Looking Back to Look Forward

40 Years of Supporting Communities Timeline

This year marks Supporting Communities’ 40th Anniversary since its first incarnation as a single project in Ballymena in 1979. To celebrate, we’ll be taking a look back this year at the people and places that helped get us where we are today. We hope everyone will get involved!

To take part in a bit of nostalgia, you can post throwback photos, documents, memories – whatever you can find - on social media using #SC40.

If you're interested in getting a bit more involved, we will be looking for people to write blog posts and/or be interviewed about their experiences with Supporting Communities during the past 40 years.

As our timeline shows, the history of Supporting Communities is really the story of tenant participation in Northern Ireland.

As we look back at our evolution over the past 40 years growing from a single pilot project in the Doury Road Estate, Ballymena to an independent, province-wide charity serving over 500 groups (as well as other voluntary and statutory organisations), the distinct thread of grassroots participation and tenant involvement runs throughout.

Our timeline shows just a few of the milestones marking our organisation's growth along the way but what it does not show is the constant expansion of the support services and high-quality staff growing along with it making it all possible.

As a critical friend and partner to the Housing Executive, we have stood for the ‘tenant’s voice’ and have embedded a culture of meaningful consultation and two-way communication. We have also ensured that there is unbiased, objective support for that process in the form of development officers, training, advice and funding assistance.

The formation of the Central Community Advisory Group in 1997, which has since become the Housing Community Network, was a foundational piece of work which has led the way in facilitating effective tenant participation. 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.

The Central Housing Forum, made up from representatives of all the HCN areas, scrutinises Housing Executive policies and procedures to act as quality assurance to the Housing Executive Board with whom they meet on a regular basis.

The Tenant Participation Strategy for Northern Ireland, launched in 2016, sets out what the standards should be for all social housing landlords and when Supporting Communities was appointed by the Department for Communities as the Independent Tenant Organisation for NI the following year, our long unofficial role was formally recognised.

What’s next for tenant participation in Northern Ireland?

The notion that the fundamental relationship between a social landlord and their tenant is not just that of provider and consumer, but one of partners building communities is what drives us forward to innovate and build on what has come before.

As we look to our cousins in TPAS England, Scotland and Cymru, as well as further afield to organisations in Europe and elsewhere, we realise Northern Ireland has long been a leader in this kind of work. We will continue to share our own best practice, learn from others’ ideas and take what works best back home to our groups and the structures here.

Our recently established trading arm, Empowering Communities, is also expanding our reach and trying new models of participation with Housing Associations throughout Ireland, North and South. Our work in developing an accreditation framework for Tenant Participation in Northern Ireland will drive us forward in exciting new ways, building on the 40 years of progress and innovation that has paved the way thus far.

What’s your Supporting Communities story?

Get in touch and tell us how you have been involved and how Supporting Communities has impacted your own story.

Email healy@supportingcommunities.org or message us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with your old photos and memorabilia.