Black in the Public Sector with Anthony Okereke

Dec 16, 2021

Anthony meeting the residents of a new zero-carbon home in Greenwich: 'I believe wholeheartedly that people's lived experiences, stories and resilience are integral to energise movements and change society.'

#BlackInThePublicSector is a monthly interview series spotlighting Black practitioners working across disciplines in local and national government. This month, we introduce Councillor Anthony Okereke, the Cabinet Member for Housing at the Royal Borough of Greenwich. Read about his initiatives to drive community-led housing and his appreciation for the everyday stories of residents.

Why did you choose this career? What makes you want to do this role in the public sector?

  • Amidst the myriad of difficulties that come with having sickle cell disease, I would not have managed without the stability of my home. Having a roof over your head brings invaluable security that everyone should have access to. As Cabinet Member for Housing in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, I have seen how factors such as the increasing cost of living, housing shortages and family breakdown can impact the wellbeing of our residents. I entered the public sector because I know first-hand the value of a stable home and I want our communities to have access to one no matter the circumstances.

What has been your proudest moment since entering the public sector?

  • It has always been my belief that the development of our built environment requires all our participation and ownership. In 2016, I worked with my neighbours to develop a community-led housing project in Greenwich. Since then, we’ve worked and engaged with regional and local decision-makers to allocate land where the community can build quality homes. I started this work as a resident, and then as a local councillor where I pushed for Greenwich Council to commit to Community Land Trusts as part of the housing delivery strategy. As Cabinet Member for Housing, I’m proud to have ensured the allocation of two vacant parcels of land to be used for community-led housing projects which are currently being tendered for by community groups in Greenwich.

Anthony's running route along the Thames Path in the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, an area currently undergoing regeneration.

Where is your favourite place in your local area and why?

  • I love running and it brings me great relief from the pressures that come with holding statutory responsibilities. I run along the Thames Path in the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich which was closed off from the public for years. The area has such a rich history and is formed of former Royal Artillery listed buildings, newly established homes and is buzzing with life. The Royal Arsenal is a great example of how areas can be repurposed and regenerated to accommodate new emerging communities.

Who are some people whose career paths inspire you, whether you know them personally or someone you admire from afar?

  • I find inspiration in the stories of the people around me. Anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” It is this thinking that guides my work. I believe wholeheartedly that people's lived experiences, stories and resilience are integral to energise movements and change society. I see that in the residents I serve and it is these experiences that compel me to want to do better and bring about change.

Anthony is raising funds for the Greenwich Winter Night Shelter and Woolwich Service Users Project and has chosen to donate the honorarium for this article to both charities. Watch the video recap of the sleep-out he participated in last month and follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn. To keep up to date with the #BlackInThePublicSector series, follow Public Practice on Twitter and LinkedIn and subscribe to our newsletter. If you're interested in finding a career in the public sector, take a look at our placement programme for Associates.

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