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Thinking Outside the Box – Conference Report

Housing Rights and Supporting Communities held their 3rd joint conference on 9th May, at the Skainos Centre in East Belfast. The conference was sponsored by the Housing Executive, and supported by Radius, Apex and Choice housing associations. In the midst of the ongoing roll-out of welfare reform in Northern Ireland, the conference focused on equipping staff and empowering tenants to meet the challenges that this will bring.

Addressing Financial Exclusion

The conference’s first session focused on how to address financial exclusion amongst social tenants. Douglas White, head of advocacy at the Carnegie UK Trust, spoke on the Scottish experience of promoting digital inclusion and access to affordable credit. Speakers from Amicus Horizon and the Centre for Responsible Credit then briefed attendees on their Rent Flex project, which identifies financial “pressure points” and develops individualised rent repayment schedules for tenants with a recent history of repayment problems.

The speakers were then joined by representatives of the Housing Executive, Apex and Radius housing associations, for a panel discussion which included consideration of the work currently being undertaken in terms of digital, financial and tenant empowerment; and key areas for future development.

Supporting Tenant Empowerment

The second session focused on empowering tenants to meet the challenges of welfare reform directly. Paul Kelly from the Community Gateway Association, an English mutual housing association, detailed their work to embed tenant empowerment in their work, through involving tenants in decision-making and having permanent tenant representatives on the association’s Board. Melanie Lavin from the youth housing organisation “1625 Independent People” then spoke about her work on the Cash Pointers Upfront project, which offers peer education to vulnerable 16-25 year olds, and helps them develop financial skills and confidence. The speakers then took part in a short Q&A.


Following lunch, the conference broke into 3 masterclasses:

  • “Tenants leading change”, delivered by the Housing Executive and tenants of the Community Gateway Association
  •  “Money Matters”, delivered by Clanmil housing association and Housing Rights’ own Bronagh Flynn, who considered the importance of promoting financial capability for tenants
  • “Digital Eagles”, delivered by Barclays Bank, looked at the digital and financial inclusion offering of Barclays

Promoting Digital Inclusion

The conference’s final session considered the importance of digital inclusion for tenants. Colm McQuillan, Director of NIHE Housing Services, outlined the Executive’s work in linking digital inclusion with tenant involvement; Tanya King, social inclusion manager from Stockport Homes, then detailed her association’s work in mitigating welfare reform through customer digital projects. Finally, Shawn More from the Blackwood Group – a housing and care provider – briefed attendees on “CleverCogs”, their award-winning smart technology care project.

Following a short Q&A, the conference was closed by Kate McCauley, Policy & Practice Manager at Housing Rights. Kate emphasised the importance of partnership working, and being open to new ideas and sharing best practice, in order to ensure tenants and staff respond pro-actively to the challenges that welfare reform will continue to pose.