YOU never forget your first job.

Bill Fullen certainly hasn’t.

As an 18-year-old, he was a gardener for Newcastle City Council while he plotted a path to university.

However, the attraction of raking and cutting grass only lasted so long.

“I did it for about a year, straight out of A-levels,” he said.

“But I didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life.”

Instead, Mr Fullen embarked on university, with a career in surveying his goal.

By 1980, he’d reached that target and took the first steps into the housing sector.

A general practice surveyor at Shelter, he lobbied authorities to improve housing conditions.

It’s a period he looks back on fondly.

“I was campaigning for better homes and campaigning on behalf of homeless people,” he said.

“I wanted to use my skills to help people.”

Further into the decade, Mr Fullen moved to Gateshead Council, which proved to be a real catalyst for his career and his commitment to social improvement.

He set up and led The Gateshead Housing Company, which included investments totalling £330m in more than 20,000 homes, before founding Keelman Homes, a charitable new build company.

The latter was established in 2009 to develop nearly 150 new homes for rent, sale and shared ownership in Kibblesworth, south Gateshead.

Reflecting on its endeavours, Mr Fullen displays typical North-East modesty when asked about Keelman’s successes.

However, for all his humility, his pride is obvious.

“We did a really good development in a former mining village.

“The transformation took it from an estate that was pretty run down to a place with brand new homes and community facilities.”

Yet Mr Fullen says he’s managed to top those achievements.

He’s now group chief executive at County Durham Housing Group (CDHG), which was formed in April 2015 and has bases in Bishop Auckland, Meadowfield, near Durham City, and Seaham and Peterlee, in east Durham.

The organisation is made up of three landlords; Dale and Valley Homes, Durham City Homes and East Durham Homes, which, between them, own and manage more than 18,000 properties.

“It has probably surpassed what we did with Keelman,” said Mr Fullen.

“We have brought together three organisations and we are starting to change the communities that we work in.

“The strides we have made have been pretty significant; the stuff we are doing here surpasses some of the milestones we achieved in Gateshead.

“My vision for the group is simple.

“I want people to say they are proud to call Durham home, and that doesn’t just come from bricks and mortar.

“It’s about improving lives beyond the garden gate and I’m confident that by working with our landlords we can achieve this together.”

It’s not just housing, however, where CDHG is working to improve the community.

The organisation is supporting Durham’s Lumiere light festival, which takes place next month.

Back for a fifth time, Lumiere will see artists from around the world illuminate the city.

CDHG is an installation sponsor, and although Mr Fullen can’t reveal which creation the organisation has helped bring to life, he says he is thrilled to be able to back the event again, having done so two years ago.

He added: “We are delighted that we have been able to sponsor an installation.

“Lumiere is probably one of the foremost events in the region now.”

Five minutes with… Bill Fullen

Favourite North-East building and why? Bamburgh Castle. It’s a majestic building and its location gives it a commanding position on the coast. I’ve spent many days in the area and the first glimpse of the castle never fails to wow me.

What was your first job and how much did you get paid? A gardener for Newcastle City Council. The pay was something like £12 a week plus bonus. It sounds a much grander job than it was – I cut the grass.

What is the worst job you've had? A casual clerical assistant in the district valuation office in Oxford. One of my tasks was to stamp letters with the district valuer’s signature and then, with a separate stamp, the office address. It was mind-numbingly boring. I stamped something like 10,000 letters over a week. One positive was that the staff club had a full-size snooker table, so I had very long lunches playing snooker. All casual staff were sacked after the 1979 General Election, so I was an early casualty of Margaret Thatcher’s election.

What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner? Paella.

What would your superpower be? To know where the light goes when you blow out a candle.

Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party: I don’t do dinner parties but if I had to, then the four people would be Ellen Wilkinson, Spike Milligan, Sitting Bull and Pete Townshend. In reality, my perfect dinner party would be to have my family sitting around the table having a meal and a chat - that’s probably when I’m at my happiest.

Most expensive thing you've bought - other than car or house - and how much? I don’t really acquire expensive things, there’s not much relationship between cost and value. I’m not materialistic. My bike(s) is the most expensive thing I’ve bought – around £3,000.

Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why? Stephen Fry. Everybody else seems to follow him but he is very witty.

Favourite book? Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown.

When did you last cry? The final episode of Broken.

What is your greatest achievement? Having two great kids who are intelligent, polite, courteous and fun to be with.

What's the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given? Careful with that axe.

Favourite animal and why? Cat. They are independent and will do what they want.

Most famous person on your mobile phone? I don’t have any famous people on there.

What was the last band you saw live? The Cure.

Describe your perfect night in: A warm and cosy sitting room with a real fire, a glass of red wine and laughing with my kids.

In another life I would be... Exactly as I am now.

Who would play you in a film of your life? W.C. Fields.

What irritates you? Dishonesty and disloyalty.

What's your secret talent? Keeping secrets.