Vote for your Best Housing Story
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This award celebrates contributions that have made a positive difference to the life of a tenant(s) or community. Each of the shortlisted nominations have expressed in their own words why they should win. Although the winner will be chosen by you, through a public vote.
End of life care at Belmont Cottages, Apex Housing Association
Belmont Cottages in Derry~Londonderry is a 16 bed residential unit situated in the heart of its local community. The home supports adults with a learning disability to live as independently as possible and become an integral part of the community.
The staff team at Belmont Cottages is deserving of this award because of the compassion and care they showed towards someone in the end stages of their life. It is not easy to support people with a learning disability in this way as most would need to go into hospital. Staff embraced the value and importance of ‘home’ and overcame all obstacles to ensure the resident - Margaret* - remained at home during a remarkable and emotive time for all. Margaret was one of the original residents who moved into Belmont Cottages when it opened 27 years ago. In September 2019, she was suddenly diagnosed with an end stage palliative illness. This was a very difficult time not only for Margaret and her family but also for the other residents who lived in the home and the staff who had also become her family and friends.
Taking into consideration the complexities that come with caring for an adult with a learning disability, staff knew that that it would be important for Margaret to be in a familiar environment surrounded by familiar faces. This would help to reduce the confusion, fear and anxiety she was feeling at this time. Despite proving difficult, the home manager and staff team decided that they wanted to provide the end of life care and support to ensure Margaret passed in her own home with friends and family by her side.
The team worked around the clock to make Margaret feel comfortable. They quickly secured the appropriate equipment and worked with the district nurse, hospice nurse (in relation to pain management), Marie Curie nurses and family. They ensured there was always a familiar face with the resident on a one-to-one basis throughout day and night to help ease any anxieties and fear. This dedication to ensuring support was there at all times went outside the perimeters of their own roles. Whilst this was a clear demonstration of staff’s commitment to supporting someone in their care, what happened next was an extraordinary example of when staff members go above and beyond the requirements of their role to make a difference.
Margaret’s favourite time of year was Christmas. Every year she started talking about Santa and Christmas every day from September onwards and would begin her Christmas list. This year, she continued to talk about it unaware of how ill she was. On 11th October it became clear that Margaret would not be able to celebrate Christmas this year so the manager and staff decided to bring Christmas to her. On the same day staff pulled out all the stops to bring Christmas to Belmont Cottages. Seamus Crossan, manager of Belmont Cottages, arranged to get a Santa costume and dressed up as Santa. Staff bought the presents on Margaret’s Christmas list and they decorated her bedroom with a Christmas tree, toys, lights, and played her favourite Christmas music. Her family and all the staff were there to celebrate her favourite day and then Santa brought in her presents. Margaret was so happy and wished everyone a Happy Christmas as she always did. Six days later Margaret passed away peacefully in her own home surrounded by her family and friends.
* The name of this resident has been changed to protect her identity
As a housing association our primary focus is to provide housing for those in need - whether that is in an individual home or a supported home. This nomination is an inspiring story about how a housing team worked together to enhance the quality of life for someone in their final stages of life in such an empathetic, caring and compassionate way.
Staff could see the value and importance in providing a real ‘home’. They saw the person as an individual and promoted that individuality despite the difficulties for themselves, and in doing so created a special time for the resident in her final days. Margaret’s family recognised the importance of her time in Belmont Cottages by allowing the scheme to host one night of her wake to allow all involved in her care to say goodbye. Her family also asked for staff to write a few words which were read out at her funeral. The only outcome that mattered in this story was that Margaret passed away peacefully in her own home surrounded by her family and friends; and that she was able to celebrate Christmas one last time in a special way.
* The name of this resident has been changed to protect her identity
Zemzem Eigal – Ark Housing, Roseville House, Ark Housing Association
Zemzem Eigal arrived in N Ireland in 2009 as a refugee having fled her native home in Somalia as a result of the devasting conflict that had torn her country apart. Under personally traumatic circumstances, Zemzem was forced to flee her country and was unable to take her daughter Maryam 8yrs and her son Jabir 2yrs. Zemzem arrived in Roseville House having been granted settled status. By the time of her referral to Roseville in June 2018, Zemzem had been apart from her children for over 9 years. Zemzem had been living in single person, shared facility hostels during her first 2 years in Northern Ireland and when she arrived at Roseville House she was stressed, worried and anxious about the move and transition from those facilities to her own self-contained home, albeit on a temporary basis. She had been waiting and working tirelessly for this moment for a long time but being reunited with her son and daughter after such a lengthy period was also a frightening experience for her. Over the years she had kept in touch with her children, and had begun to rebuild a relationship with them, however the prospect of family reunification after so long created a lot of anxiety on both sides. Zemzem’s daughter was also 8 months pregnant at the time which added to the stress and concern as not only was as Zemzem about to reignite her role as a mother once more, she was also about to become a grandmother. Zemzem’s anxiety was also compounded by her mental health concerns, which emanated from her years of trauma having to leave her home country and be forcibly separated from her children. Her physical health had also suffered during this time. When Zemzem was reunited with her children at Roseville House, this was initially a joyous occasion, but soon after the pressures of responsibility came to bear on Zemzem. She felt responsible for supporting her 2 children integrate into a city she or they did not know, they had no English, and her daughter was about to give birth. To help Zemzem through this difficult period, her keyworker and Roseville House Team Leader Stephen Harland, developed a programme of support designed to help Zemzem and her growing family cope with and meet head on the numerous challenges they faced. Stephen started with the practical aspects of support. He ensured Zemzem and her family felt secure and comfortable throughout the move to Roseville House. He took Zemzem through the welfare benefits processes ensuring that all applicable benefits were secured. He ensured registration with the GP for all members of the family, particularly as Maryam was due her baby within a matter of weeks and he also began to work with Zemzem on identifying her longer-term housing needs. There was a strong emphasis on the family’s future and on making Belfast their home. However, Zemzem’s needs went beyond those related to housing, welfare and basic health. Zemzem recognised that the stress and anxiety she was suffering from required additional support, with the support of Stephen they began to identify and reach out to the agencies and organisations who could help further. In addition, her son Jabir received support from Stephen in respect to his English language needs by helping him enrol in school and English lessons. Three weeks after arriving in Roseville, Maryan give birth to a daughter which brought great joy for the family and several months later when Maryann was ready, Stephen supported her back into education at Belfast Metropolitan College where she went on to achieve successes in spoken and written English.
After 12 months of support, in July 2019 the family moved out of Roseville House as one family unit, closer than ever, and into a home of their own in North Belfast. Stephen ensured through his support, that the home was sustainable for the family longer term needs, including Zemzem’s deteriorating physical condition. Stephen continues to support the family as their floating support worker, but as the family continues to grow in confidence and settle into their new surroundings, they do not require the same high intense support as before and are moving towards more fulfilled and independent life in N Ireland. Zemzem, Maryam, Jabir and baby Samsam continue to return to Roseville House for social gatherings and to meet up with friends, and after 10 years of trauma, have found peace & happiness and a new beginning. Zemzem “Working with Stephen was good he listened to my problems and helped me fix them. There are good and bad people and when I meet Stephen, I knew he was a person with a good heart, and he has helped me and my children. I now have a home for my family in Belfast thanks to Stephen and his support”
The FireGuards, NI Housing Executive
On 8th August 2019, the North Belfast Area office team were faced with a major crisis when a contentious Internment bonfire was built adjacent to 2 tower blocks in the New Lodge area of North Belfast. Police worked throughout the day to remove the bonfire but severe civil disturbance broke out and police had to withdraw from the area at 4pm. The Fire and Rescue service assessed the tower blocks as being at serious risk of fire damage and the Housing Executive's Director of Housing Services immediately put in place an emergency response plan to deal with this potentially critical situation. A central emergency response unit was convened to co-ordinate our response and Liam and his team worked on the ground to assist residents. Liam and his local team had been working in the area from 5am that morning and after police withdrew at 4pm, and despite serious disorder in the area, immediately went door to door to each block (96 flats in total) asking residents to leave their homes. The team arranged for up over 50 emergency temporary accommodation places and set up an emergency contact point in a nearby tower block foyer which they then manned throughout the evening and night. During this period, Liam and his team also maintained close contact with public representatives, police and fire rescue to closely monitor and assist in the situation.
The majority of residents went to stay with family and friends but some chose to remain in the blocks and Housing Executive staff and concierge remained in the blocks to protect the residents. When the bonfire was lit, smoke penetrated one of the tower blocks (Oisin House), setting off fire alarms and concierge staff called the fire brigade and went door to door to get the remaining residents to a place of safety on the ground floor. Fire crews were unable to get to the scene for some time as roads had been closed off during the street rioting. Concierge staff remained with residents until the fire crew arrived and the scene was declared safe.
Liam and his staff went well over and above the call of duty and demonstrated unrivalled dedication to their residents. They worked tirelessly throughout the day and night to ensure residents' were supported and kept safe. Clark Bailie, Chief Executive in NI Housing Executive said "While our highly professional and caring response was predictable and expected, nevertheless we should never take for granted the selfless and invaluable contribution made by Housing Executive colleagues".
Dealing with emergency situations is nothing new to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive as we have been at the front line of delivering housing services throughout the very worst of the NI Troubles. Thankfully, these types of incidents are now infrequent, however, the very real danger posed by this bonfire to almost 100 residents of 2 Tower Blocks called for an exceptional response, which local Housing Executive staff went far and beyond the call of duty to deal with. The emergency response was text book and the commitment of the staff to stay with residents and take action to ensure their safety, resulted in the blocks and more importantly, the residents being kept safe from further harm. The local team have deservedly been warmly praised by local residents and elected representatives and they are now taking forward creative new environmental plans to the area surrounding the Tower blocks to ensure this type of incident never happens again.
T:BUC Social Change Group, Radius Housing
Female tenants from both T:BUC Shared Housing Schemes in the Ravenhill Road area of East Belfast came together in May 2018 on a joint Social Change project with Apex and Radius Housing Associations over an initial period of 8 weeks. The women engaged and collaborated on discussions and workshops about issues, assets and challenges in their neighbourhoods. They discussed how different tenants and groups within the community might be engaged, and how potential projects might benefit them. The tenants from both developments completed an empathy mapping activity, involving putting themselves in the shoes of a different person in the neighbourhood. On feedback, they emphasised the importance of a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere, and of localised activities, rather than those requiring travel and the need for safe activities for children in the area. Radius and Apex coordinated a “co-creation” workshop, where members of the group visited the Diamond Project Hub in East Belfast and also Belvoir Area Residents Group in South Belfast to see how they have progressed a Community Garden. They also attended Cameron’s Garden Centre in Lisburn to look at planting ideas and the Belfast in Bloom Event through Belfast City Council to gather ideas and network with other agencies, all on a voluntary basis. The 8 week programme resulted in the development of a project which the group called the ‘Diversity in Bloom Project’. The tenants engaged the wider community to get involved; they put their ideas in to practice and continued to engage other tenants from both shared housing schemes whilst also connecting with the wider community, including those with additional needs and barriers such as loneliness, isolation and disability through a range of mediums.
The Social Change Groups aims were to create -
• A greater sense of community (i.e. more tenants getting involved in local activities)
• Safe activities for children in the immediate area
• Enhancement of the Shared Housing Schemes and creating a more welcoming place to live.
• Empowering tenants to take action to improve where they live, work and socialise
The tenants took the initiative to lead on and deliver the ‘Diversity in Bloom Project’ which included -
• ‘A Fun Day with Flowers’ Event for families
• 4 Make and Donate Planting Workshops with adults with learning disabilities from Orchardville Society and Willowfield Open House Drop In with older people
• 1 Pop Up Make and Take Planting Workshop with tenants and their children in the Shared Housing Development.
The project was a great success with 120 filled window boxes and tubs being made and donated to tenants in both schemes including those with additional barriers to inclusion including social isolation, loneliness and disability. The group now meet on a weekly basis and have taken on the name of the T:BUC Social Change Group and have recently received 2 tenant awards for their outstanding contribution to the community listed below –
• Radius Heroes Good Neighbour Award 2019
• Radius Heroes Community Pride Award 2019
They relentlessly support, promote, organise and participate in other programmes, activities and events within T:BUC and encourage other tenants to get involved. To date they have led on, supported or attended a wide range of activities listed below –
• 5 week Cultural Awareness programme
• Drug & Alcohol Awareness sessions
• First Aid Training Certification
• Certification on Modern Slavery & Human Trafficking
• Sexual Harassment/Violence Workshop
• 4 week Community Development Awareness programme
• Making your Money Work sessions
• Mindful Bodies – Alternative Therapies and Counselling programme
• Nutrition workshops
• 5 week Feel Good Friday Programme
• Christmas Events x 3
• Diversity Projects x 4
• Cultural Festival and Parade in East Belfast
The T:BUC Social Change Group are made up of a diverse mix of tenants from a range of backgrounds and cultures. They have gone from strength to strength and have not only increased the capacity within the group on a personal and community level but work tirelessly for the benefit of other tenants within the T:BUC Shared Housing Schemes on a daily basis.
Their achievements to date have included -
• Visual improvements to the neighbourhood
• Building a sense of community
• Connecting different generations
• Encouraging people to take pride in and respect their area
• Improved health and well-being for residents
• Decreased loneliness and social isolation Some key learning included:
• The benefits of starting small and getting community buy-in for bigger projects.
• The possibilities that a small group of people can aspire to; and the difference they can make.
• The importance of connecting in with tenants and local decision-makers to achieve longer term success and make a long lasting difference
Group Quote ‘Without the support of Radius and Apex Housing Associations we would not have been able to achieve all the positive outcomes for ourselves, our families and other tenants in the Shared Housing Schemes and wider community.’