by Lorraine Campbell, Chair of Supporting Communities
I’m celebrating two 40 year anniversaries this year, one is the anniversary of my wedding and the other is the formation of Supporting Communities.
Back in 1979, I was a recently married housing management trainee with the Housing Executive, just starting my career. I was posted to the then Dundonald Office on the Ballybeen Estate. I remember one of the veterans in the office telling me, tongue in cheek, that it was a great job if it wasn’t for the tenants! Dundonald was one of the first offices to have computerised rent accounts and one of my earliest memories is trying to explain the first rent statements to tenants totally perplexed as to what it all meant. I learned very early the value of effective communications with tenants.
Back in those days, there was little in the way of tenant participation and I remember hearing with interest about a project in Ballymena where tenants were actively encouraged to say what they thought needed to happen to make their community better. It resonated with me as a sensible thing to do. Little did I imagine then, that 40 years later I would be the Chair of that organisation that pioneered tenant involvement in housing management, and that the Housing Executive would be an exemplar of tenant participation.
In the early 1980’s, I was involved in a Customer Services Initiative which established standards of service for all tenants and encouraged tenants to actively complain when services fell short. When I became District Manager, I set up my own customer panel bringing together representatives from all of my estates. I learned the value of listening to tenant concerns and actively involving them in improving service. I soon learned that it was useful to have an independent organisation to act as an honest broker in this process and I benefited greatly from the assistance of what was then known as NITAP. I am proud to say the work we did then was the precursor for consumer panels which were established in all district offices and the foundation for the wonderful housing community network which is the envy of all housing organisations.
The value of Supporting Communities, in my view, is that the staff bring a wealth of experience of how life has been improved on estates and they share this with housing professionals and community representatives alike. Throughout my career, I have been so impressed with the individuals who, working with Supporting Communities, have developed throughout the years. These are people who started as activists with grievances and developed into community entrepreneurs making real improvements to people’s lives.
As the current Chair, I am delighted that Supporting Communities is now the official Independent Tenant Organisation for Northern Ireland. While our core work remains with the Housing Executive in the delivery of its community involvement strategy, we can now bring that experience not just to the housing associations which have embraced tenant participation with enthusiasm but beyond that to other public services such as councils and health trusts. We have ambitions to extend our reach, working in partnership with others, providing training and promoting best practice and, above all, making a difference.