Over 100 community groups from across Northern Ireland gathered for the Housing Community Network Community Conference at the Tullyglass House Hotel in Ballymena this week (Wed. Oct 12th.)
Now in its 17th year, the annual event, held in partnership with Supporting Communities and the Housing Executive, provides an opportunity for groups from across Northern Ireland to come together and showcase the important work that they deliver in their communities.
The theme this year was ‘Inspiring Communities’ and we heard from some genuinely inspiring people and projects.
Highlights included presentations from TASCIT about the successful removal of a section of the Peace Wall on the Crumlin Road in North Belfast. Ian McLaughlin and Rab McCallum spoke about the great strides their communities have made by talking together and working to reimagine the area without the wall.
Linda Watson gave an insight into Caw and Nelson Drive Community Associations and the tremendous amount of transformation that has taken place in her area. It has gone from being an estate which was difficult to let to one where people are now putting their names down to move into. Linda says that even if she won the lottery tomorrow she wouldn’t move away!
The third regional presentation of the morning was from Omagh Men’s Sheds showcasing the important work they do reaching out to older men.
John O’Wheelie stole the show and captured the audience’s hearts with his personal inspirational story of overcoming adversity. John suffered two strokes which left him with impaired speech and serious depression, but being “a man with a plan” he found a route to recovery by getting involved in Men’s Shed, working with his hands and talking with new friends. Seen here (in his signature hat) with Deidre Crawford (NIHE), John is the picture of health!
The Chairman of the Housing Executive, Donald Hoodless also spoke, laying down a challenge to the Housing Community Network, saying: “We want you to tell us what we do right, but equally challenge us when we don’t.
This won’t be a problem according to Linda Watson, who opened the conference in her role as Central Housing Forum Chairperson. She spoke about the Forum’s role as a “critical friend” to the Housing Executive and highlighted the extensive support and training from Supporting Communities which has enabled 13 Area Scrutiny Panels to fulfil this function and play an important role in improving service delivery for Housing Executive customers.
After lunch, we said goodbye to departing Director of Landlord Services, Gerry Flynn.
Renee Crawford spoke about the inspiring contributions he has made in his 35 years of service with the Housing Executive – and then presented him with a little something to keep him busy in retirement... gardening tools!
The afternoon session included presentations from the Northern Ireland Youth Forum, the Rural Resident’s Forum and the Disability Forum with information on their many activities to the packed house.
The event finished with a speech from Clark Bailie, Chief Executive of NIHE who paid tribute to the phenomenal work of the Housing Community Network and the inspirational people getting involved and contributing to their communities across Northern Ireland.
Colm McDaid, Chief Executive of Supporting Communities, speaking about the conference itself said,
“This is the key event in the community calendar and one which everyone, including staff and community representatives, looks forward to. It gives us a perfect opportunity to showcase all the great work that is happening at a grassroots level from across Northern Ireland and also to network and catch up with friends and colleagues. The conference also acts as a platform to share best practice among the Housing Community Network groups and show how vibrant communities are being fostered.”
The "visual minutes" drawn live by artists during the event really captured the excitement of the day. We are already looking forward to next year!