Our leadership team

We are run by a Board of expert non-executive directors who are recruited for the skills and experience they can bring to bear in helping us achieve our objectives and goals, plus our chief executive. The Board meets ten times a year and looks at business and financial plans, risk, long term strategy, treasury and key perfomance issues.

They are supported by a management team consisting of three executive directors.

Non-executive directors

Vivienne Horton

Vivienne Horton

Chair of the Board from April 2017

Appointed: November 2012
Vivienne’s professional background is as a solicitor. She was employed in a number of local authorities in senior legal roles before becoming Director of Resources and then Chief Executive of Macclesfield Borough Council where her five key roles were strategic management, community engagement including partnership working, service delivery, performance management and organisational development.

After that role she held a number of positions including Director of Risk at Standards for England - a national strategic regulator responsible for councillor conduct and Director and Head of the Public Sector team at Kennedy Cater a legal costs consultancy.


James Healy

James HealyAppointed: September 2015
James has been active in the engineering, construction, finance and general management sectors for more than 50 years. During his career he has worked in six countries, starting with General Electric Company in the USA in 1964.

In 1980 he founded his own engineering services company in Ireland and led it for ten years until he merged it with Fortune 500-listed Jacobs
Engineering. After six years as Vice President and Managing Director of Jacobs UK and Irish operations, he left to puruse further investment activities.

Since then he has founded a number of companies and served as Operations Director of Bristol-based Pieminister.

John O'Neill

John O'NeillAppointed: September 2011
John is a director of South Gloucestershire Traded Services. A former general manager in the hotel and catering industry, he is also member of the Institute of Hospitality. In partnership with his wife Sandra, John owned and operated Charfield Post Office and stores for twenty years.

John is the South Gloucestershire Councillor for the Charfield Ward which comprises the villages of Charfield, Cromhall, Falfield and Tortworth.

Loretta O'Driscoll

Loretta O'Driscoll Appointed: March 2013
Loretta currently works for South Gloucestershire Council. Previous roles have included Business Manager Adult Community Learning at South
Gloucestershire Council, and in the private sector, as Financial Director for a small manufacturing company and Group Accounts Manager managing the day to day operation of the central accounting function in a multinational business.

Loretta has been involved in fundraising and developing community groups in support of a special school for children with disabilities.

Neil Rimmer

Neil Rimmer Appointed: Jul 2017
Neil is an experienced entrepreneur and board member having been an executive on the main board of many businesses around the world over the last 25 years. He has successfully used his management, leadership and organisational skills in the acquisition, foundation and turnaround of several diverse businesses.
Most recently he was one of the founders and Commercial Director of a retirement village operating and developing the business in addition to acting as Managing Director for a mid-sized care home group.

Neil has a strong background in technology having owned a Microsoft Gold Partnership software development business which designed and implemented large scale software solutions to blue chip companies & a specialist electronics business, in addition to wider board experience within the leisure, debt recovery and property industries.

Neil recognises the true value of community and is chair of his local village hall committee in addition to the local pre-school and social committees where he lives.

Richard Bird

Richard Bird Appointed: October 2016
Richard has been involved in the housing and development industry for over 40 years. During his first decade, his career developed from planner, to project manager, and ultimately to Head of Production for a PLC home builder. The next four years provided a much wider experience as a director of construction, housing and development companies within a private limited group.

Returning to the PLC environment in 1991, Richard joined Taylor Woodrow and was appointed to the board of the housing subsidiary a year later. He was appointed Regional Managing Director in 1994, and in 1996 given responsibility for the South West and Wales. The merger of Taylor Woodrow with George Wimpey in 2007, resulted in Richard being appointed Divisional Managing Director, responsible for four business units in the South West and Wales. He held this post until 2013.

Richard Penska

Richard Penska Chair of Audit and Risk Committee

Appointed: November 2012
Richard is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Certified Accountants and has extensive experience of contract and relationship management and is well versed in contract law, administration, negotiation and commercials. He is currently Assistant Director, Corporate Services at North Somerset Council.

Before joining North Somerset Council, Richard held a variety of positions within the Electricity Supply Industry and the Department of Health and
Social Security.

Richard has operated at strategic management level within a number of functions, including, exchequer services, internal audit, risk management and customer services.

Robert Nettleton

Robert Nettleton

Chief Executive

Appointed to Board: April 2015
Appointed Merlin Chief Executive: Mar 2014.
Prior to joining Merlin, Robert was Chief Executive at Cornwall-based Coastline Housing. Under Robert’s leadership Coastline achieved Investors in People Gold status and a 92% customer satisfaction rating with the overall services provided, making them the best in the south west. Operating margin doubled during his tenure while profits increased fivefold.

Before joining Coastline, Robert was Group Development and Regeneration Director of the LHA-ASRA Group, covering an area from London to
North Nottinghamshire. He was responsible for the group’s development programme, resident involvement, community investment, and property

Executive directors

Martyn Blackman

Martyn Blackman

Director of Investment

Martyn joined Merlin as our Director of Investment in May 2017.

Martyn has joined Merlin from Aster Group where he worked for ten years, most recently as Development Director. At Aster he oversaw a development programme delivering 1,000 affordable homes a year including hundreds of properties for shared ownership and a programme of 250 homes for private sale. During this time he also spent seven years as a Board member of Bristol Community Housing Foundation.


Paul Coates

Paul Coates

Director of Housing and Communities

Paul joined Merlin in May 2015 as our Director of Housing and Communities.

He was previously Director of Operations at Homes in Sedgemoor for nearly five years, during which time customer satisfaction increased by 6%. Prior to this Paul was Managing Director at Toynbee Housing. 

Ben Taylor

Ben Taylor, Director of FinanceDirector of Finance

Ben was appointed Director of Finance in September 2017, having joined Merlin as Head of Finance in June 2014. He had previously worked in a number of roles including statutory audit, housing inspection and financial consultancy. 


Sara Thomson

Sara Thomson Chief Risk Officer

Sara joined Merlin in May 2016 as Chief Risk Officer, responsible for all aspects of enterprise wide governance, risk oversight, assurance and independent analysis and reporting to the Board. 

Before joining Merlin Sara worked in Investment banking, retail banking and management consultancy. She has over 20 years’ experience, holding senior leadership roles in risk and business management within international and UK companies.