by Seamus McAleavey
It was way back in the last century, well 1991, that two housing projects merged and became NITAP (Northern Ireland Tenants Action Project).
The Tenant Participation Advisory Project (TPAS) was a project located in NICVA and was funded by the Department of the Environment. The Estates Action Project (EAP) was a project funded by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
Mergers were not that common in the voluntary and community sector and organisations tended to fiercely protect their independence and way of doing things.
So, how did it come about? From NICVA’s perspective, the impetus lay with the DOE. In NICVA’s regular meetings with officials in the Department, they raised the issue first. On their mind was the best use of public funds, directly from the Department to TPAS and indirectly from the Department, through the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to EAP.
The discussions raised lots of concern and anxiety, not least for the staff members involved.
The Department had a strong hand, and played it, as the funder.
Detailed discussions opened between all the parties and they were at times difficult as it is not easy to bring even two small organisations together. NICVA had the benefit of having Bill McStay on staff at that time, though. Bill was certainly a father figure in the voluntary sector then in Northern Ireland, a wise counsel and sage, he drafted the new Memorandum and Articles of Association and set out much of the direction of the new organisation.
Bill and I represented NICVA in the detailed negotiations that brought us to the first interim Management Committee meeting on the 8 October 1991.
Also present at that meeting was Trevor Boyd and Sterling Stewart of the DOE; David Kirkbride and Tony McQuillan of the NIHE; and Brian Holmes the new Director of NITAP and formerly of EAP.
The draft Memorandum and Articles of Association were agreed, and the three subscribers nominated were Trevor Boyd, David Kirkbride and Bill McStay.
The new Interim Committee then began working on establishing a wider Management Committee with Tenant Representation.
The organisation has come a long way since then led by Brian Holmes and has continued to evolve and develop and is now known as Supporting Communities. It has increased its resources and staffing levels and champions tenant participation.
Supporting Communities has become a vibrant organisation that helps develop local communities through participation and active citizenship under the leadership of its Board and its CEO, Colm McDaid.
Ultimately, ‘the proof of the pudding is always in the eating’. The merger and the development of Supporting Communities has been a great success for tenants and communities. I think it demonstrates, particularly in tough times, that mergers are an option, can be successful, and can bring bigger benefits to the communities we are trying to serve.
Supporting Communities is much, much greater than the sum of its parts.