6 September 2019

Our 'leaders in the spotlight' blog series continues with a catch-up with Faisal Butt to talk about social policy, reaching your potential and Mahatma Ghandi...

1. Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into the housing sector.

I’m currently the Lead Commissioner for Housing and Development at Barnet Council. I also sit on the board of Tower Hamlets Community Housing as a non-executive Director and Chair the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) London Board.

After university I worked as a researcher on a housing mobility project for the University of Leeds which got me interested in housing and social policy. My next role was a Housing Policy Development Officer for Rochdale Council. I really enjoyed my time working in the North West collaboratively and closely with housing associations to increase housing supply and improve the standard and quality of housing in some of the most deprived neighbourhoods. I think my highlight was delivering a BAME Housing Strategy that was cited as best practice by the Office of Deputy Prime Minister (now MHCLG).

I moved to London a decade ago, attracted by the smog and bright lights. Since then I’ve had a number of roles ranging from Head of Service to Assistant Director. I currently mentor a number of aspiring leader through CIH and enjoy putting on a variety of events for likeminded professionals to network and develop across the capital.

2. What do you like most about your job?

I like talking to people, making connections and helping people grow. I believe if you’re passionate about making a difference then you should do all that you can to support the next generation. I understand this is one of the reasons why I won ‘Inspirational Leader of the Year’ at the Housing Heroes awards last year. It wasn’t because I was a CEO or industry leader but more because, through my various roles, I had enabled residents, communities and colleagues to deliver real social value on the ground.

One of the campaigns I helped co-found is known as #UKHousingFast. Now in its sixth year, #UKHousingFast is a social media campaign led by people living and working in social housing to support the much needed work of food banks across the UK. As one of the co-founders I am proud to have united over 200 housing organisations across the country to raise the profile of food poverty, bring people together to raise money and food donations and to celebrate the diversity of people living and working in social housing.

3. And what do you find most challenging?

The national housing crisis means more and more households are finding it difficult to pay for housing and living costs. I believe the renaissance in house building, investing more in communities and working with the Government all present a good opportunity to influence change to allow us to build more housing that is affordable for local people.

Personally, I’d also like to see more equality and representation across the housing industry and I’m frustrated by conversations around young people and their perceived lack of experience, lack of diversity on housing association boards and homogenous leadership teams. We need more programmes like Leadership 2025, which aims to support and empower a diversity of senior professionals to become sector leaders of the future.

4. The tagline for the event this year is ‘lead from where you stand’. Have you got any tips or words of wisdom for the leaders of tomorrow on making an impact in their current role?

Always trust your instincts, personal integrity is key and at times you will get it wrong, but you have to keep going in order to keep growing. If you are passionate about something, building relationships, driving forward change and raising your profile are key to its success.

I firmly believe that we all have an example to set and you should follow Mahatma Ghandi’s philosophy of:

…be the change you want to see in the world.”

5. Tell us about fictional character from a book or film that you admire and think demonstrates great leadership skills.

I think in the face of adversity a good leader unites people and works collaboratively to achieve the common good, like Superman. Maybe that is a little too idealist in today’s modern world but we can all hope!

If you believe in Pandora’s box, the last thing that remained in Pandora’s box was hope (the opposite of despair) and given our current time climate if we all hope a little more (positive thinking) and take action, through our collective force, we can invoke a tsunami of change.

Find out more about joining the next Future Housing Leaders cohort.

Faisal Butt

Faisal is the Lead Commissioner for Housing and Development at the London Borough of Barnet

Faisal is the Lead Commissioner for Housing and Development at the London Borough of Barnet and has worked in the social housing sector for over 15 years. He currently serves as a Non-Executive Director for Tower Hamlets Community Housing and is Chair of the Chartered Institute of Housing’s London Board.

Leaders in the spotlight: Faisal Butt