A housing executive who has worked to improve living standards and opportunities in the North East for more than 40 years is to retire.

Bill Fullen steps down as chief executive of the County Durham-based housing association believe housing on March 31.

Bill has been at the helm of believe housing, and its predecessor County Durham Housing Group, for nine years.

He will be succeeded by Alan Smith, the current Executive Director of Investment, Growth and Performance at believe housing, one of the key partners  in the Northern Echo's level Up campaign.

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Bill studied general practice surveying at Newcastle Polytechnic in the mid-1970s, but a career in private practice was never on the cards.

He says: “I remember watching Cathy Come Home when I was quite young, I felt this moral outrage that parts of society seemed to think it was acceptable for some people to be homeless.

“I wanted to use the knowledge from my studies to advocate on behalf of people who were badly housed. That fire in my belly has never gone out.”

After graduating, and a couple of years doing various jobs including packing tulip bulbs in Holland and working in an Oxford bookshop, Bill became a volunteer caseworker at Tyneside Housing Aid Centre (THAC), Shelter’s outpost in the region.

The Northern Echo: Incoming chief executive of believe housing, Alan SmithIncoming chief executive of believe housing, Alan Smith (Image: Press release)

Advocating for the homeless and badly housed, he would challenge local authorities on their homeless duties.

“Many decisions were based on prejudice towards the homeless,” he recalls.

In 1986 Bill joined Gateshead Council on a temporary contract and stayed for 25 years, ultimately becoming its Director of Neighbourhood Operations.

In that time, he helped to rejuvenate rundown neighbourhoods, reduced the council’s stock to a sustainable level, introduced one-stop shops and digital innovations to improve customer services, and used public art projects to bridge generational gaps and boost community cohesion.

In 2014, he led County Durham’s large scale voluntary transfer of 18,000 council houses to three landlords, under the umbrella of County Durham Housing Group.

He was Group Chief Executive of CDHG from 2015 and, in 2019, brought those landlords together, rebranding the business as believe housing, with the vision of delivering ‘life without barriers’.

Here, he has spearheaded an ongoing commitment to deliver 2,000 new homes where they are most needed and significant investment to make existing homes fit for future needs and more energy efficient.

The Northern Echo: Bill breaking ground on a new build siteBill breaking ground on a new build site (Image: Press release)

His forethought on agile working meant believe housing was industry-leading in responding to Covid-19, and he instigated and took part in welfare phone calls to 18,000 customers.

Bill said: “I’ve enjoyed my career and always done the best I can, whether that was campaigning from the outside or affecting change from within.

“I’ve been involved with some real achievements that have helped individuals and communities, and I’ve also seen the same issues and challenges return in cycles. The trick is to continue moving forward and that means investment.

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“The last nine years at believe housing have been the most enjoyable and I know it has a strong culture in place and is in a great position to continue its work into the future.”

Judith Common, Chair of the Board at believe housing, said: “His voice is listened to, acknowledged, and respected. He’s openminded, well researched, creative, and imaginative and always listens to others’ views.

“Bill’s legacy ensures our vision and values underpin everything we do and his focus on investing in our people means there’s a wealth of talent able to take believe housing on the next phase of our journey to deliver homes that people are proud to live in."