and Chief Executive in 2019 until August 2022, the organisation having grown to over 4,000 units of general needs and supported housing accommodation.  

Nigel is a qualified Chartered Public Finance Accountant and is an active member of the Salvation Army. He has spent his career predominantly working in the housing and charity sector and he is passionate about enabling transformational environments where people can flourish and fulfil their potential.

Nigel is a member of the Advance's Audit and Risk Committee.

Vivien KnibbsVivien Knibbs was appointed to the Board in July 2019. She is a highly experienced professional with significant experience gained working at the highest levels in the social housing sector. She has a track record of delivering strategic change programmes to achieve business growth, increased efficiency and first class customer service. Vivien has an excellent understanding of risk management and control and all aspects of operational delivery of a housing service.

Vivien is Chair of the Remuneration Committee and a member of the Audit and Risk Committee.

Julie Layton

Julie Layton was appointed as Chief Executive of Advance in 2015, having worked for the organisation for a number of years as Director of Resources and Deputy Chief Executive.

Julie is a qualified accountant and a member of the Chartered Institute of Housing. She has extensive experience in the social housing sector. She is a strategic, visionary leader who is passionate about improving the lives of vulnerable people and believes the non-profit sector has a big part to play in delivering change. Her philosophy is to embed a collaborative and open culture within the organisation and to inspire and empower people to perform well.

Julie has developed partnership working initiatives to ensure Advance can work with others to provide more high quality support options to customers to enable them to live the lives they choose.

In 2017 Julie was appointed to the Board of the Association of Mental Health Providers and is keen to take an active role in shaping the future of the Association and the mental health sector.

Julie is an executive member of the Advance Board.  Unlike other Board members, she is not a shareholder and therefore does not participate in shareholder decisions.  Julie is a member of the Service Quality Committee, and attends other Board Committees but, in accordance with Advance’s Standing Orders, is not a member of the Audit and Risk or Remuneration Committees and does not Chair Board Committees.  Julie chairs the Advance Customer Partnership and the Safeguarding Panel, which are not Board Committees. 

Rajan Sharma

Rajan Sharma was appointed as a Co-optee to the Board in September 2022. He is currently Director of Finance for a housing association based in the East Midlands, where he has been since 2019. Prior to this, Rajan worked within financial services, specifically the retail banking and life insurance sectors.

Rajan is passionate about efficiencies and ensuring the best use of finite resources to maximise investment in empowering customers to live their best life and to leave a positive impact on society.

Rajan is a member of the Advance's Audit and Risk Committee.

Rob ToveyRob Tovey was appointed to the Board in February 2021. Rob is a social care professional with 38 years’ experience across the statutory, public, voluntary and private sectors. Most recently, he was Head of Quality at Home Instead Senior Care - the largest home care provider in the world and the highest-ranked provider in the UK. Immediately prior to that he was Head of Inspection, Adult Social Care for the Care Quality Commission.

Rob is a member of the Advance Customer Partnership and the Service Quality Committee.