Q&A: Lorraine O'Brien of Stevenage Homes

Lorraine O'Brien has been chief executive of arms-length management organisation, Stevenage Homes, since June this year. She takes time out to tell Louise McEvoy about herself, car rallies, and Marie Antoinette

What do you enjoy most/least about your job?I particularly enjoy being constantly aware I can improve things every day depending on the way we invest money and through the choices we make about our business strategy. The least enjoyable bit is knowing there isn’t enough social housing stock to provide everyone with the housing they need.

What is the most challenging aspect of your role?Acknowledging that we can’t please all our tenants instantly and that someone is always first to get a repair or an improvement, which means others are last. Being able to explain this without seeming uncaring is always challenging.

What motivates you?I need to know I am doing the best I can, whether it’s in my personal life or at work, but I am certainly not a perfectionist. I do what I do because I get a real sense of pride when I see good results.

Tell the reader a bit about yourself.I was born in London but moved with my parents and twin sisters when I was 12, and spent a few years in Lincolnshire and travelling as a result of my father’s civil engineering job. This meant we went to some very interesting places, including Algeria and school in Austria, so we were very fortunate. My partner Graham and I have a home in Haworth, which is very beautiful. We are just in the process of buying a house in Stevenage, which is really exciting.

What is your main personal goal for the future?To make a success of being chief executive here in Stevenage, to improve my pigeon French, and to find some time to improve my fitness.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?That seems like a long time off. I can’t imagine working in anything but the housing sector so I will be very happy to be here in Stevenage having made a success of investing in our homes and, with the right financial and political climate, hopefully expanding the company to develop homes and services for local people.

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What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?I love to cook, and a family Sunday lunch is one of the nicest ways to relax at the weekend. Graham has a lovely 1952 Jowett Jupiter which took him five years to restore so we are often out and about in that, having picnics and going to car rallies.

If you could meet one person, living or dead, who would it be and why?I like to read about history and I once read a book about Marie Antoinette and the scandal of a diamond necklace which really fascinated me. She lived through very turbulent times and was not in my view anything like popular opinion presents. How wonderful it would be to ask her what really happened.

What is your favourite part of Stevenage and why?My favourite part so far is the people – they are very welcoming and friendly. I haven’t had much chance to get out and about yet but I think Stevenage Old Town is really nice as it is always buzzing with people. Fairland Park is great too – there is so much lovely open space. Stevenage is a lot warmer than Haworth, and I love the literary connection between Forster and the Bronte’s which reflects life in these two contrasting but beautiful parts of England. I am so privileged having been able to experience both.

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