Professor Paddy Gray: It’s time to link education and housing

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Professor Paddy Gray

Professor Paddy Gray, who has worked extensively in the area of housing policy, argues that it’s time to consider an integrated approach to ending segregation in Northern Ireland

I recently attended an event at the House of Lords in London to celebrate 25 years of the work of the Integrated Education Fun Tony Carson, whose father was the late comedian Frank Carson, had invited me to the event.

Frank was a great supporter of integrated education in Northern Ireland. During the evening I was introduced to people who were genuinely interested in my work as a professor of housing. However, when asked questions about shared education, I had to reply that whilst I knew about the good work that was being done, I wasn’t up to date with key policy areas on the subject.

But on the other hand, many of those I met knew very little about housing policy. Which got me thinking about why are we working in silos? We talk about shared education and shared housing but there is little overlap to my knowledge, on policies and practices in these two crucial areas post conflict.

In 2013 the Stormont Executive published Towards Building a United Community (TBUC) with an aim to taking down all peace lines by 2023 and to strengthen the supply of mixed social housing across Northern Ireland. The Department for Communities (DfC) and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) are working with a number of housing associations to create 10 purpose-built mixed religion neighbourhoods, and to date are making progress with five of these completed.

The same document set out proposals to establish 10 shared education campuses and five of these have been identified with work under way.

But it appears that there is very little overlap and the campuses are not located in areas where shared housing is being built. Would it not be more appropriate to consider areas where people are prepared to live together as areas that might attract children to shared education?

The TBUC strategy even deals with education and housing in separate sections again with little overlap. In early 2016 the first peace line was demolished in north Belfast. The NIHE was instrumental in brokering a deal with local communities which demonstrated how housing organisations have been, and are, a major influence, when it comes to our divided communities.

Not only are new housing estates being built by housing associations to cater for those who want to live in integrated housing but the NIHE itself is working across neighbourhoods in Northern Ireland to develop cohesion and integration on existing estates. Where people may not actually live together they may wish to share activities, what we would call ‘activity integration’.

Many of these activities could be developed in the new integrated schools that are being developed or indeed within existing segregated schools. This does happen in some areas but more could be done across the education and housing spheres.

Today the terminology in housing, right across the United Kingdom, is dominated by community investment and social enterprises. There has been a consensus that social housing should aim to deal with disadvantage and not create it. The NIHE and housing associations are well placed to invest in their communities and to encourage community development initiatives. They can tackle high unemployment rates in neighbourhoods by helping people into work through boosting knowledge and skills.

Where better to do this than working in partnership with education through courses within schools as well as providing work placements for those in secondary and higher education. Housing organisations are creating community spaces and neighbourhood services to improve well being and help people live happier and healthy lives and working with education establishments would provide a perfect combination.

Let’s not talk about integrated education and integrated housing separately. Let’s instead have an integrated approach to tackling segregation.

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