At home with Julie Fadden
Julie Fadden is determined to change lives and tackle homelessness. And as she tells Mark Cantrell – the CIH’s latest president is not entirely joking when she says she’s giving that ambition her all
"I am selling my body right now,” confessed Julie Fadden. Now, that’s not something you ordinarily expect to hear from a housing association chief executive, but rest assured it’s all in a good cause.
The tongue-in-cheek comment is a reference to her mission to lose weight – and raise money for charity in the process – over the course of her term as president of the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH). Fadden has set herself the target of losing 10 stone and raising £10,000 for her chosen charity, Crisis.
“I am determined this year to hit that target and I am determined to do these kinds of things, because it’s about making a personal contribution – for me, homelessness is personal,” she said. “I don’t want to see people on the streets. I feel uncomfortable living in a country that finds it acceptable. I want people to have a roof over their heads. I want people to feel safe with their families.
“Crisis is dear to my heart because its chief executive is not somebody who sits in an ivory tower and is remote from what they are there to do. He’s somebody that on Christmas Day is out there waiting on the homeless, looking after them, making sure they are fed and watered, making sure they have got a roof over their heads. That is authentic leadership. That is somebody who is leading from the heart. So Crisis was important to me for that reason.”
But there is more to it than the personal dedication of its chief executive, of course; she was also drawn to the charity because of its Skylight centres, which take an all-round approach to helping people escape homelessness. She is clearly impressed by their work.
“Skylight centres don’t just find somebody somewhere to live,” said Fadden. “They train people, they equip people to be rent ready, to take on a home, and they give them ongoing support and help them to get a job. Now, to me, that’s all about self-esteem. It’s about taking a human being who was lying on the street, sopping wet and being rained on, and picked on, and being beaten up, and looking after the whole person. It’s not just about finding them a home; it’s about rebuilding their self-esteem and what makes those people a sustainable and viable human being.”
Fadden’s presidential theme is ‘changing lives’. Homelessness is a particularly stark example, of course, but it takes many forms, and in what she said above of Skylight, perhaps also serves as something of a metaphor for the work of the wider housing sector.
“Housing is the glue that binds our communities together,” she said of the sector; whereas Skylight might be said to be gluing the lives of the homeless back together. It’s a resonance that runs through the housing sector’s veins like life blood. It’s there in the century-long endeavours of the CIH; it’s present in the sector’s social purpose today. One might say it also sums up the attitude that has prevailed throughout Fadden’s own career.
Like many in housing, she admits she kind of fell into it, but got bitten by the bug. From starting out as a housing officer, she has since spent 37 years working in housing and regeneration, in roles with housing associations and local authorities. For 29 of those years she has been an active member of the CIH, culminating in this year’s presidency.
Since 2005, she has been the chief executive of South Liverpool Homes (SLH). At the time she took the helm, it was an organisation languishing in the doldrums, but she worked with the staff and tenants to turn its fortunes around, becoming the accolade-winning organisation it is today. In a sense, then, it’s another facet of her aspiration to change lives.
“For me, it’s always been about changing lives,” said Fadden. “It might be something really simple. It might be something major, but everybody can do something. The homelessness problem, for instance, is increasing day by day. You cannot possibly feel comfortable if you’re in housing – or even if you’re not in housing – walking past people who are sleeping in the rain.
“No one can feel comfortable in that situation. So what are we all doing about it? What are we as individual human beings doing about it, what are CIH members doing about it, what are we as people paid to work in this industry doing about it? We all need to challenge ourselves. That is what changing lives is all about. It’s about scooping people up and seeing what we can do to make a difference.”
Fadden’s career, it’s fair to say, is one she never expected to have, but has been brought into being, fuelled and steered, by that desire to foster change and help people make better lives. It’s rooted in housing, of course, but becomes so much more.
“I’d had no great desire to be anything other than a housing officer. I loved the job but I left it to go into management because I felt that was what I needed to do to change the way things were getting done,” she said.
“We’re here to care. We’re not just here to run businesses that make money. That’s not why we’re in housing. Yes, you need to make a business stack up. Yes, you spend money on the right things; you focus on the right things that matter to people. Yes, you achieve value for money in the way you do that. But we’ve got to keep at the centre of our world the reason why we’re doing it – and that is to change lives. That is absolutely the reason why we’re doing it. If all we think we’re about is a balance sheet then we’ve lost the plot.”
Readers can support Julie Fadden’s presidential appeal by texting CHANGE to 70004 to donate £5 to Crisis. Alternatively, sponsor her weight loss challenge via Just Giving: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Julie-Fadden1
This article first appeared in the August/September 2016 print edition of Housing magazine