An interview with Richard Devine on being a Community Champion for Claire House in Newry. Do you have what it takes to champion your area? Read on to see!
Why did you become a Community Champion?
The residents of Clare House formed a Residents’ Association in October 2010, with the assistance of Supporting Communities. The Group was concerned with repairs in relation to the flats plus the future plans for the flats. We operated for just under 4 years. In that time, the numbers attending our committee meetings fell away. We decided that we should dissolve the Association as it was not working out. We worked with Supporting Communities in order to dissolve the Association in the proper way. Orla McCann, Liaison Officer with Supporting Communities, suggested that we think of electing a community champion so that a voice would be retained for the residents.
What was the process involved in you being selected to be a Community Champion?
With the help of Supporting Communities, a flyer was developed explaining that the Association was no more and calling for any interested residents to register their interest in becoming a Community Champion. These flyers were circulated to all households. Through this process, 2-3 names were put forward. Supporting Communities organised another meeting of residents with the view to formally elect a Champion for Clare House. At this meeting, which took place in June 2014, it was agreed that I would take on the role of Community Champion. The other interested people agreed to support and liaise with me on any issues coming forward from residents. I was happy to take on this role as I firmly believe that it is still very important for the residents of Clare House to have a voice. I also have the continued support of Supporting Communities to assist me. Support meetings are held with the local Liaison Officer on a regular basis to go through any issues and talk over any difficulties.
What does your role as a Community Champion involve?
I am the representative and spokesperson for Clare House now. Residents will come to me with queries or problems and I’ll either give them telephone numbers for the agencies they need to contact or I will follow up on their behalf. Supporting Communities provide me with regular support and have facilitated a “Terms of Reference” for me as a Community Champion so I’m clear on my role and the support I can receive from the Housing Executive. I can also refer issues to Supporting Communities who will follow up where necessary.
How is your relationship with the Housing Executive?
I have a good relationship with the local Housing Executive in Newry, particularly with the Community Liaison Officer Eileen Grant. I can telephone Eileen regarding concerns or issues and she will always come back to me with an answer. I attend the Local Housing Forum which is held 4-5 times a year. It’s useful to have a chance to get updates on Housing Executive business and network with community reps from other Groups.
What has been the impact of your role?
At the minute, there is a big question mark over the flats we live in. We have been working with the Housing Executive plus involving our local MLAs, Councillors and MPs in order to find out what the Housing Executive is planning to do with the flats. I’ve been very much involved in this process and we have now received a report on the condition of the flats and approximate costs to repair. I believe that if a Community Champion was not in place, we may not have been in a good position to lobby or gain information on the future of the flats. I feel the residents would have went their own way, possibly moving out rather than facing an unknown.