Victor Adebowale was made an Honorary Fellow of the University in 2005.
Victor, Baron Adebowale has done ground-breaking work as both a campaigner and a leader for the homeless, the unemployed, the disadvantaged and those with learning disabilities. He is currently Chief Executive of one of the UK's leading social care organisations and prior to this, he held a number of posts at the helm of some of the most important UK organisations dealing with social care and exclusion. He is also one of the first People's Peers elected to a life peerage in 2001.
Victor points out that his role is "not to vote on things I know little or nothing about but on those matters I've got an interest in". Despite the 'modernisation' of the House of Lords, becoming a member still includes a lot of tradition and Victor admits to unwittingly breaking many of the rules, but he says "I don't have a problem with tradition. I do have a problem with bigotry, racism and poverty".
Born in 1962, in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, Victor Adebowale was educated at Thornes House School before going on to the University of East London.
Experiences from early in his life in Wakefield have helped to inform Victor's sensibility to social needs and exclusion. He has talked in the past with fondness of a family friend, 'Janet', who had a learning disability: "She went to a school up the road and she used to come round to the house everyday." That contact clearly influenced Victor's insight into people with learning disabilities leading an ordinary life.
Victor and Turning Point, where he is Chief Executive Officer, have been campaigning hard for the rights of people with learning disabilities with the publication in 2003 and 2004 of two hard-hitting reports, focusing on their exclusion. These reports have already had an impact at many levels of Government, but Victor believes that the work has only just begun and too often "people with learning disabilities are treated like second class citizens" and he equates the level of prejudice faced by those with learning disabilities, with the situation black people faced in sixties America.
Victor is known for his direct approach and quality of leadership. As he says, "Growing up in poor housing is why, early on, Lazlo's hierarchy became apparent to me – where complex systems depend on the simpler one and I valued the need for clothing, shelter and food". He has continued to exercise this theory – and he believes that if Turning Point can provide a service that works for the poorest and hard to reach, it will make access and implementation of those services easier for the rest of society. One winter, he used Admiralty Arch as a shelter and controversy ensued. "But", as he pointed out, "here was an empty building, it was cold and people needed shelter. We put the two together."
Victor began his career in Local Authority Estate Management before joining the housing association movement. He spent time with Patchwork Community Housing Association, then became the Regional Director of Ujima Housing Association, the largest Black-led housing association, followed by Director of the Alcohol Recovery Project. He was Chief Executive of the youth homelessness charity Centrepoint for five years, before taking up his current post at Turning Point which has more than 200 services nationwide.
To name but a few, Victor is Patron of Rich Mix Centre Celebrating Cultural Diversity, of Tomorrow's Project and of the National College for School Leadership. He was a member of the Social Exclusion Unit's Policy Action Team on Young People and Chair of the Review of Social Housing Co-ordination undertaken by the Institute of Public Policy Research. In 2000, Victor was awarded the CBE in the New Year's honour list for services to the New Deal, unemployment and homeless young people.
He was voted 'Britain's Most Admired Charity Chief Executive Officer 2004' in the Third Sector Awards, for his work at Turning Point, achieving more votes than heads of renowned international charities and national government organisations, which had also been short listed for the awards.
Victor has a great affection for London and the city has continued to inspire his work. He cites Sir Christopher's Wren's St Paul's Cathedral in his list of 'inspirational art and architecture'. He remembers seeing a picture of St Paul's rising up out of the smoke during the blitz. For him that photograph and the building itself are inspirational, reminding him of just how robust people and society are and that something important survives whatever the circumstances.
Victor's achievements in challenging the social exclusion faced by the homeless, unemployed and those with learning disabilities is an inspirational, and in particular to many of LSBU's students. Consequently, Victor, Lord Adebowale was awarded the honorary fellowship of London South Bank University.