Interview with Barbara Richardson

Managing Director at Square Roots

NHBC is proud to support the house-building industry. Our purpose is to raise standards by championing high-quality homes. NHBC is also invested in the future of this industry and works to understand the innovative ways it is evolving to meet consumer demand. This includes the need not only for more homes but also different types of homes to suit different lifestyles and Individual needs at different life stages. 

We spoke with Barbara Richardson, Managing Director at Square Roots, who take a collaborative approach to partnering with investors to facilitate capital and increase the number of affordable homes, about her career and the future of affordable housing. 

With over 29 years' experience specialising in regeneration and affordable housing Barbara has been the Managing Director of Square Roots since its inception in 2021. 

How did you begin your career in construction?

My entry into the property sector was not planned, I worked as a recruitment consultant initially before moving into insurance. I began as a credit broker, covering the UK and Europe, which offered lots of opportunities to travel and allowed me to cover a wide range of business sectors.  

Sadly, when my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I decided to take two years out of my professional career to spend more time with her. During this period, I took on a role in housing management with a housing association.  

What sparked your interest in affordable housing?

Before the role in housing management, I had no idea what affordable housing was, other than the fact that I had grown up in a council house in East London. It was a revelation in terms of what was required and the opportunities available. I took on the overall management and maintenance responsibilities of three specialist housing projects, along with reporting to local boards in my first role in 1995. 

A few years later I attended a conference and met with a senior manager at NHBC who was looking to create a team able to expand the NHBC building warranty provision, specifically to the affordable housing sector. Working at NHBC for four years was the catalyst for my career in the property and house building sector, but my passion has always been affordable housing because everyone deserves a good quality, safe and secure home.  

After this I gained a Regional Development Manager role with Thames Valley Housing based in Twickenham, now MTVHA. I then went on to hold executive director level roles in development with two other registered providers, Orbit, and Yarlington (now Abri) and worked at executive director level at Berkeley First, part of Berkeley Group, and Savills during which time I qualified as a chartered surveyor in planning and development, again specialising in mixed use, mixed tenure regeneration projects. I have also had the pleasure of working alongside three local authorities to help establish local authority trading companies, to release public sector land to increase the supply of housing both private and affordable, one as a board member for Medway and the other two as Managing Director for London Borough of Hounslow and Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead. 

What is the most important lesson you have learned during your career? 

I think one of the most important things I’ve learned is that things will always change and there will always be challenges to deal with. But it’s not the challenges that are important, it’s how you handle them, how you support your team through them and collectively learn from them that matters.  

What has been your experiences of being a woman in a male dominated industry?

It has been difficult at times, but it’s much easier now, and it is far more common to have women in senior roles in both property development and construction.  

It used to be more challenging to get on the interview short list for senior roles, even with the relevant knowledge and experience, but this has changed dramatically over the last few years. I’m delighted to see so many successful women in senior roles as it shows that the sector is becoming more inclusive; it is also essential to have role models to help inspire the next generation and encourage new talent into this industry.  

What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career in this sector?

I would recommend being flexible and open minded as you never know where a career opportunity might lead you. But it is also important to work hard and demonstrate what you can do; I think many people limit themselves or perhaps think they are not capable, but you can always learn new skills if you are willing to put yourself out there and try new things.  

What do you think the future holds for the affordable housing sector?

In a way, I think the future of affordable housing will be much like the future of the construction sector. We will inevitably face challenges, transformation, and the need for evolution and as an industry we must embrace all of these to improve service levels and meet the growing demand for housing across the UK. 

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