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Barbara’s Story

Barbara Harbinson was the CEO of Halifax Opportunities Trust (HOT) for 15 years. She drove the Trust forward, building from the groundwork West Central Halifax Partnership put in place, to become one of the largest community focused charities in the region.

Creating opportunities for a brighter future through commitment, community and collaboration

Barbara Harbinson, HOT CEO (2002-2016)


Barbara Harbinson was the CEO of Halifax Opportunities Trust (HOT) for 15 years. She drove the Trust forward, building from the groundwork West Central Halifax Partnership put in place, to become one of the largest community focused charities in the region.

In her time at HOT Barbara celebrated many milestones and helped establish a number of physical assets including the Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre, Jubilee Children’s Centre and the Outback Community Kitchen and Garden, which continue to thrive today. The transition from a single asset charity at the start, HOT’s flagship base Hanson Lane Enterprise Centre, to managing a portfolio of sites and employees at the time she left is a great example of Barbara’s commitment to HOT and the community.

Becoming CEO

When Barbara applied for the role, the Trust had only just been established and was under the leadership of Jenny Lynn. A board had already been formed and it was Jenny and then Chair, Aslam, who carried out the majority of interviews. 

With a shared understanding of what the role entailed and the skills required, the pair carried out interviews that involved a number of rounds. One of the main criteria was that the right candidate would have an evident passion for community and, while the formal requirements were important, this was a key quality they looked out for. Barbara reminisces:

“Assie (Aslam Mohammed) made the call to offer me the role and my first response was, “Me? You have to be joking?!” I quickly followed up with “Yes”.

Much later Assie would give me feedback on my interview and tell me why he offered me the job as CEO of the new Development Trust, and it wasn’t all good!” 

Working with the Board

Barbara worked closely with Chair Aslam Mohammed to develop and deliver plans that would ensure the Trust reached the aspirations of the board. As a regeneration charity that ultimately strived to eliminate poverty, a lot of the operations were centred around employment, learning and training, of which the board was able to address through their unique skillsets and experiences.

The board attributed to the Trust’s success and throughout the years Barbara built a strong relationship with Assie, which supported the progression of staff and helped drive many of the successful projects forward. Barbara reflects:

The relationship between CEO and Chair was based on honesty and trust. I think this was fundamental to the success of the organisation.  That amazing man, supported by an equally outstanding Board of Trustees and Directors, made it possible for the staff team to grow and flourish.”

Barbara and Assi

Building a Community Anchor

HOT has been built with the needs of the community as its driving force, but in order to ensure these needs can be addressed and the charity’s ambitions achieved, Barbara also had to build links with the local council, other organisations and charities.

The Trust works with Calderdale Council so the voice of the community is heard and understood; this has led to many opportunities to support more people and has firmly established HOT’s role as a community anchor organisation throughout Calderdale. At a national level, this is enhanced by HOT’s involvement with Locality, which has created opportunities for a stronger community through a national support network for organisations like HOT. Barbara comments:

All made possible by Calderdale Council, on reflection, a surprisingly sympathetic and forward-looking local authority. 

“Our Involvement with Locality made me realise just how crucial the support of a talented and diverse Board and a sympathetic local Council were in achieving our success.”

Barbara presenting at the 2011 AGM

Doing business

While HOT is officially a charity, there are many elements of the Trust that are run like a more commercial business. Making considered investments in assets, like Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre, is just one example of this. But it’s people who ensure their success.

Barbara and the Board were dedicated to making investments in the right places, which meant recruiting people to support the Trust and enhance the work it did, or wanted to do.  This boosted HOT’s capacity so it could support more local people, introduce new services and it ensured that delivery was optimised.

Barbara with HRH Princess Anne at Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre’s official opening

From relatively early in the charity’s existence these decisions paid off, as Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre was built, then Jubilee Children’s Centre, then the Outback Community Kitchen and Garden – all while the Trust was barley a decade in. With an enterprising approach the charity was, and still is, able to sustain a cashflow and hold its own when seeking contracts, to further support its growth and aspirations. Barbara recalls:

“Investment in board and staff meant we were not just about running buildings but were able to compete for, win and successfully deliver massive local, regional and national contracts. Complex operations were skilfully negotiated so as to answer to needs in local communities.”

Good people doing good things

This focus on people has been a consistent drive for the Trust; treating people like people and ensuring equitable practice in all areas of delivery. In order to ensure this is achieved the Trust is committed to finding people that are a good fit to this ethos; local people who reflect and represent the community in which it operates. It’s important for a healthy workplace culture, as well as for community involvement.

Just like in Barbara’s recruitment, while skills and experience are important, equally important are the values shared between the Trust and the people who it employs. Speak to anyone who works at the charity, in any capacity, and a common driving force that keeps them at HOT is the people. Barbara advocates for this:

“The success of Halifax Opportunities Trust during my 15 years, I believe, was down to good people with good hearts at every level.”

In answer to the question frequently asked, ‘How do you ensure community involvement in the organisation?’ There was only ever one answer.  ‘We have woven it into the organisation’s DNA. Local people at every level, Board and staff team.”

Creating Opportunities

As we celebrate our 21st Anniversary, we are looking back on the many opportunities we have created for individuals, families, businesses and the community. This means something different to everyone, and with Barbara driving the Trust’s operations for 15 years, opportunities have been created in many different areas. To Barbara, ‘creating opportunities’ means:

Ultimately, “Helping people put bread on the table”

Over the 15 years Barbara was CEO at the Trust, she certainly left her mark, not only in HOT’s portfolio of physical assets but in the impact, it’s had throughout Calderdale. Now we reach another milestone, our 21st birthday, we’re taking the opportunity to reflect on our progress and the people who have helped us get here. Of course, Barbara is a key asset to the Trust’s growth, she reflects:

“One of the strongest and most robust community anchor organisations in the country 21 years on. That is one hell of an achievement.”

To Barbara, Halifax Opportunities Trust is all about: “Community. It is so deeply woven into HOT it is not worthy of a separate mention.”

Learn more about our 21st Birthday celebrations

As well as the contributions our connections are kindly providing to tell our story, we have lots of other things planned. Learn more on our official webpage, via the button below.

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