Saturday 8 April 2017

Túath agus Clúid

Túath and Clúid are Olde Irish words for clan and corner, so you might refer to them as Corner Boys, which has quite negative implications. Hereabouts, corner boys are the, usually adult, fellows who hang about on street corners because they cannot afford the price of a pint; and may well attempt to cadge that from you as you pass by. They can thus be a bit intimidating and are usually up to no good, although it is unfair to say they are actively doing harm. But there is another meaning: your corner boy is one who stands up for you when you need it, who has your back. He's not your wingman, which connotes equals, but a better resourced entity who will bail you out when you're in trouble.  It is this latter sense on which I wish to elaborate today.

Túath and Clúid are also the names of two of Ireland biggest housing associations and they do amazing things to make our society a better place to live. They even work together to scrabble up workable housing stock from the chaos of the crash.  I was listening to Simon Brooke [R looking kindly and competent], Clúid's Head of Policy, on the wireless recently, and he made a lot of sense. What he said spoke to my own experience living on a street in NE England which was equally divided among owner-occupiers; council houses; and private rentals. You may bet that 30 years of reactionary housing policy has squeezed out the council houses. Our street was a society and a community: I [#37] worked on the academic staff at the University, #11 housed a lady who worked there as a cleaner; #39 was rented to a chap who had done time in Durham Gaol for GBH; Mr Ahmed had just bought #41 and aspired to become its renting landlord. Our illiterate and potentially violent neighbour did us a good turn once and we knew what the students in #35 were cooking for dinner because the smell of it drifted through the wall. If any of my neighbours had needed a character reference for college, I would have known them well enough to be able to do so. I am sure that, when all our potted geraniums were stolen from our front yard, none of my neighbours were involved; it must have been them corner boys from the next postal district.

In the days of the Celtic Tiger boom developers were required, as a condition of planning permission, to build 10% of the stock as social housing, but it never happened. Developers could apply for a lien on the conditions and pay over the cost to the planners - it just became an additional tax on the already burdensome cost of acquiring land and building on it. More importantly, it failed in its creditable aspiration to integrate the housing of the Haves and Have-nots in a similar way to what had worked so well for us in England. Here's a development where Clúid partnered with the local Council and a developer to build an integrated block of 25 social housing units. If you mix housing you can build local community. Maybe the unemployed person down the street could help with child-care or mowing the grass or fixing a dripping tap? We know a New Irish young woman from the Caucasus, who has a caring streak about her. She started off knowing rudimentary English as a jobbing house-cleaner but is now caring for a demented elderly lady whose daughter's house she used to help clean. That's just an anecdote, of course, but a metaphor and a strategic plan as well.  Who benefits? Everybody benefits!

In Ireland we have a number of on-going, high-profile scandals where architects, builders, planners and council officers signed off on housing developments which subsequently proved to be unsound and unsafe. [Here's an example from Seattle; and yes I know Seattle isn't in Ireland.] In the Irish cases, the developer has usually since gone bust [not dead mind you] so is unassailable for redress. The Suits, who signed off in a culpably negligent manner, are still in their comfortable jobs. That isn't going to happen on Clúid's watch, because they have expertise and a vested interest. But as well as ensuring that current safety and structural standards are met, they are also pushing energy technology pro-actively to save their future tenants money . . . so that the rent comes in more reliably, of course, but also so that the tenants don't sleep in damp beds and don't have mould in the kitchen walls.

Clúid concentrates a chunk of their resources on the elderly and the disabled and have created many units of sheltered housing.  It's not just build and go with the housing association, there is an interest in well-being among their tenants. Their facilitating the creation of a quilting project in a sheltered housing project in The West also speaks to my own experience. Every Monday morning I take my aged father-in-law Pat the Salt to "Heritage" in the local community centre. It has been running for about 3 years and is the brain child of a Community Historian who is trying to pick the brains of the most senior generation of the town, to establish what life was like in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. But, like Clifden Quilt, the project has acquired legs (and walking sticks to be sure) and has become an important part of the social life of that, potentially marginalised, elderly section of society.  It's not just the tea and biscuits!

Clúid's mission - be brave, with kindness and wisdom

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