Inspiring leadership: the women at the helm of Kingston

International Women's Day is the time to celebrate the remarkable women who shape our organisation and today we shine a spotlight on the dedication, vision, and relentless pursuit of excellence by the outstanding women within Kingston's leadership team.

International Women’s Day is the time to celebrate the remarkable women who shape our organisation and today we shine a spotlight on the dedication, vision, and relentless pursuit of excellence by the outstanding women within Kingston’s leadership team.

Join us as we acknowledge the invaluable contributions of Vikki Higginbottom, Sarah Dudgeon, Cheryl Cessford and Carly Waller (left to right) to Kingston’s success story.

Carly Waller | Assistant Director, Block Management

Carly leads the Block Management department, which consists of Property Management, Fire Safety, and Repairs and Maintenance. Carly joined the business when Kingston acquired Sanderson Weatherall in 2009, where she was Associate Director of their property management division following an earlier career in estate agency. After eight years as a Team Leader, Carly has headed up block management since 2017.

Block Management does not come without its challenges and has changed significantly since the Grenfell fire, but Carly enjoys the varied and sometimes hectic nature of the role.

“Every day is different, and you’re never bored as there is so much to learn with so many changes to legislation over the years,” explained Carly. “We’re constantly upskilling to remain compliant, but I love supporting the team and seeing so many of them complete their IRPM qualifications.”

As someone who started their career in property at 17 years old, Carly’s advice to young women aspiring to leadership roles is to “have confidence and go for it!”

“Kingston supports progression, whoever you are, and my door is always open to colleagues looking to progress.”

Cheryl Cessford | Assistant Director, Open Spaces

One individual success story that demonstrates the potential for progression within Kingston is Cheryl’s remarkable rise to Assistant Director and overseeing Kingston’s estate management specialists, Open Spaces.

Cheryl started her journey in property as a letting agent before moving to Kingston in 2006 (Cheviot Housing at the time) as Customer Advisor. Keen to progress, Cheryl became a Property Manager in 2009 and built up her knowledge over eight years by obtaining IRPM qualifications and achieving Member status. Cheryl boosted her abilities further after moving into Estates as Team Leader and completing the RoSPA playground inspection courses.

“It’s a great company to work for as there are so many training and development opportunities. I’ve been able to improve my skills while progressing my career and I would encourage anyone to learn as much as possible on the job.”

The training and knowledge received while working under Carly Waller had a huge influence on Cheryl and she has never been short of encouragement from other senior leadership figures. Now an Assistant Director and part of the senior leadership team herself, Cheryl is happy to share her experience with colleagues and see others progress.

“I always had backing from Colin (Ord) and Paul (Carter) – there are definitely no barriers for women at Kingston. Anyone is capable, male or female, just go for it.”

Sarah Dudgeon | Assistant Director, Business Support

With a career as diverse as it is extensive, Sarah brings a wealth of experience to Kingston’s support functions – Central Services, Communications and Systems Support – and a focus on customer service excellence.

Sarah’s grounding in business operations came at an accountancy firm, where she started as a 19-year-old secretary and worked her way up to Office Manager. Sarah’s route into property took her to Avoca in 2008 via a career in commercial property management as a Regional Facilities Manager. As Managing Director at Avoca, Sarah oversaw the block management business, which was bought by Kingston in 2015.

Sarah acknowledges past mentors for shaping her outlook on the route to success: “I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by successful role models throughout my career. I was trained by two great women at Arthur Andersen (accountancy firm) who went on to be very accomplished in business.

“In my experience, you have to take responsibility for your ambitions by going the extra mile and thinking outside the job description.”

Sarah has embraced the Bernicia culture and has enjoyed establishing her role at Kingston.

“I’ve loved all the places I’ve worked within commercial business, and it has been rewarding to be part of a social housing group and knowing that Kingston’s profits go towards helping and improving communities in the north east,” explained Sarah.

“The leadership training programme shows that Bernicia invests in individuals, and we have a strong senior team at Kingston who are very supportive of each other.

“Being part of Kingston’s evolution has been rewarding and I hope I’ve used my experience to assist with implementing positive changes and efficiencies.”

Vikki Higginbottom | Business Manager, Living Spaces

At the head of Living Spaces, overseeing both the Sales & Lettings and Property Management operations, is Vikki Higginbottom.

Vikki joined Living Spaces in 2010 as Branch Manager and has been Business Manager since 2018. However, Vikki’s property journey began as an 18-year-old Estate Agent and led to her first Branch Manager role at 21. Following a break from the industry spent abroad and working in hospitality management, Vikki worked her way back up from Sales Negotiator to Property Valuer and then Valuation Manager, before joining Living Spaces.

“I love property,” said Vikki. “I enjoy meeting clients and get so much out of helping and moving people into their dream homes.”

Across 14 years, Vikki has been part of Living Spaces’ evolution as it was acquired by Bernicia in 2012 and became a trading division of Kingston eight years later.

“Kingston is such a supportive and progressive company focussed on customers and is unique for gift-aiding profits to the Foundation – I love that we’re not purely profit driven.

“They want brilliant leaders in the business and invest in people development with training and progression pathways.”

The open-door culture within Kingston is a huge source of support for Vikki: “Colin (Ord) has been instrumental in helping me develop in my career and I’ve established really honest and supportive relationships among the senior team and Paul (Carter).”

For young women starting their careers, the key advice from Vikki is “be authentic in leadership”.

“Don’t be something you’re not – have emotional intelligence and self-awareness. If you understand yourself and your colleagues, you’ll get more out of people.”