SUPPORTING Communities, previously known as NI Tenants Action Project (NITAP), is marking its 40th year since its start as a single estate-based project in the Doury Road, Ballymena, in 1979.
The charity has recently held a reunion event at the Braid Centre in Ballymena for its past staff and board members to come together with the current cohort to celebrate this anniversary.
The Mayor of Mid & East Antrim, Cllr. Maureen Morrow, honoured the group with a speech thanking Supporting Communities for its contributions to her borough as a key partner in the area’s “Putting People First” Community Plan.
She thanked in particular the organisation’s founder, Brian Holmes, noting that “anyone who has visited the Doury Road estate in Ballymena and other estates across this Borough recently will have clearly seen the changes and impact Brian’s vision has had and the benefits Supporting Communities as an organisation has brought to the families living within them.”
She also thanked the current Chief Executive, Colm McDaid, for his forward-thinking approach and the Community Development Officer for the area, Gillian Forrest, for delivering a tailored support service to groups in Ballymena and beyond.
The project originally started as a tenants’ action group that wanted to address the decline of their neighbourhood and impress upon the Housing Executive the need for community development in successful housing management practices.
In the 40 years since, the organisation has grown to become an independent, province-wide charity serving over 500 groups (as well as other voluntary and statutory organisations), dedicated to championing grassroots community participation and tenant involvement in social housing.
As a critical friend and partner to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, Supporting Communities has embedded a culture of meaningful consultation and two-way communication between the landlord and its tenants while ensuring unbiased, objective support for that process in the form of development officers, training, advice and funding assistance to community and resident groups all over Northern Ireland.
Supporting Communities has been instrumental in pushing for standards that all social housing landlords must meet when engaging with their tenants which led to the establishment of the ‘Tenant Participation Strategy for Northern Ireland’ in 2016.
The following year, Supporting Communities was appointed as the Independent Tenant Organisation for NI by the Department for Communities thus formally recognising their long unofficial role as Northern Ireland’s tenant participation experts.
Since then, the organisation has established a trading arm, Empowering Communities, to expand their services to all social housing providers ensuring meaningful, effective tenant participation is the norm in Northern Ireland as well as the Republic of Ireland.
Lorraine Campbell, who spoke on behalf of the current board at the event, reflected on her own involvement over the years, first as a staff member at the Housing Executive and now as Chair of the Board, and noted that it was always the people who make the organisation.
She referenced the timeline on display showing Supporting Communities’ 40 year history and remarked that it shows all the major milestones along the way but doesn’t show “the incredible wealth of experience and contributions from the staff and board that are behind those points of achievement.”
She went on to say that “working in a supporting role doesn’t often garner us the big headlines or public recognition so it is my job today to say to everyone here, thank you. We couldn’t do it without you.”
Supporting Communities has been celebrating its anniversary all year with a series of ‘throwback’ photos on social media, a guest blogger series from people impacted by the organisation and will be hosting another celebration event in December at Stormont.