Polly NeateCBE FAcSS

  • Charity
  • Living standards and Levelling up
  • Society

Polly Neate, Chief Executive, Shelter 


I have an English degree and a postgraduate diploma in Journalism, but my career has focused on social justice and social change, first in journalism and then in the charity sector. I have a passionate interest in how social science research and knowledge can be applied, to achieve change.

How has social science underpinned your career?

It’s simply impossible to achieve social change without social science. Every campaign I’ve worked on or run has been underpinned by an understanding of where we are, why change is needed, and exactly what change we seek. Even soundbites have to be rooted in that knowledge. A thorough knowledge of the problem should be the starting point for every campaign.

But the role of social science in campaigning goes deeper than strategy. The tactics we use, the audiences we target, the actions we ask them to take in order to help us achieve our aims – all these are driven by an understanding of population trends, belief systems, social groupings and behaviour.

At Shelter for example, our flagship campaign is to persuade government to make a generational shift in the building of social housing. That’s a tall order. Understanding the difference a stable home makes to people’s lives is the basis for a compelling case for social housing. We also need detailed analysis of exactly what policy change is needed in order for any investment to have maximum effect. We have to understand who is already warm to our cause and why – and who isn’t, why not, and what might win them over.

Only with that knowledge can the creative magic happen which we hope flicks the switch from a compelling case for change to a campaign that captures imaginations and forces action.

Career profile

  • Chief Executive, Shelter, 2017-present
  • Chief Executive, Women’s Aid, 2013-2017
  • Executive Director of External Relations and Communications (initially Public Affairs and Communications) Action for Children, 2005-2013
  • Editor, Community Care, 1999-2005
  • Journalist, then Deputy Editor at Community Care, 1989-2000
  • Honorary Doctorate of Science, Bristol University, 2022
  • Awarded CBE, 2020
  • Postgraduate Diploma in Journalism, City University, 1989
  • BA (Hons) English 2.1 University of Bristol, 1988

Non Executive and voluntary roles

  • Trustee of the Young Women’s Trust, 2020 – present
  • Founding steering group member and then trustee, Agenda: Alliance for Women and Girls at Risk, 2015 – present
  • Trustee of Immunity, a charity providing legal advice and representation for people living with HIV and AIDS, 1992-94
  • Play worker with children of traveller families, Shepherd’s Bush, 1990-1994

What inspires you about your work?

What inspires me most is the fact that change for the better is possible, whether working alongside individuals, in communities or across society. Change starts by believing that lives are only very rarely damaged by problems inherent to individuals. They are usually damaged by systems failure and discrimination. Those things can be changed.