Lessons from History
United Communities is proud to be a local, community-based housing association based in Bristol and the surrounding area, embedded in the history of the city’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic community and focused on its future.
Social housing has been central to the story of a community grappling with inequality since the 1960s and is an example of how the sector can have a positive impact through the provision of homes, placemaking and community investment.
A history of taking action
The foundation of United Housing Association in 1985 saw local civil rights leaders and activists come together to address the problem of unequal access to decent accommodation, a problem that particularly affected elders of Caribbean descent. Guy Reid-Bailey, Roy Hackett MBE and Owen Henry were some of the community leaders involved in the Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963, a campaign of civil-disobedience targeted at unfair employment practices. In supporting the foundation of United Housing Association and SARI (Stand Against Racism and Inequality), these leaders looked to address racial discrimination in the core areas of everyday life; the workplace, the home, education and the city’s public spaces.
Building place and celebrating community
This history is written into the streets and buildings of Easton and Eastville, Horfield, Lockleaze and St Pauls. Celebrating these communities proud and resilient history and culture is a powerful way to continue to build community in the face of longer-term economic changes, as well as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Bristol’s history in the transatlantic slave trade was brought to national attention with the toppling of the Edward Colston Statue, but there are also a collection of murals and public art that tell a less well-known story. United Communities supported local artist Michele Curtis to produce seven murals across St Pauls, representing local elders who made huge contributions to the city and whose activism paved the way for change. Two of these Seven Saints of St Pauls murals are on United Communities properties. A mural of Owen Henry is on the corner of City Road and Ashley Road, and a mural of activist and co-founder of St Pauls Carnival Barbara Dettering is to be found on the end of Tudor Road by the St Paul Adventure playground.
“Our organisation is traced back to these tireless campaigners who worked to improve the lives of the Black community in St. Pauls,” Anna Klimczak, Chief Executive of United Communities told the Centre for Excellence in Community Investment. “We owe so much to these courageous and determined campaigners.”
St Paul’s Carnival is a joyous expression of the diversity of the St Pauls area. This year St Paul’s Carnival received funds from the United Communities and Solon South West Coronavirus Community Fund, to support projects and online events for Black History month. These events are an opportunity to strengthen connections between individuals and families, both in St Pauls and the wider community. Pride and connection to place are necessary to build community, and these events help to bring people together around a shared history and future.
More than a roof: supporting communities into the future
United Communities was formed in 2017 with the merger of United Housing Association and Bristol Community Housing Foundation and is proud of its historic role in the movement for equality in Bristol. It’s a tradition that they carry forward to the present, especially in the key areas of employment support, welfare rights, affordable housing and navigating the impact of gentrification of inner-city areas such as St Pauls and Easton.
This reflects a recognition that housing can be the cornerstone to unlock wider social economic and health benefits. It also recognises that housing associations can be a powerful force for good as community anchors, committed to the long-term outcomes of its residents. For example, United Communities housing officers and the tenancy impact team works across the area to support residents with money management, health and wellbeing.
“We recognise that housing plays a fundamental role in everyone’s life. It influences social and economic opportunities, health, and wellbeing,” Anna continued. “We believe that working for equality means striving for better opportunities, resources and decision-making for staff, customers, and communities. Being aware of and proactive about our customers’ diversity will help to ensure we provide the right services in the right way.”
This ranges from projects to rebuild community spaces such as the , to ongoing support provided by those hard-hit by coronavirus. In May 2020, alongside Solon South West, United Communities launched a £100,000 fund to enable community groups to respond to the effects of the pandemic on the local community. In partnership with Bristol City Council, West of England Combined Authorities (WECA) and the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP), United Communities also is part of the Future Bright programme, a service offering flexible options to improve job prospects and enhance potential. With four career progression coaches, United Communities is working to expand the benefits of stable and meaningful employment to more of its residents.
The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, partly because of the historic inequalities that Bristol’s civil rights activists sought to address through the boycott and subsequent foundation of United Housing. Guy Reid-Bailey, Roy Hackett MBE and Owen Henry saw the potential of housing as the foundation for individuals and communities to flourish, leading to health, and economic benefits. United Communities are continuing this legacy through the equitable provision of affordable housing, but also through their community investment activities and coronavirus crisis response
United Communities diversity and equality statement
United Communities is immensely proud to have our roots firmly within Bristol’s Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities. We celebrate the fact that we have a diverse group of colleagues and residents. Our diversity makes us stronger.
We are at an important moment, which we cannot ignore or let pass. We want to live in a society that values all human life equally. For that to happen, we need to show that this is true through our actions as well as our words.