Tenant Participation Practitioners Learn from Each Other on Study Visit

Supporting Communities was delighted to play host to twelve housing professionals visiting from Scotland this March. The study visit developed as a result of Sheenagh McNally’s keynote presentation to the TPAS Scotland conference last year showcasing Supporting Communities’ interagency and estate inspection work. Over the course of three days in Northern Ireland, the Scottish delegation got the VIP tour of social housing here and ample opportunity to compare notes on tenant engagement.

Upon arriving in Belfast, the delegation first made their way to visit Kirk House, a Housing with Care facility in East Belfast owned by Choice Housing and managed by Belfast Central Mission. There the group heard how one hallway, nicknamed Memory Lane, has been specially redesigned to accommodate residents with dementia. Michael Ferguson, Property Services Manager with Choice Housing, explained the complexities of the redevelopment to account for the specific needs of the residents. A guided tour of the facility left the visitors suitably impressed not only with the property but with the exceptional level of care provided.

It was then on to Maple House, Choice Housing (currently the largest Housing Association in NI) where we had an extremely useful discussion with local housing professionals including Housing Association and Housing Executive staff. This opportunity allowed us to share good practice and great ideas to encourage and promote tenant involvement. No one will soon forget “a song, a shimmy, and a sausage roll” as an innovative way to engage with tenants!

It was quite clear from the discussions taking place that there is an enormous appetite for networking and sharing good practice both within Northern Ireland and between the regions. Supporting Communities is interested in developing new ways to make this happen in the future, so watch this space!

The second day of the visit took the delegates to the Craigavon area for the morning where they had the opportunity to visit two projects and hear from community representatives about how their work has made a positive impact on their respective communities.  The first was an allotments project in Taghnevan, Lurgan, where Pat Mallon, a member of the Community Association and chair of the Allotments Committee, explained how the group in close collaboration with the local council (Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Council) and St. Paul’s GAA club turned derelict waste land into a highly successful community allotment incorporating a nature trail.

Next stop on the tour took the group to Drumellan, an estate located in Brownlow. This project was chosen as it demonstrated the positive impact of inter-agency work and how partnerships are key to regeneration. Bernie Burns who has lived in the estate since it was built and has been involved with the local committee from the late 1970’s very eloquently told the story of Drumellan. Twenty years ago Drumellan was known as Edenbeg and was in the grip of serious decline, with row after row of empty houses, serious anti-social behaviour and vandalism. Working through partnership approach, the community was able to remove the blight from the estate, create stability, and support the community to provide much needed local services. Today, Drumellan Community Association employs ten staff in their Breakfast and Afterschool’s Club catering for 35 children providing high standard childcare at an affordable cost. In addition, they manage a Family Learning Centre which is a community resource facility offering vocational and recreational classes.

After a hearty lunch at the beautiful Oxford Island Nature Reserve Craigavon, the afternoon session took the delegates to Lisburn to visit the impressive work of Resurgam Trust. Philip Dean and Denis Paisley welcomed the visitors to the newly opened, purpose built Youth Centre in Old Warren estate. Philip, who is chairperson of Resurgam Trust, gave a presentation on the work of the Trust and it is fair to say the visitors were blown away by the breadth and extent of the work undertaken by the community for the community including nine social enterprises such as a community gym, a taxi company, a pub, and a credit union to name a few.

On the third and final day of the visit, delegates made the short journey to Girdwood Community Hub in North Belfast where staff members from the Housing Executive’s Communities & Cohesion Team provided a very informative presentation on the important and diverse work being delivered by the Housing Executive. The presentation included two short films to illustrate this vital work. The first, “Changing Lives, Building Communities” focused on the work of the Housing Executive in successfully reimaging some of the interfaces in North and West Belfast. The second film highlighted how the Housing Executive was making a difference through its support to a Men’s Shed Project in Omagh via the Community Grant Funding Programme.

Before making the return journey to Scotland, the visiting delegates were treated to a thought-provoking and reflective tour of interface areas around North, West, and East Belfast. For many of the visitors, this was the highlight of their trip.

Commenting on the successful visit, Colm McDaid, Chief Executive of Supporting Communities said, “We were delighted to act as hosts to our colleagues from TPAS Scotland and their members. It is important that we are able to share some of the excellent tenant and community participation work being delivered locally by Housing Associations and Housing Executive and I thank our local colleagues for making the effort to meet their counterparts from Scotland.” He added, “It was extremely useful for Tenant Participation Practitioners from both Scotland and Northern Ireland to discuss common issues between the two regions and highlight examples of good practice. I hope that this visit will be something we can build on and repeat more often.”

Tony Kelly from TPAS Scotland remarked, “Our study trip to Northern Ireland was excellent. We enjoyed meeting members of community groups, staff from a variety of housing providers, including Choice Housing and the NI Housing Executive, and of course, Supporting Communities.” He continued, “Scotland and Northern Ireland share similar challenges. We all can learn a lot from each other and we look forward to reciprocating the hospitality shown to us by inviting a delegation from Northern Ireland over to Scotland in the not too distant future.”

Sounds good to us, Tony!