Leeds BME-housing association CEO “humbled” by recognition in New Year Honours List

Leeds BME-housing association CEO “humbled” by recognition in New Year Honours List

Ali Akbor, Chief Executive of Unity Homes and Enterprise, has spoken of his pride at being awarded an OBE in the New Year Honours List.

Mr Akbor, who joined Unity in January 1999 and also serves as Secretary/Treasurer of BME National, washonoured for services to the community in Leeds.

Responding to the announcement, he said:

“I am deeply humbled to receive this award, which is something I never envisaged. 

“I regard it as recognition for the work that Unity staff and Board members – past and present – have done over more than three decades. 

“I am part of a team, this is a team achievement and I trust each team member feels suitably proud.  There can be no greater honour for me than to work with them.  

“From a personal perspective, I also want to thank my family and friends for their support and encouragement over the years.  They have always been there for me and we will celebrate this special moment together.”  

Tom Riordan, Chief Executive of Leeds City Council, said:

“This prestigious honour is thoroughly deserved.    

“Ali has played a prominent role in improving the lives of so many people in Leeds and beyond over many years.  

“Alongside the provision of decent homes, he understands that social and economic regeneration, access to life opportunities and the removal of equality imbalances are essential for local communities to thrive.  

“I am delighted for him and his family.”

Shruti Bhargava, Chair of Unity, commented “Huge congratulations to Ali, its brilliant recognition and well deserved. The Board is very proud”

About Ali Akbor OBE

Born in Bangladesh, Ali is celebrating 50 years as a UK resident after moving here in early childhood without being able to speak English.  Ali learnt quickly and, having left school with six ‘O’ Levels and 7 CSEs, began his working career as a Youth Opportunities Programme trainee at Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council.   He again made a swift impact, qualified as an accountant and held a range of finance and accountancy roles before moving to Salford City Council as Head of Finance in the Community and Social Services Directorate. 

It was there that he developed his keen interest in housing and was invited to join the board of a local housing association in Salford.  Ali used his hands-on knowledge to play a pivotal part on a voluntary basis in setting up a new housing association in Oldham which he subsequently chaired.  

In January 1999, Ali was appointed Chief Executive of Unity Housing Association.   Established 12 years earlier to tackle housing and other inequalities faced by BME communities in Leeds, the association was facing an existential crisis.  Ali led a skilful and determined crusade to widen Unity’s range of services and target communities.  He established Unity Enterprise – a not-for-profit subsidiary – to promote local entrepreneurial activity, followed by Unity Employment Services to enable Unity tenants and their surrounding communities to better access employment and training.  

Unity Enterprise now runs three business centres which are home to more than 80 different enterprises. It boasts an asset base of £2 million, generating a surplus which is reinvested into the wider community and economic development activities of the association including youth diversionary programmes and a healthy living project.  Thus far, Unity Employment Services has supported more than 1500 people into employment, training and volunteering.

Under Ali’s leadership, Unity now manages more than 1,300 properties for tenants from all ethnic backgrounds.   Most are in Leeds but, together with two schemes in Huddersfield, a new affordable housing development has recently been completed in Cleckheaton.  Unity has grown its annual turnover to £8 million with an average yearly capital budget of £5 million.

Ali has grown into one of the country’s most-prominent and highly-respected BME-led housing association chief executives.  In 2017, he was shortlisted in the Director of the Year (not-for-profit) category at the Yorkshire Business Leaders Awards.  In 2018, as Secretary/Treasurer of BME National, Ali organised a hugely successful House of Lords reception to celebrate the achievements of BME housing associations over more than 30 years.  At Ali’s invitation, Housing Secretary James Brokenshire agreed to be principal speaker.   Also last year, Ali was included in the inaugural Inside Housing BME Leaders List and was shortlisted in the Chief Executive of the Year category at the 24 Housing Awards.     

Ali is a frequent national commentator on diversity, social and housing policy.  He was a keynote speaker at last year’s inaugural 24 Housing Diversity in Housing Conference, and recently addressed an Equality and Diversity Network summit on community cohesion.  He has also written opinion pieces for Inside Housing, 24 Housing, Northern Housing Magazine and Asian Voice.  

Ali has drawn on his life experience and extensive expertise to serve as a board member of a number of other housing associations including Manningham, AKSA and Selhal Housing Group.  He has also been a non-executive director of Firebrand JVC (a joint venture company with five housing association members to develop new housing in West Yorkshire), re’new Leeds (a regeneration charity which helps people from disadvantaged communities) and St Anne’s Community Services (a large charity supporting people with learning disabilities, mental health challenges and substance abuse vulnerability, as well as the homeless). For 13 years, Ali served as Chair of Governors at Werneth Infants School in Oldham. 

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