AS the CEO of believe housing (formerly County Durham Housing Group), Bill Fullen’s passion for investing in homes runs deep. He began his career as a volunteer at Shelter in Newcastle more than 40 years ago, and now, as CEO of one of the largest housing associations in the North-East, he explains that the same “absolute belief” that access to good quality housing is everybody’s right, is still what motivates him.

“So many things flow from this,” he says. “It allows people the chance to build a secure family, to learn, to grow, and to aspire to greater things.”

The excitement that Bill feels about working in the housing industry has never abated. “We see believe housing as a springboard for further ambition,” he says.

The company has plans to build 500 new homes across County Durham over the next couple of years.

he ability to plan on this scale is only possible through a process of consolidation of three separate companies, resulting in the creation of believe housing.

The rate of development that Bill envisages shows a company with confidence.

“It’s not a one size fits all approach though. We want new-builds to offer a better range of options to customers, and, beyond that, we want to give tenants a stronger voice to tell us how they want housing services delivered.”

Bill’s outward looking approach is reflected in believe housing having chosen to sponsor the tenth anniversary edition of Durham’s Lumiere this November.

The Northern Echo:

It will be the third time that a company under Bill’s leadership has supported the festival. “Public art is really important”, he says. “In previous roles I have promoted public art and sculpture in housing estates, and I love the way that it allows for intergenerational discussion.

“As one of biggest public art events in the UK, there is a buzz that people get from Lumiere that extends far beyond the city. believe housing can help people benefit from Lumiere across the wider county, because we’re going to be engaging with local communities around Durham to give them a platform to input into what the festival means to them.”

“Ultimately,” Bill says, “we believe in a life without barriers”. The company runs an employability service for its customers, and Bill describes how their apprenticeship scheme has seen “tenants getting into work having never thought it was something they could do”.

“Honestly”, says Bill of his job. “I enjoy it so much it doesn’t feel like work.”

Five minutes with...

Favourite North-East building and why?

Bamburgh Castle – majestically perched overlooking the North Sea. No matter how many times I see it, it never fails to take my breath away.

What was your first job and how much did you get paid?

A gardener for Newcastle City Council. I got paid around £12 per week and I do remember endless discussions about bonus payments how many linear metre of grass I’d mowed.

What is the worst job you’ve had?

Packing tulip bulbs in Holland. Endless days in a warehouse packing bulbs in to boxes for export to England. To save money I camped in a farmer’s field and with the money I saved over four months I bought a technics hi-fi.

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


What would your superpower be?

Being able to cook paella.

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, Pete Townshend.

Most expensive thing you’ve bought other than car or house and how much?

Several road bikes – a few thousand quid.

Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why?

Stephen Fry – although his tweets have reduced recently.

Favourite book?

At the minute it would be A people’s history of the USA. All-time favourite Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.

What is your greatest achievement?

Being a father to two great kids.

What’s the best piece of advice in business you’ve ever been given?

Be yourself. Don’t put on an act because it’s impossible to maintain for your whole career.

Favourite animal and why?

A cat. Independent and they’ll always find the most comfortable place to lie.

What was the last band you saw live?

Half man half biscuit.

Describe your perfect night in

At home with the family.

In another life I would be

Exactly the same as I now am.

Who would play you in a film of your life?

Harpo Marx.

What irritates you?


What’s your secret talent?

It’s a secret.