'Pioneers' of social housing reunited

Marie Louise McConville

THE "early pioneers of social housing" were reunited in Co Antrim yesterday four decades on.

In 1974, during some of the darkest days of the Troubles, an eclectic mix of people drawn from community groups, politics, the civil service and housing met at the Corrymeela Community in Ballycastle to discuss alternatives to the way housing was provided.

The landmark conference led to the birth of the housing association movement.

Among those present were Derry civil rights activist Paddy Doherty, Hugh Logue from the SDLP, Leslie Morrell, from the Ulster Unionist Party, Erskine Holmes, from the NI Labour Party and community workers, including Jackie Red-path, now of the Greater Shankill Partnership.

While housing associations once concentrated their efforts on refurbishing poor stock in urban centres and providing sheltered housing for older people. They later broadened their work, building large numbers of family homes.

Yesterday, 40 years on from their first meeting, the surviving members of the original conference were reunited by Corrymeela and their achievements celebrated.

Cameron Watt, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Federation of Housing Associations (NIFHA), said: "Thanks to their foresight, imagination and determination, the movement grew exponentially in the following 40 years and huge progress was made in meeting housing need and improving social conditions.

"It is only right that we recognise and celebrate these collective achievements and the brave decisions made during those dark years.

"From the small seeds planted in 1974, a large and flourishing housing association movement has grown."

* 'COLLECTIVE ACHIEVEMENTS': From left, chairman of Apex Ireland Brian Seaton, Ian Sillars of RBS, former director of housing at the Department of Environment Ronnie Spence, chief executive of NIFHA Cameron Watt, honorary secretary of Oaklee Trinity Leslie Morrell, chief executive of Oaklee Trinity Ian Elliott and Erskine Holmes, former chief executive of NIFHA


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