A Suffolk man, who devoted more than four decades of his life to the housing sector, says receiving recognition in the 2018 New Year’s Honours list was an “extraordinary surprise”.
Stephen Howlett, 66, originally from Lavenham, was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the annual honours list for his services to housing.
Mr Howlett’s 42-year career in the field included 13 years as the chief executive officer of the Peabody Trust, London’s oldest housing association, which he helped grow into one of the city’s largest developers.
Between 2004 and 2017, he boosted the organisation’s provision of work and training programmes for young people and invested £200 million into Peabody’s decent homes renovations.
Although he lives in south-east London, Mr Howlett said he still felt a strong connection to his roots in Lavenham and added that his upbringing in a relatively poor background was a large part of what drove his work and his philosophy.
“I feel hugely honoured and very humbled to receive this award,” he said.
“It’s made me think very much about my early life in Lavenham. To think I have come through that to now get this huge honour is just extraordinary.
“I’m very proud of how Peabody developed under my leadership.
“Apart from developing the organisation, one of the things I lead was taking part ownership of Thamesmead, which is a poor area that needed investment.
“That was incredibly rewarding. From small beginnings in Lavenham, to be involved in all that takes my breath away.
“Lavenham gave me the sense of community and a solid base, which gave me a huge amount of strength that I have drawn on over the years. Having that foundation is very imporant.
“It’s been a very exciting career and I’m hugely grateful to all of the staff, the board members and, most importantly, the residents, who have been very rewarding to work with.”
While he was still running Peabody, Mr Howlett was also made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, chairman and pro-chancellor of the University of Greenwich between 2013 and 2017, and a trustee of Open City, London’s leading architecture charity.
Since retiring from the organisation in July, he has taken on a variety of roles, including as Deputy Lieutenant of Greater London and chairing London South-East Colleges. He is also co-chairing the implementation of recommendations by the Greenwich Fairness Commission.
“Through housing and in education, I’ve always been keen to help people get the opportunities that I had,” he said.
“A poor background should not be a barrier to success and and I’ll continue working to help create opportunities for people.”