Northern Irish communities are tight knit. Being ‘social’ is a rite of passage. The St Patrick’s Development Team feels it delivers fully on that word’s true meaning.
Most people living in NI know what ‘social housing’ means. However, the team feels strongly that ‘social’ should not be limited in socioeconomic terms. Being ‘social’ – i.e., making connections and building relationships – is a vital part of building inclusive and cohesive communities. That’s why the NI Housing Executive (NIHE) and its Community Cohesion Team Manager, Chris Davies have insisted that if a new community is to be built on the former St Patrick’s Barracks site, that a shared sense of community would be its foundation.
You can see that even ‘ownership’ goes beyond property at St Patrick’s. Chris and the rest of St Patrick’s partners have ensured that every aspect of this new estate is not just ‘community-led’ but ‘community-owned’. From start to finish, the St Patrick’s Development Team has been keenly aware that it is the community that are the experts on what they want and need. The Community Development led Good Relations plan is informed and inspired from the grassroots up.
Of course, ‘social housing’ cannot be truly ‘social’ unless it is truly ‘shared’. That’s why the model includes a mixed tenure of social and affordable housing. The ‘Housing for All’ Shared Housing Programme offers a choice to live in an inclusive neighbourhood and is a step in the direction of helping to de-segregate housing in Northern Ireland.
The hope is that the St Patrick’s model will inspire change, growth and regeneration in communities. Northern Irish history has proven that being reactive has rarely fixed embedded issues; being proactive has always yielded better results. The Good Relations support in Shared Housing areas allows access to non-prescriptive, proactive work in attempting to create and embed support and inclusion.
In the case of St Patrick’s, while residents will be afforded the opportunity to be ‘social’ from the very beginning, the culture fostered over this experience will turn newcomers into neighbours.