Leeds housing association shortlisted for three national awards

BME-led housing association Unity Homes and Enterprise has received national recognition for its work after being shortlisted for three prestigious 24housing Awards.     

Unity, which has its headquarters in Chapeltown close to Leeds city centre, has been singled-out in the ‘Community Achievement’ and ‘Customer Services Provider of the Year’ categories.

Ali Akbor, who has led the organisation since 1999, is also in the final running for ‘Chief Executive of the Year.’    

The winners will be announced on 18 October in an evening of celebration at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry. 

Unity was formed in 1987 with the objective of building a strong, BME-led, community housing association to address the needs of black and minority ethnic communities in Leeds.  It now manages 1,300 properties for tenants from all communities and ethnic backgrounds. Construction is also underway on its second affordable housing development outside the city. 

In 2000 the association established a subsidiary company, Unity Enterprise, to support local entrepreneurial activity. 

Unity Employment Services was set-up in 2011 to help Unity tenants and their surrounding communities to access employment and training opportunities.

  Unity Homes and Enterprise staff celebrate the association’s 30th anniversary in 2017

Unity Homes and Enterprise staff celebrate the association’s 30th anniversary in 2017

Mr Akbor said: “On behalf of all staff, I am absolutely thrilled that our work has been acknowledged in this way.

“The nomination for ‘Community Achievement’ is a direct result of the hard work put in by our Employment Services team which last year helped 366 people into training, employment and volunteering.

“The shortlisting for ‘Customer Services Provider of the Year’ is a true group effort with Unity employees at all levels playing their full part.

“I am immensely proud of every single member of our team who have earned this high-level recognition for what they have done for our tenants, stakeholders and the wider communities that we serve.”  

Mark Lawrence, editor of 24housing Magazine, said: “Every year the number of nominations increases and the standard gets higher.

“Every organisation that has been shortlisted has showcased the amazing work they have been doing to improve the lives of their tenants and the communities they serve.

“The judges now have the hard task of choosing the winner in each category.

“I wish all the shortlisted entries the best of luck.”

Social enterprise sows seeds for growth at Unity Business Centre

A Leeds-based social enterprise which promotes better mental health through growing fresh produce is going from strength to strength after establishing an indoor farm at Unity Business Centre in Chapeltown.

Using a process known as hydroponics in which plants are grown in sand, gravel, or liquid rather than soil, Growing Better remains sustainable by selling its impressive range of healthy micro greens and shoots - including basil, broccoli, pea shoots and celery leaf - on the open market.

Customers can also purchase a starter grow kit which includes commercial grade seeds and hydroponic grow pads together with a tray and lid.

  From left to right: Growing Better founder and chief executive Rob Moores at Unity Business Centre with Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive Ali Akbor and Unity Enterprise manager Adrian Green

From left to right: Growing Better founder and chief executive Rob Moores at Unity Business Centre with Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive Ali Akbor and Unity Enterprise manager Adrian Green

Rob Moores, founder and chief executive of Growing Better, said: “We aim to provide a supportive environment for people coping with mental health challenges, and there is lot of evidence which shows that growing produce can lead to better mental health.

"Our indoor, hydroponic vertical farm at Unity Business Centre is a first-class facility.  We share the building with many other fledgling businesses which enables us to exchange ideas and take part in on-site seminars and other enterprise-focused events. 

“We are also developing an outdoor community forest garden on a three quarters of an acre site in West Leeds where we run regular sessions and welcome volunteers. Our clients can self-refer or be referred directly by GPs, third sector organisations, counsellors and carer services.”

Unity Business Centre is one of three sites in Leeds operated by Unity Enterprise, a subsidiary of Unity Homes and Enterprise, which collectively provide 130 managed workspaces for around 80 businesses, social enterprises and third sector bodies.

Adrian Green, Unity Enterprise manager, said: “We were delighted to welcome Growing Better to Unity Business Centre and follow their progress very keenly. 

“Rob and his team have brought fresh thinking – as well as fresh produce - into the exciting and dynamic environment that our clients enjoy across all three of our centres. This atmosphere of boundless positivity has enabled an ever-increasing number of inner city enterprises and voluntary sector organisations to grow and prosper.

“As well as our dedicated workspaces, Unity Enterprise also offers first-rate conference facilities and meeting rooms for hire.”

 Ali Akbor, Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive, said: “Unity Enterprise was set up in 2000 to complement the work were already doing to improve local communities through the provision of high quality, affordable homes.   

“Helping people to help themselves by increasing employment opportunities and promoting social inclusion via business activities is at the core of our work.  Growing Better is an excellent recruit as we strive to continue meeting these objectives. 

“The added benefits that Growing Better offers to people with mental health challenges are truly wonderful.  We are proud to be supporting them in what they do.”   

Anyone wanting to get involved with Growing Better should contact Rob Moores on Tel: 07853 607110 or email hello@growingbetter.co

Businesses seeking more information about Unity Enterprise and its services can learn more from Adrian Green on Tel: 0113 242 5996 or email: adrian.green@unityha.co.uk 

New Housing Minister welcomed to post by Leeds housing association chief executive

Ali Akbor, chief executive of Leeds-based housing association Unity Homes and Enterprise, has welcomed the appointment of Kit Malthouse as the new Minister of State for Housing.

Mr Malthouse, formerly Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, was appointed to replace Dominic Raab who has become Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

  Unity Homes and Enterprise Chief Executive Ali Akbor

Unity Homes and Enterprise Chief Executive Ali Akbor

Mr Akbor said: “Mr Malthouse is the eighth Housing Minister to be appointed since 2010, with both of his immediate predecessors only staying in the post for a matter of months.

“The housing association sector now desperately needs a period of stability if we are to properly assist the Government in tackling the national housing crisis.

“In his six months in the job, Dominic Raab seemed somewhat detached and arguably disinterested in working closely with us to deliver the affordable homes that so many people need.  

“That was in contrast with the more constructive and positive approach adopted by the recently appointed Housing Secretary, James Brokenshire, who I was pleased to meet last month.

“I hope that Kit Malthouse will now follow Mr Brokenshire’s lead and indicate his willingness to be bold and commit himself to confronting the many housing challenges that we face as a nation.

“I have written to welcome him to his new role and issue an invitation to visit Yorkshire to see the exciting work that Unity Homes and Enterprise is doing to build new high quality affordable homes and regenerate local communities.”    

Housing Secretary congratulates BME associations at Westminster celebration event

James Brokenshire has praised BME housing associations for their work in “promoting equality and diversity within the housing market” and “helping build the strong, integrated communities that we all want to see.”

  James Brokenshire at the BME National celebration event

James Brokenshire at the BME National celebration event

The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government was speaking at a special reception in the House of Lords to celebrate the positive role played by BME housing associations in England over the last three decades.

Mr Brokenshire told the more than 100 BME housing association representatives present: “You confronted racial prejudice and discrimination head-on and Britain is a better country for it. You have also underlined our country’s values as a confident, tolerant democracy in which our diversity is one of our greatest strengths.”

He acknowledged that diverse communities still face “particular challenges” and BME housing associations had “done much to meet their needs and provide culturally sensitive housing and support services.”  He added: “You are to be highly commended for this and the wider work your housing associations do to drive innovation and good practice on community issues and to provide diverse role models at a senior level.”

The Housing Secretary said that the role of BME housing associations was vital to building more homes, “but equally to help us build thriving, diverse, cohesive communities.”  He continued: “And this, perhaps, is your greatest achievement - and the greatest lesson for the wider housing sector, which can learn from your insight and experience to ensure that, in the services it provides and the leaders it chooses, it fully reflects the society it serves.  I want to see all parts of the sector bringing people from different backgrounds together to break down barriers and combat isolation.”

Guests, including MPs and peers, were shown a short video reflecting on the experiences and achievements of the BME housing sector.  Short speeches were also delivered by Lord Patel of Bradford and Lord Morris of Handsworth.

BME National Chair Cym D’Souza ended proceedings by reminding attendees of the purpose of the event.

She said: “We came here to celebrate 30 years of challenges in meeting the needs of the BME communities we all serve.  Discrimination is a hideous thing.  It’s always there and it always threatens the vibrant communities that we seek to live in and the vibrant communities that we want to deliver for.”

Paying tribute to Mr Brokenshire for delivering a “rousing speech,” Ms D’Souza said that BME National has recently met with officials from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.  She told the Housing Secretary: “We were really pleased by the level of support and interest shown and hope to continue that relationship.”

BME National Secretary/Treasurer Ali Akbor, who organised the reception, said it was a fitting celebration of the ground-breaking work done by BME housing associations since the mid-1980s.   

But he added: “As Mr Brokenshire highlighted in his excellent speech, BME communities still encounter significant hurdles on the path to achievement.  It is imperative that BME housing associations continue to deliver high quality affordable homes and other services to enable them to fulfil their true potential.”   

  Housing Secretary James Brokenshire with Ali Akbor and Cym D'Souza from BME National

Housing Secretary James Brokenshire with Ali Akbor and Cym D'Souza from BME National

Unity chief executive honoured by inclusion in BME Housing Leaders list

The chief executive of Leeds-based housing association Unity Homes and Enterprise has been included in the inaugural Inside Housing BME Leaders List which has just been published.

BME LEADERS LIST 2018.jpeg

Ali Akbor, who has led Unity for more than 19 years, received special praise for his work in supporting people in starting their own businesses.   

Inside Housing editor Emma Maier explained the background to the list.

“When Inside Housing launched its Inclusive Futures campaign, we committed to showcasing positive role models as a means of promoting diversity,” she said.

“We celebrate just some of the people from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds who are making a daily difference in the housing sector.

She added: “I congratulate everyone included in the list. They serve to highlight just why it’s so valuable our sector encourages diversity, and why Inside Housing will continue to push for it to do so.

Commenting on Mr Akbor’s inclusion, the judges said: “Unity was formed in 1987 with a very specific mission: to help BME communities in Leeds. But under Ali’s leadership, which began in 1999, the organisation has significantly expanded the areas and communities it serves, and the support it provides.

“Our judges were particularly impressed by his creation of Unity Enterprise – which supports local entrepreneurial activity and runs three business centres which are home to 80 businesses – and of Unity Employment Services, which has supported more than 1,300 people into work or training.

“One judge said: ‘It’s common to support people into work, but less common to be supporting people to start their own enterprises. That says ‘ambition’.’”

Unity AGM 2 crop.jpg

Responding to his nomination, Mr Akbor said: “I am honoured and very humbled to be recognised in this way. 

“Most importantly, it highlights the good work that everyone does at Unity on behalf of our tenants.

“A lot of credit also goes to our partners including Leeds City Council, Homes England and others who have helped us to deliver positive results and improve people’s lives.

“Unity Homes and Enterprise has exciting plans for future development, including an ever-growing number of new affordable housing schemes.  I believe that many more good days lies ahead.”  

People empowerment is the key to success, says Unity chief executive

The chief executive of Leeds-based housing association Unity Homes and Enterprise has told a national conference that empowering people from BME backgrounds is a vital tool for improving life prospects. 

Ali Akbor, who has led Unity for more than 19 years, was speaking at the inaugural Diversity in Housing Conference at Villa Park football stadium in Birmingham.

  Unity chief executive Ali Akbor

Unity chief executive Ali Akbor

Organised by 24 Housing magazine, the event attracted senior housing sector figures from across the country.      

Mr Akbor told delegates that, in common with many other BME-led associations, Unity was set up in the 1980s to help BME communities living in low quality, poorly-managed homes.       

“Unity’s founding fathers deserve great credit for what they did back then including their work to establish the core mission under which we continue to operate: to provide housing choice, improve life opportunities and address inequalities,” he said.  

“Unity seeks to empower BME individuals by working closely with the communities we serve, most of which have a high proportion of residents of BME origin.  We are also proud to have a very strong BME representation in our staffing and on our board.” 

Mr Akbor explained that, in common with other housing associations, Unity participates in various programmes which support and promote opportunities specifically for individuals from BME backgrounds to get into the housing sector.

But he added: “Our culture is already very well-established.  It reflects our roots and it delivers results for those individuals and community groups who are most at risk of being left behind if Unity was not there to support them.  The revitalisation of communities is not just about providing high quality affordable homes, but also stimulating social and economic regeneration.”

Mr Akbor told the audience that Unity Enterprise was established as a subsidiary not-for-profit company in 2000 to support local entrepreneurial activity in Leeds.  It now runs three business centres, which are home to more than 80 different enterprises and a business incubator recently opened by the Lord Mayor.

“The idea behind this initiative was to retain community assets for the benefit of the community,” he said.  “Through Unity Enterprise, we support businesses, social enterprises and community organisations in the area in which we operate. They in turn develop new businesses, create jobs and training opportunities for local people.”

Mr Akbor continued: “Unity Employment Services was set-up in 2011 to assist Unity tenants and their surrounding communities in accessing employment and training opportunities. To date the team has supported more than 1,300 people into work or training including a number who have taken up paid employment with Unity.  We also continue to have a dedicated Financial Inclusion Service to provide tenants with advice and support relating to debt, budgeting and welfare.”

The Unity chief executive said that whilst the housing association had broadened its range of activities over the last three decades, it will always remain true to its origins and close to the individuals, families and community groups it serves.   

And he remarked that double Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams, who grew up in Leeds, had received help from Unity with her transport costs when training for London 2012.  He added: “This is an example of how with the appropriate support you can literally reach for gold.”

  Ali Akbor, Unity Chief Executive, with double Olympic gold medalist Nicola Adams OBE and Unity Chair Shruti Bhargava

Ali Akbor, Unity Chief Executive, with double Olympic gold medalist Nicola Adams OBE and Unity Chair Shruti Bhargava

Concluding, Mr Akbor said that Unity seeks to empower people in many difference ways.  He continued: “We have a deep understanding of the communities we serve.  We get to know the people who live in these communities.  We seek to gain their trust.  And we try to help them in any way we reasonably can.”

Unity chief executive welcomes appointment of new Housing Secretary

  ALI AKBOR

ALI AKBOR

Ali Akbor, the chief executive of Leeds-based housing association Unity Homes and Enterprise, has said he hopes the appointment of James Brokenshire as Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government will place the need for more affordable homes higher up the Government’s agenda.

Mr Akbor said: “I congratulate Sajid Javid on becoming the first person from a BME-background to be appointed Home Secretary and wish him well in the job.

“However, I regret that he did not do more to tackle the ongoing national housing crisis and hope that James Brokenshire will soon develop a more impressive record of achievement. 

“Mr Brokenshire has a sound reputation in Whitehall and is known to be close to Theresa May following their many years together in the Home Office.    

“I am hopeful that having the Prime Minister’s ear will allow him to advance affordable housing much higher up the Government’s domestic policy agenda and enable associations such as Unity to build the many more new homes that people desperately need.”   

Lord Mayor gives blessing to new Leeds business incubator

The Lord Mayor of Leeds has formally opened a new business incubator to boost the prospects of start-up companies in the city.

Cllr Jane Dowson cut the ribbon in a ceremony at Unity Business Centre in Chapeltown alongside senior representatives from project hosts Unity Homes and Enterprise and their partners iota Business.

The tailored facility offers shared office space to entrepreneurs, together with access to specialist support services, business mentoring and networking events.       

Addressing guests including local small business owners, the Lord Mayor said: “It is a great pleasure to see businesses developing within the city.  There are tonnes of things that you’re going to be able to do here.  I love the set-up because there are face-to-face contacts with other people.  You’ve got private rooms and can invite people in to meet you.  There is everything you need to set up your business.”

Cllr Dowson added: “Doing it all on your own can be hugely debilitating because it’s a frightening step to take.  This business incubator will give that confidence to turn the bright and brilliant idea into something that will actually work.  I look forward in years to come to coming out to see your businesses expand because this is a starter, not a finish.” 

  The Lord Mayor of Leeds, Cllr Jane Dowson (centre right), cuts the ribbon at the new incubator, supported by Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive Ali Akbor (centre) and iota Business co-founder Cristine Wilson (centre left) 

The Lord Mayor of Leeds, Cllr Jane Dowson (centre right), cuts the ribbon at the new incubator, supported by Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive Ali Akbor (centre) and iota Business co-founder Cristine Wilson (centre left) 

Unity Business Centre is one of three sites in Leeds operated by Unity Enterprise, a subsidiary of Unity Homes and Enterprise, which collectively provide 130 managed workspaces for around 80 businesses, social enterprises and third sector bodies.

Unity’s partner for the incubator scheme, iota Business, has accumulated almost three decades of service to small and medium-sized businesses in accounts, payroll and business support. 

Commenting on the initiative, Adrian Green, Unity Enterprise manager, told the gathering: “This new business hub is something very close to my heart.  Working with iota Business, it will encourage entrepreneurs out of their bedrooms into cost-effective accommodation on a flexible basis, with the added benefit of having chartered accountants, business advisers and other experts on-hand.” 

Kari Walker, iota Business co-founder, said: “There are so many talented people out there and they don’t have the contacts, they don’t always have the finance, they don’t often have the confidence to take that first step into running their own business, to make that leap.  What the business incubator hopes to do is give them a bit of that confidence, give them a guiding hand.  This community really deserves that helping hand.”

Ali Akbor, Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive, told attendees: “It is exciting for us to have this incubator opening at the Unity Business Centre.  Working in partnership with iota Business, I’m delighted that we’re able to offer a service to the business community, particularly to new businesses, to encourage them to employ and train a lot of people.  I wish you a lot of success.  We’re here to support you as much as we can.”       

Businesses seeking more information about the incubator scheme or other services provided by Unity Enterprise can contact Adrian Green on Tel: 0113 242 5996 or email: adrian.green@unityha.co.uk 

Unity on show as partners and students join local MP at Leeds affordable housing scheme

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves has joined senior representatives of Unity Homes and Enterprise, councillors and other project partners as construction work gathers pace at the housing association’s new £2 million affordable homes development in Armley.

The scheme, which includes six houses and eight flats, is on the site of the former Ancester public house at Armley Ridge Road which had been boarded up for several years before being placed on Leeds City Council’s list of ‘derelict and eyesore’ buildings.

The local authority repurchased the ground lease in 2014 and earmarked it for new affordable housing.

The site was purchased by Unity in September 2017 and construction work to build 14 affordable homes for rent commenced late last year.

Homes England has provided grant funding of £420,000 towards the project which is due to be completed in September 2018.   The contractors are Esh Property Services.

  Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves (centre) celebrating progress on the Armley Ridge Road site with Unity chief executive Ali Akbor (centre right), project partners and students from Leeds Beckett University  

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves (centre) celebrating progress on the Armley Ridge Road site with Unity chief executive Ali Akbor (centre right), project partners and students from Leeds Beckett University  

 Ali Akbor, Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive, said: “We are very excited about the new development which increases Unity’s presence in Armley.

“It will deliver an excellent mix of properties, ranging from one-bedroomed flats to three-bedroomed houses. 

“We were delighted that Rachel was able to join us and our project partners to review progress and we look forward to welcoming her back on site to see the final results. 

“Unity has recently completed 58 new affordable homes for rent and construction work on a further 68 is about to begin.

“With many more exciting schemes in the pipeline, we are proud to be playing our part in delivering high quality properties and improving people’s lives across Leeds.” 

Rachel Reeves said: “I was really pleased to see the great progress Unity Homes and Enterprise have made with their new project at the site of the derelict Ancestor pub at Armley Ridge Road.

“Local residents will benefit from this £2 million investment, which will help to regenerate the area by building new affordable homes.”

12 students from the School of Built Environment and Engineering at Leeds Beckett University were also invited to take part in the site visit.  They were accompanied by Dr Quintin Bradley, Senior Lecturer in Planning and Housing.

Dr Bradley said: “Our students are the planners and developers of tomorrow.

“It is an absolute inspiration for them to learn from Unity who are building affordable homes on brownfield sites like this one, and making them energy efficient and built to lifetime homes standards.

“This shows what wonders social housing providers can do.”

Unity chief executive expresses sadness following the death of Baroness Dean

  Ali Akbor

Ali Akbor

The following statement has been issued by Ali Akbor, Chief Executive of Unity Homes and Enterprise, following this afternoon’s announcement of the death of Baroness Dean:

“I would like to express my feelings of shock and deep sadness at news that Baroness Dean has passed away.

“Everyone at Unity was privileged when she attended our thirtieth anniversary Annual General Meeting last autumn as guest of honour.

“She spoke with great warmth and unparalleled knowledge, based on a lifetime of experiences including her period as Chairman of the Housing Corporation, about the important role played by the BME housing sector.   

“In recent weeks, Baroness Dean had accepted my invitation to address a future event celebrating the work of BME-led housing associations in England and I was very much looking forward to seeing her again.

“She had much more left to give and her untimely death is a huge loss to so many.”

New contractor set to maintain Unity’s high standards

Unity Homes and Enterprise has appointed a new contractor tasked with ensuring that the Leeds-based association’s highly-rated properties are maintained to the lofty standards tenants rightly expect.

  Ali Akbor (front, second from left) and Gary Thewlis (front, second from right) with staff from Unity Homes and Enterprise and GTD Painting and Property Maintenance.  Also included are Unity tenant Belinda Letham (front, left) who assisted with the procurement process alongside Adrian Smith (back row, second from left) and Nigel Barr (back row, fourth from right) from consultants Stradia  

Ali Akbor (front, second from left) and Gary Thewlis (front, second from right) with staff from Unity Homes and Enterprise and GTD Painting and Property Maintenance.  Also included are Unity tenant Belinda Letham (front, left) who assisted with the procurement process alongside Adrian Smith (back row, second from left) and Nigel Barr (back row, fourth from right) from consultants Stradia  

GTD Painting and Property Maintenance, based in Crossgates, emerged successfully from a rigorous tendering process and will formally take up responsibility in April for repairs and upkeep of the more than 1,200 properties owned by Unity.

Ali Akbor, Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive, said: “We are very pleased to have GTD on board and look forward to building a strong professional relationship with their team in months ahead on behalf of our tenants.

  Gary Thewlis, GTD Painting and Property Maintenance managing director (left) with Ali Akbor, Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive

Gary Thewlis, GTD Painting and Property Maintenance managing director (left) with Ali Akbor, Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive

“15 expressions of interest to bid for the work were received and six contractors were subsequently invited to participate in the tendering exercise which included site visits, presentations and in-depth interviews. 

“Much will be expected from GTD given the continued very high customer satisfaction ratings for our current repairs and maintenance service.  In our most recent survey carried out last year, 99 per cent of Unity tenants who filled out a feedback form after a repair was completed said they were happy with the outcome. 

“This is a striking achievement and I am confident that these impressive results will continue as we enter our new partnership with GTD.”     

Gary Thewlis, GTD Painting and Property Maintenance managing director, said: “We are thrilled to be selected as Unity's preferred repairs and maintenance contractor.

“We are looking forward to delivering our customer driven services which we are confident will surpass the expectations of Unity's tenants, staff and board members.”

Snow problem is no problem as ‘perfect’ Leeds Digital Job Fair wows employers

Exhibitors have praised the quality of digital and tech candidates who braved the snow to attend last week’s hugely successful Leeds Digital Job Fair at the First Direct Arena.

Almost 1,000 people walked through the doors of the iconic city centre venue to meet the most diverse range of employers in the event’s short history, all with attractive career opportunities on offer.  

One of the best-known debut exhibitors was the Royal Air Force.  Speaking afterwards, Flight Lieutenant Phil Todd applauded the gathering organised by online jobs board Herd with support from Leeds Business Improvement District (LeedsBID), Leeds City Council, Leeds Beckett University and the First Direct Arena.  

  The RAF team complete preparations before doors open at the First Direct Arena

The RAF team complete preparations before doors open at the First Direct Arena

He said: “This was the first year the RAF had attended the Leeds Digital Job Fair and we will definitely be looking to attend at the next event.  The calibre of candidates and the number of job seekers was above expectation, and perfect for a technological force like the RAF. As an exhibitor, the Leeds Digital Job Fair - delivered by Herd - provided a plethora of diverse, high-calibre candidates.  We received an abundance of interest in RAF Careers, both digital and the wider ranging opportunities on offer. 

“RAF Careers doesn’t normally follow the crowd, it leads it.  However, as a result of the success of the Leeds Digital Jobs Fair, we think this is definitely a Herd worth joining forces with.  Great candidates, with a multitude of talents, looking to start a career or finding their next career step in the digital world.”  

Another debutant was Leeds-based automotive data specialist cap hpi. 

Joel Albyn, cap hpi Product and Innovation Director, said: “This was our first time at the Leeds Digital Job Fair and we couldn’t be happier with how it went. Despite the snow, it was clear from the moment the doors opened that the ‘digital talent’ of Leeds was out in force and we were quickly inundated with folks wanting to talk about our development, product and data analytics roles.  We talked to some great people with a wide range of experiences and skills, capturing the details of literally hundreds of interested candidates over the four hours. The event was huge success from our perspective – and the snow just added to the occasion!”

  The busy cap hpi stand at Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0

The busy cap hpi stand at Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) were also welcome first-time visitors to the event.

Dan Tanham, DWP Digital Deputy Director, said: “It’s great to see so many exciting companies recruiting hard in the thriving digital economy in Leeds. I was overwhelmed with not just the quantity but the quality of the delegates who had made it through the snow. It was great to meet them and share more about what we do at DWP Digital, as well as to learn from them about the changing expectations and experiences of highly skilled graduates from really quite varied backgrounds. This city clearly has a bright future driven by the engine of a vibrant digital skills community.”

Sky has been one of the biggest supporters of the Leeds Digital Job Fair, having exhibited on two previous occasions. 

  Sky in demand at the First Direct Arena

Sky in demand at the First Direct Arena

Tom Dean, Recruitment Partner at Sky, was fulsome in his praise.   

He said:  “The event was fantastic and given the weather the turnout was great. We were able to talk to hundreds of potential candidates from newcomers to the highly-experienced. Sky were able to not only talk about our roles, but our culture and values which we are very proud of.”

Amy De-Balsi, owner of Herd and founder of the Leeds Digital Job Fair, was delighted by the feedback from exhibitors and the many candidates she spoke to throughout the afternoon.

  Herd founder Amy De-Balsi, organiser of Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0

Herd founder Amy De-Balsi, organiser of Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0

She said: “There was a wonderfully warm atmosphere inside the First Direct Arena, which was something from a contrast to the snowy scene outside.  The huge turnout represented an excellent illustration of the resolve, determination and good humour that the Leeds digital sector is renowned for, and I commend everyone who made the effort to come along.

“Most importantly, our best-ever line-up of employers had many positive engagements with attendees and lots of tech vacancies will be filled as a result.

“That is why I established the event in 2016 and we are already making plans for Leeds Digital Job Fair 5.0 next year.”   

Minister welcomes Leeds Digital Job Fair as final call goes out to register for free

Margot James, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, has praised the Leeds tech scene as preparations for the Leeds Digital Job Fair are finalised.

  Margot James MP

Margot James MP

Supported by Leeds Business Improvement District (LeedsBID), Leeds City Council and Leeds Beckett University, Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0 takes place next Wednesday (28 February) from 3.30-7.30pm at the First Direct Arena.  

The iconic auditorium will host 50 exhibitors including Sky Betting and Gaming, Jet2.com and Jet2holidays, NHS Digital, cap hpi, DWP Digital, Equifax and Sky.

Job seekers, students, graduates and tech professionals wishing to attend the event can still book their place free of charge by visiting www.herd.careers   

Margot James, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, said: “We are determined to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business, help every firm to benefit from innovative technologies and give people the skills they need to succeed in the sector.

"Leeds is a hotbed of tech talent and leading digital businesses, and this fair highlights the great opportunities on offer across the city."

Amy De-Balsi, owner of online jobs board Herd who founded Leeds Digital Job Fair in 2016, said: “I am delighted by the supportive words from Margot James and wish her well in her new role.

  Herd owner and Leeds Digital Job Fair founder Amy De-Balsi

Herd owner and Leeds Digital Job Fair founder Amy De-Balsi

“There are currently more than 800 digital and tech vacancies ready to be filled in Leeds with more than half of these on offer at Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0.

“The number of jobs available highlights the welcome reality that you do not have to live in London to progress your career in digital and tech and it is refreshing to hear that point underlined by the minister.     

“I urge job seekers and tech professionals considering a change to sign-up for free to attend the event.  Many hundreds have already done so, and we are expecting a massive turnout at what will undoubtedly be the biggest and best Leeds Digital Job Fair yet.”  

Unity Business Centre to become new hub for aspiring Leeds entrepreneurs

Leeds-based Unity Enterprise has formed a partnership with long-established tenant iota Business to launch an incubator scheme to propel some of the city’s aspiring entrepreneurs to commercial success. 

  Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive Ali Akbor (left), iota Business founder Cristine Wilson and Unity Enterprise manager Adrian Green at Unity Business Centre in Leeds

Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive Ali Akbor (left), iota Business founder Cristine Wilson and Unity Enterprise manager Adrian Green at Unity Business Centre in Leeds

Office space and meetings rooms will be provided at Unity Business Centre in Chapeltown, together with access to mentors and specialist support services including marketing.

The initiative will be chiefly targeted at new start-ups and home-based businesses seeking to expand. 

Unity Enterprise, a subsidiary of Unity Homes and Enterprise, currently provides 130 managed workspaces for around 80 businesses, social enterprises and third sector bodies on three sites close to Leeds city centre.

Unity’s partner for the new scheme, iota Business, has accumulated almost three decades of service to small and medium-sized businesses in accounts, payroll and business support. 

Unity Enterprise manager Adrian Green said: “We are bursting with anticipation at the prospect of what the incubator can achieve and the positive impact it will have on the local economy including the creation of new jobs.

“Over recent months, Unity Enterprise has hosted a series of well-attended business breakfasts which have underlined that the entrepreneurial spirit is vibrant amongst our diverse blend of tenants.  But it is not the Unity way to settle for what we have, there is always more to do on behalf of the communities we proudly serve.

“Backed by the in-house experience of iota Business and the expertise of other professionals working with us, we believe that the model we have put together has the potential to transform start-ups and very small enterprises into high-growth companies with stable financial futures.” 

iota Business founder Cristine Wilson said: “We have helped many businesses grow from a small idea to fully fledged companies, employing others. We help them grow in a sustainable way

“One of the biggest struggles they tell us about is that first step from the kitchen table at home to rented office space.  We wanted to plug that gap, with realistic prices.”

Ali Akbor, Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive, said: “Unity Enterprise has come a long way since its creation almost 20 years ago. 

“Over that period, it has acquired further workspace, refurbished built assets, hosted a multitude of impactful organisations and initiated a wide range of business and employment support programmes.

“Following a recent £1.4 million refurbishment programme, our three facilities – Unity Business Centre, Chapeltown Enterprise Centre and Leeds Media Centre – are now operating at close to full capacity.

“The launch of the business incubator scheme will enable us to inject new ideas and even greater vigour into what we do and how we do it. 

“We look forward to hearing from interested parties and getting the initiative fully underway.”       

Businesses seeking more information about the incubator scheme or other services provided by Unity Enterprise can contact Adrian Green on Tel: 0113 242 5996 or email: adrian.green@unityha.co.uk 

  iota Business founder Cristine Wilson (right) discusses the new incubator with Unity Enterprise manager Adrian Green (left) and Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive Ali Akbor

iota Business founder Cristine Wilson (right) discusses the new incubator with Unity Enterprise manager Adrian Green (left) and Unity Homes and Enterprise chief executive Ali Akbor

Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0 set to play pivotal role in filling ever-growing number of local tech vacancies

New research which found that there are now 1.4 vacancies for every employee working in the North’s digital and tech sector underlines the importance for the regional economy of this month’s Leeds Digital Job Fair, the event’s founder Amy De-Balsi has said.

The Northern Digital Jobs Strategy Report, published in January by Tech North and EY, revealed that an average of almost 240,00 digital and tech jobs are being advertised in the North each year where there are only around 170,00 suitably skilled workers to fill them.  

Alongside the abundance of high quality vacancies on offer, the research also found that digital and tech jobs typically pay 48% more than the median average salary and deliver a higher level of productivity to the economy.

  Herd’s Amy De-Balsi with the Jet2.com and Jetholidays team at Leeds Digital Job Fair 3.0     

Herd’s Amy De-Balsi with the Jet2.com and Jetholidays team at Leeds Digital Job Fair 3.0    

Ms De-Balsi, owner of online jobs board Herd, said that Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0 has the potential to deliver strong candidates for the many ready-to-fill vacancies in the city.

She commented: “The Herd job board has more than 1000 digital and tech jobs available in Leeds right now, and that number is growing day by day.

“The Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0 which will again be held in the main auditorium of the First Direct Arena, also run by Herd, will have 50 exhibitors with over 500 vacancies all available on the day.  Many of these opportunities will be apprenticeships, enabling people with a keen interest in the digital sector to learn on the job and forge an exciting new career.

“Alongside a parade of well-known employers including Sky Betting and Gaming, Jet2.com and Jet2holidays, NHS Digital, cap hpi, DWP Digital, Equifax and Sky, we have scheduled a programme of high level talks from tech industry leaders.  There will also be expert advice available from our partners Fruition IT on how to access the best jobs. 

“The research from Tech North and EY found that 58% of digital companies in the North say that finding ‘talent’ is a key business challenge.  Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0 will help them to address this.”

  Adam Hildreth, Crisp CEO and founder

Adam Hildreth, Crisp CEO and founder

Crisp, the Leeds-based company regarded as the global authority on social media risk, will be returning as an exhibitor to the First Direct Arena having made its Leeds Digital Job Fair debut in April 2017. 

Its founder and CEO is Adam Hildreth, a serial entrepreneur who recently gave oral evidence to the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s ongoing inquiry into fake news. 

He said: “At Crisp, our mission is to protect brands, social platforms, advertisers and kids from the bad actors that exploit, extort, distress, offend and misinform online.

“We work with some of the largest companies and brands in the world and employ people who excel in their field - whether they’re AI specialists or client service experts.

“Our HQ in Leeds is now a global hub for AI excellence and we’re growing fast, so we’re looking forward to meeting more like-minded people at Leeds Digital Jobs Fair 4.0 who want to join us and make a difference.”

  Mike Buck, BJSS Head of Delivery Leeds

Mike Buck, BJSS Head of Delivery Leeds

Another high-profile returnee is award-winning IT consultancy BJSS which operates offices and project centres across the UK and the United States.

Mike Buck, BJSS Head of Delivery Leeds, commented: “We’re thrilled to be once again supporting the Leeds Digital Job Fair. As Yorkshire’s biggest tech event, it provides us with an important opportunity to engage with the talented technologists and graduates that are helping Leeds to shape Britain’s digital future.

“This year, many of our senior people will be attending the Leeds Digital Job Fair, allowing candidates a unique opportunity to hear about career options at BJSS, understand the innovative tools and techniques that we use, and learn about the exciting projects that we deliver.”

Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0 will take place on Wednesday 28 February from 3.30-7.30pm, supported by Leeds Business Improvement District (LeedsBID), Leeds City Council, Leeds Beckett University and the First Direct Arena. 

Job seekers, students, graduates and tech professionals wishing to attend the event can book their place free of charge by visiting www.herd.careers  

Government told to act as transport funding gap continues to widen

A fierce - and frankly understandable - row has ignited today after research revealed a vast North-South disparity in transport funding.

  Chris Grayling

Chris Grayling

A report published by think tank IPPR North said that from the current financial year onwards Londoners will receive £4,155 per person in transport investment compared to just £844 per person for Yorkshire residents - the lowest level in the UK.

The average of the three Northern regions combined - including the North East and North West - is £1,600 or more than two-and-a-half times less per head of population than people living in the capital.   

  Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson

The disclosure comes just days after Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told a Commons Select Committee: "I don't expect to electrify whole of Trans-Pennine route."

And in the week when the Foreign Secretary claimed it would be a good use of public money to build a 22-mile long Boris Bridge to France as "it's crazy that two of the biggest economies in the world are connected by one railway line when they are only 20 miles apart." (Albeit a railway line which is much more reliable, rapid, efficient and with hugely greater capacity than the offering Leeds-Manchester travellers are forced to endure).    

The IPPR North report comments: “For the majority of road and rail users, there should be significant concern that...London will continue to receive the lion’s share of tax-payers’ money spent on transport and that these disparities will widen further as the Greater London Authority gets to keep business rate revenues which have historically been pooled, in part, to rebalance the economy.

“Unless and until central government makes significant new investments in transport priorities outside the capital and affords bodies like Transport for the North the same powers as those exercised by Transport for London, it will be impossible to repaint a different picture and we will continue to live in a nation which is dangerously unbalanced.”

The think tank's senior research fellow Luke Raikes added: “Despite the Transport Secretary’s recent statements, London is still set to receive almost three times more transport investment per person than the North. This is indefensible.

“The North has been underfunded in comparison to London for decades, and our figures demonstrate that ministers have failed to redress this imbalance.

“This failure will continue to hold back the North and the country until the Government acts.”

And so say all of us (Northerners). 

More big-name employers sign-up for Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0 as new recruitment partnership is formed

EE, the UK’s largest mobile network operator, and the Royal Air Force will make their Leeds Digital Job Fair debuts at the First Direct Arena on Wednesday 28 February.

  Big crowds at Leeds Digital Job Fair 3.0

Big crowds at Leeds Digital Job Fair 3.0

They will join a host of returning major employers including Sky Betting and Gaming, Hitachi Capital, Sky and NHS Digital to showcase hundreds of tech vacancies at Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0.   

And in another exciting first for the event, organisers Herd have formed an innovative new partnership with Leeds-based recruiter Fruition IT to ensure attendees receive the best possible advice on how to access the region’s ever-growing choice of digital career opportunities.

  Herd founder Amy De-Balsi

Herd founder Amy De-Balsi

Amy De-Balsi, founder of online jobs board Herd, said: “The quality of exhibitors already signed-up is higher than ever before and having both EE and the RAF on board provides another huge boost.

“It will also be terrific to have Fruition IT partnering with us in a coordinated drive to fill the many digital and tech vacancies that Leeds proudly boasts.       

“They are an independent, service-driven recruitment agency that sources candidates for roles across the IT sector.

“Fruition IT staff will be present to talk to attendees about the attractive vacancies they have on offer from an impressive suite of clients.

“Their expertise compliments Herd’s insights and experiences as a successful online jobs board, adding another exciting dimension to Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0.” 

  Fruition IT managing director Sarah Pawson

Fruition IT managing director Sarah Pawson

Sarah Pawson, managing director of Fruition IT, said: “As we enter our tenth year operating in the Yorkshire IT recruitment market, we are delighted to forge a strong partnership with Herd and the Leeds Digital Job Fair.

“We have always strived to go beyond simply placing candidates in jobs and take an active role in understanding the changing technology careers available and the skills required in these roles.

“Through our annual Yorkshire tech market report and hosting many local tech meetups, we aim to ensure we’re always at the forefront of our clients and candidates needs in the IT and digital job market. 

“The Leeds Digital Job fair will be a great opportunity for us to share our knowledge of the careers available and support attendees around the skills employers are looking for, as well as how companies can attract the best talent and remain competitive in a buoyant market.”

Leeds Digital Job Fair 4.0 will run from 3.30-7.30pm on Wednesday 28 February and is supported by Leeds Business Improvement District (LeedsBID), Leeds City Council, Leeds Beckett University and the First Direct Arena. 

A selection of exhibition packages are still available, ranging from gold stands for large employers through to a scaled-down offer for start-up firms.  

Companies interested in taking a space can request further information by emailing amy@herd.careers

Individuals wishing to attend the event can book their place free of charge by visiting www.herd.careers  

Cautious welcome for new Housing Minister from Unity chief executive

Ali Akbor, the chief executive of Leeds-based housing association Unity Homes and Enterprise, has written to newly appointed Housing Minister Dominic Raab to welcome him to the role and invite him to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor by visiting affordable housing schemes in the city.

  Ali Akbor, chief executive of Unity Homes and Enterprise

Ali Akbor, chief executive of Unity Homes and Enterprise

However, Mr Akbor has called on Theresa May to allow Mr Raab to stay in the role for a sustained period – unlike many Housing Ministers before him.

The Unity chief executive, who also serves as secretary/treasurer of BME National, a collective of BME housing associations in England, said:

“I am well aware of Mr Raab’s abilities and am confident that he will absorb his brief very quickly and be competent in the role.

“But the fact remains that he is now the seventh person to be given the job since the current Government was elected in 2010.

“Alok Sharma kindly accepted my invitation to visit a number of Unity affordable housing schemes last year and was gaining a well-deserved reputation for listening to the sector.

“With the Housing Green Paper due to be published in the coming months, I hope the momentum and goodwill that Mr Sharma had achieved will not be lost as a result of yet another change of minister.

“I trust that Theresa May will now allow Mr Raab to stay in post for a sustained period and enable him to make progress in addressing the housing crisis that is rightly raising deep concerns across the country.

“The change in the Department’s name to become the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government is a positive step which I hope does indeed reflect the Government’s sharper focus on delivering more homes.   

“In addition to writing to Alok Sharma to thank him for his work, I have written to Dominic Raab to invite him to follow his predecessor’s example by coming to Leeds to see the excellent work that Unity is doing to provide high quality homes for those who need them most. I hope for a positive response.”

Unity chief executive challenges Government ministers to deliver more affordable housing

The Government must keep its commitment to provide more affordable homes for people in greatest need, the chief executive of Leeds-based housing association Unity Homes and Enterprise has said.

In his New Year message, Ali Akbor also argued that BME-led associations such as Unity are “uniquely-placed” to regenerate many of the communities worst affected by the national housing crisis and help ministers to achieve their policy objectives.

  Unity chief executive Ali Akbor

Unity chief executive Ali Akbor

Mr Abkor said: “I have been encouraged by much of what senior Government ministers have said in recent months about the importance of building more affordable homes. 

“The Prime Minister declared at the Conservative Party Conference that it was her personal mission to solve the housing problem.

“Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, rightly emphasised that a home is so much more than just a place to sleep at night and that it can shape people’s life chances.

“And Housing Minister Alok Sharma, on a visit to Leeds, praised Unity for delivering high quality affordable homes and confirmed that housing was a key priority for the Government.  

“These are encouraging words and I strongly believe that BME-led housing associations including Unity are uniquely placed to enable the Government to fulfil its policy commitments.”

Mr Akbor highlighted that it was now three decades since a clutch of new associations like Unity were set up to address the housing needs of black and minority ethnic communities. 

And he said that the Government’s recently published Race Disparity Audit, which examined how people of different ethnic backgrounds living in the UK are treated across a range of areas, showed that many challenges remain.

He said: “The Audit found that Asian and black households as well as those in the ‘other’ ethnic group were more likely to be poor and living in persistent poverty.    

“The minority ethnic population was also more likely to reside in areas of deprivation, especially black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi people.

“And whilst two out of three white British householders were found to own their homes, just two out of five householders from all other ethnic groups enjoyed that status. 

“Such glaring inequality often leads to further consequential disadvantages for black, Asian and minority ethnic groups including lower quality education, fewer employment opportunities and reduced life expectancy. That is why the role played by BME housing associations continues to be so necessary.” 

The Unity chief executive added: “As we look ahead to 2018, BME-led associations relish the chance to work closely with the Government and its newly-rebranded agency Homes England to significantly increase the affordable housing stock. 

“I expect that Unity and associations with similar histories will be around for many years to come.”