The 20th Annual Community Conference, a joint event with the Housing Community Network’s Central Housing Forum, the Housing Executive and Supporting Communities, was held on 16 October at the Silverbirch Hotel in Omagh.
Over 300 community representatives, Housing Executive and Supporting Communities staff attended to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the event which was a ‘Celebration of Resilient Communities’.
The Chair of the Central Housing Forum, Linda Watson, officially opened the conference by explaining the theme. “If there’s one thing we know in the community sector, it’s that it takes resilience, dedication and commitment to continue doing what we do day after day and year after year”, she said. “We’re no strangers to setbacks, snags and other stumbling blocks. Yet when faced with these difficulties, that’s when we show our strength in our ability to persevere and overcome.”
The Chair of the Housing Executive, Professor Peter Roberts, also tried to define what it means to be resilient. He told the assembled groups, “Resilience is in your DNA. It’s part of who you are. Nothing stops you from providing the best levels of service for the people in your communities.” He went on to define it as ‘Bouncebackability’, a term that resonated throughout the day.
The main thrust of the day was to recognise and celebrate groups and individuals who have stood out as examples of commitment to community service and remarkable resilience over many years.
Three groups, one from each of our geographical areas, were highlighted in video presentations: Strathroy Community Association from Omagh, the Short Strand Community Forum in Belfast, and the Doury Road Development Group in Ballymena. Representatives from the groups were presented with special 20th Community Conference awards.
Six individual awards were also given to recognise life long commitment to community work. Annette Kelly, of the famed Facebook account ‘Little Penny Thoughts’, introduced each award recipient as they came forward to accept the accolades of their peers. They were:
Mary Watson & Patricia McConnell (joint award)
Annette also gave a keynote address in which she told her personal story of overcoming depression and anxiety going on to create a social media presence that helps hundreds of thousands of followers with daily positive quotes and inspiring mantras. She says one little idea can spark a ripple effect and noted what we have achieved here. “The people power here today is amazing!”
The day was a terrific celebration and recognition of all the hard work by so many that have come before to create the Housing Community Network we have today. It is the key tenant engagement structure in Northern Ireland and the envy of other regions working to develop similar arrangements.
Lorraine Campbell, Chair of Supporting Communities, spoke near the end of the conference to provide some context around the history and the creation of the annual conference 20 years ago and how it ties in with Supporting Communities’ journey as an independent support organisation.
“Looking back, the formation of the Central Community Advisory Group in 1997, which then became the Housing Community Network, was a foundational piece of work in Northern Ireland and has led the way in facilitating truly effective tenant participation. Twenty years ago, the CAG, NIHE and NITAP, as we were known at the time, organised the first community conference to bring groups together to share ideas and promote best practice. It was hailed as a great success and thus our annual tradition was born!”
The HCN now has a recognised and meaningful role in the monitoring and decision-making process of the Housing Executive and influences decisions affecting tenants and communities. Supporting Communities has continued to be there to ensure there is unbiased, objective support for that process in the form of development officers, training, advice, and funding assistance.
John McMullan, Vice-Chair of the Housing Executive, closed the conference with some thoughts on the investment and commitment from the NIHE in communities. He talked about the increasing importance of measuring the impact of our work to demonstrate it’s value.
By any measure, this year’s conference was a tremendous success. Thank you to everyone who worked to make it happen.
Want more? Check out our Facebook page where we will be posting more photos and videos from the conference.