27 Oct 2022
As Lara Oyedele begins her term as CIH president we sat down with Lara to find out more about her passions and motivations.
Lara has four major loves in her life – shoes, Eastenders, tea and above all else, homes.
“From an early age, I knew I wanted to work with individuals and communities, to help them find a place they could truly call home. I think it was probably because my home, at times, just didn’t feel this way.
“Growing up we didn’t have much and times were hard. I remember I used to walk past houses and look in through the windows, watching the scenes of strangers play out in front of me. I’d stand there and think ‘that’s what I want one day’ – a big warm house that envelops everything that embodied home.”
Reminiscing about her late teens, Lara recalls a period of homelessness that further instilled her passion.
“I was homeless, but no one knew as I hid it really well. I was working three part-time jobs, and where possible, I used my place of work as somewhere to sleep and moved from one place to the other without anyone noticing.
"I remember the day I was offered my first two-bedroom flat at the top of a council block. The feeling when I walked through the door to my own space, my own place to call home, it meant the rest of my life was able to continue.”
With a roof over her head and a space to call home, Lara finished her a-levels and went to university to study journalism.
“As a student, I was volunteering for a homeless shelter in Loughborough, and it was here that I came to the realisation that journalism wasn’t the path I wanted to go down. I know I wanted to do something meaningful – something with purpose – which I why I decided to become a housing officer.”
Lara obtained funding to undertake a post-graduate degree at the London School of Economics, completing her second-year placement with Notting Hill Housing Trust. She went on to work with Eaves Housing Women which found homes for single homeless women, something she has always been passionate about.
“I worked with women who were being trafficked from Eastern Europe and Africa. Others were brought from the Philippines to work as maids and then had their passports taken off them. Their situations were dire, and I really wanted to do something about them. To make a change and help raise awareness. I knew from my own experience, the difference having a home and a safe space to reside in could make.”
Making a change and raising awareness has become her main stay over the years since.
Lara later became a trouble shooter and consultant for many housing associations and local authorities before she joined Odu-Dua Housing Association as CEO in 2006. It was in this role that she was key to setting up BME National and the Housing Rights website.
A difficult and well documented time followed during which she learnt a lot about herself.
“The circumstances of my departure were extremely painful but proved a real learning experience for me. I’ve grown as an individual and have been able to use the experience to help others.
“Although I struggled professionally, personally, and financially at the time, I realise I wouldn’t be the person I am, with the values I have, if I hadn’t gone through it. I’m in a much better place now. It has been a rough journey but I love my destination.”
Lara went on to consult with various housing clients and social entrepreneurs, while becoming a property owner and building up a portfolio.
“I’ve become an accidental landlord! Property has literally saved my life, twice. I’ve worked in it and around it and I love it. I am chair of Bradford based homelessness charity, Hope Housing, and in 2020 I became a board member of Housing 21.
Lara has been a CIH member since being a student back in 1995.
“I really valued that CIH was a professional organisation and I wanted to soak up as much knowledge and learning as possible. I gained qualifications with the organisation and have always championed them. I think everyone that works in housing should be a CIH member – the resources on offer are exceptional and support the incredible work housing professionals do every day.
“2021 felt like the right time to run as vice president as my time is more flexible and I can devote myself to it. It also felt like it was the right time to bring some colour to CIH and to shake things up and challenge things a bit. It’s my motivation to inspire change and champion equality, diversity and inclusion throughout the whole housing industry. EDI is such a big space so I’m focusing on ethnic and racial diversity in boardrooms. Organisations’ culture stems from the top and I truly believe that If we get it right in the boardroom the housing sector will have leadership that reflects the demographics of our staff, tenants the communities we serve.
“We know more needs to be done in this space. I want to work with CIH, our members and the wider sector to highlight why it’s important to create a fair and inclusive environment where every individual feels confident that they will not be exposed to discrimination, criticism, or harassment because of any personal characteristics. I also want to motivate CIH members who look like me, especially the younger ones, so that they feel they can realistically aspire to leadership roles within the sector.
“I was surprised and delighted when I won the election and became vice president. I have big aspirations and I know I have a tough job ahead following in past president Jo Richardson’s influential footsteps. She has done such an amazing job and her Homeful campaign is incredibly inspirational."
Launched on 30 September 2022 Lara's presidential campaign In my shoes seeks to raise awareness of the importance of racial diversity in the housing sector. Find out more here