bchs: 40 Years of Co-operation, A Tribute by Chris Handy

22 July 2019

bchs: 40 Years of Co-operation, A Tribute by Chris Handy

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22 July, 2019

Chris Handy, Chief Executive at Accord Housing Association writes:

Co-operation is about optimism. It is optimistic because it relies upon the belief that a person, or many people, co-operating with others creates a better outcome than selfish individualism. There is a greater good than mere self-interest.

This has been at the heart of the success of bchs. bchs has fostered and supported, encouraged and nurtured, joint working and collaboration, partnership and alliance… in a single word “co-operation” since its formation some 40 years ago this year.

All through that time it has helped people build better communities and better relationships between each other. It has done its part in creating and developing a social cause of people running and controlling housing themselves, rather than being managed by a landlord. Residents collectively make better decisions about their own communities and neighbourhoods than officials can. Why? Because they live there - and the place where they live matters to them.

People power, people ownership, people in control! These are important principles, even more vital now that people and communities are divided over such issues as Brexit. People can still come together and co-operate in their communities despite political and other differences.

For 40 years bchs has worked to bring people together where there have been divisions and helped, supported and trained people to be community champions with skills and unrelenting commitment and passion for the cause of social cooperation.

bchs joined Accord back in the early 1990s. Nigel Wilson, who is now Chief Executive of Gentoo, was its Chair back then. All through that time I have known some terrific people who have lived and breathed co-operation. The great Terry Edis, a colossus of a tenant leader, who chaired bchs and also WATMOS for many years, was one such friend who sadly passed away some years ago. He always said I was his mentor, but I learned so much more from him. He knew about people, he knew how to get them to rise up and lead things for themselves.

Ursula Barrington, bchs Housing Manager, who went on to be the Chief Executive of WATMOS, was another such wonderful person. Deeply loved by the co-operators, she was so skilled, always putting the interest of residents first and always wholly supporting tenants to lead, to demand and to negotiate. Sadly she also passed away a few years ago. Primarily she was a teacher, giving skills to people, helping them to see they had hidden capability and confidence that was unrealised.

Len Duckhouse, a bchs Chair and Board member and also Chair of WATMOS, was a great believer in co-operation, a huge advocate of tenants being in control. He never let go of the importance of tenants making decisions; stubbornly persistent in tenant control. He gained lots of insight on a study trip to Freiburg in Germany when we looked at tenant co-operatives over there. Len also sadly died a few years ago.

We’ve also had two great Chairs of Redditch Co-operative Homes in Ken Somner and Bill Hartnett, both of them championing the cause in so many ways. Bill has also been an Accord Board member and currently Chairs the Redditch Co-operative Homes Partnership Board, alongside for many years being Leader of Redditch Council, and speaks about the importance of tenant leadership whenever he gets a public platform.

And last but not least, the wonderful Margaret Cope, who still Chairs the bchs Partnership Board and was previously a member of Accord’s main Board too and a supporter of our wider work; she never forgets tenants come first and utterly understands tenant control and leadership and constantly reminds Accord about its importance.

We’ve had four very different Directors of bchs, initially Mike Owen, who has recently retired. He went off to Cornwall and later became Chief Executive of a housing association in South Wales. Jon Stevens, who the co-operators loved almost as much as Ursula, led the organisation for some 10 years and oversaw so ably, and with such great fun, many of the wonderful events at Trafford Hall in the days co-op tenants held away weekends – people still talk about those events and Jon is still held in such high regard by them. Carl Taylor who led on our Redditch Co-op Homes initiative with the Council and who was Director of bchs for several years has lived and breathed co-operatives and pioneered, and still does, many of Accord’s low carbon initiatives. And now we have the remarkable Jacqui Rooker who understands co-ops so well, partly because she was, back in the day, a co-op tenant; but because she is passionate about the co-operative idea and way of life. Jacqui keeps the co-op flame alight supported by colleagues including those who have served many years such as Indira Dumasi and Angela Ghose plus many more.

I’ve been really pleased that throughout the time bchs has been part of Accord we had the advantage of Nic Bliss’s energy. He has always been there helping us on in one shape or form: member of staff, champion of the tenant control movement, advisor and now a bchs Partnership Board member. I’m personally eternally grateful to Nic for all the support he has given me, often chiding me to do more and to give more power away but inevitably co-operating with us to take the agenda further on. And I love his recent enthusiasm since his study visit to Canada – I’m convinced great things will come of that.

It is because of all these people and all the others over the years who have served on the Board, all of the staff who have also been involved that I can rightly say over those 40 years bchs has been at the heart of a tenants’ co-operative movement in the Midlands and beyond. But above all it’s the many tenants who have led the way, people like Denis Neale, Mr Ahmed, Micky Greenfield, Malik Ullah and so many more, I can’t namecheck everyone, who has made bchs such a success. Here’s to the next 40 years and tenants in the lead!