Charity begins at home for Respond! in Athy

Respond! does exactly what it says on the tin.

Respond! does exactly what it says on the tin.

It has been spearheading projects throughout Ireland for 30 years now and it chose an award-winning community in Ardew Meadows, Athy this week to celebrate this milestone anniversary.

More than 80 residents gathered for the family fun day last Friday evening under glorious sunshine. The integrated estate was the recent recipient of an Irish Council for Social Housing National Community Housing Award for excellence in design, management, community development and sustainability.

“When we thought of this idea here in Ardrew it was on invitation from Kildare County Council and Athy Town Council in the year 2000. We should have called this estate millennium something because it was the first time we came across the green fields around here,” joked Respond! CEO Fr Pat Coogan.

Ardrew was by designed by Respond! and built in 2009 with the support of KCC, ATC and with funding from the Department of the Environment. There is a strong residents group on the estate who have organised many events including a children’s art project and a float in the St Patrick’s Day Parade. The integrated estate contains 18 family homes, 14 homes for older persons, six Traveller homes, 27 local authority homes and 21 affordable homes.

Respond! creates a positive future for people by alleviating poverty and creating vibrant, socially integrated communities, Fr Coogan said. “This is achieved by providing access to education, childcare, community development programmes, housing and other supports. We wanted to be sure Ardrew became an integrated development so people from all different backgrounds, different estates and different cultures could all live together in peace and harmony and we are seeing that today. All we can do is put the bricks and mortar in place and it is up to you as a community to put the rest in place and that is clear in what we see today,” he said to the gathering.

Fair City’s Dave Duffy who plays Leo Dowling was also in attendance to join in the celebrations. He spoke frankly and emotionally of his time living out of home in London. “When I went to London first I had nowhere to live and I actually slept in my car for three weeks until I stayed on a friend’s coach. Then I found a community housing place, I signed on and I found a place to live. It saved my life a bit. It was a place to sit and the rent was very cheap as I had no money at the time. Eventually having lived in community housing for three years I got a place on of my own and it was a most wonderful feeling to be able to walk into a door and say ‘Wow’ this is mine. It means so much to a person to have somewhere to live, a place to call home and that is the great thing about Respond! they have created a situation where ordinary people who cannot afford these huge massive rents, these huge massive house prices, given ordinary people like you and I a chance to have a place of our own and to raise our children.”

Respond! has much to be proud of. Established in 1982, it is Ireland’s leading housing association, with three other housing estates in Kildare; Springfield Court in Celbridge, Flinters Field, Athy and Easton Meadows, Leixlip. It has 160 estates across the country that provided housing for almost 20,000 residents, 300 people in Kildare.

“In all these developments what we look for is community development and community interaction. We had no idea 30 years ago when the organisation started off that it would shoot off the way it has. At the moment we have built 5,500 houses and we have about 4,000 under our own management and we wish you every success and happiness in your estate into the future. People often say the business of housing is very delicate and risky and one of the first message we gave to residents was, how has most to gain and most to loose in a housing estate. It’s not Respond, our staff but residents,” Fr Coogan said. Respond! hopes to add to its housing book, however funding cutbacks and the Recession is hampering things. Despite these setbacks Fr Coogan remains positive and looks forward. “Currently Respond! will be borrowing money to buy and build houses because of the funding cuts which means we will have to raise a mortgage and pay it back that is going to slow the amount of progress we can make.

Successive governments did not adequately give funding to social housing even the best of times and that is why there is over 100,000 families on social housing lists. We would love to continue to work with Kildare County Council and particularly Athy Town Council who have been fantastic. In the future it will be more difficult for the councils as they have no money and they will be relying on agencies such as Respond! to borrow money for social housing so that is a big problem. But we are working at buying up ghost estates from Nama at knock-down cheaper prices. Just recently we bought 55 houses, 36 of them unfinished, at Oakley Wood in Tullow, Carlow for €2.5m. We haven’t come across ghost estates in Kildare that are viable at the moment. You couldn’t go out to tender at the moment because you couldn’t build cheaper than you can buy so it is much better for us to buy a place. However in the future if there are estates that become viable in Kildare that we can buy, we would be happy to do it.”

Also speaking at the event Cathaoirleach of Athy Town Council Cllr Mark Wall said today was a day of celebration. “It is a day to be proud, for the residents of Ardrew and Flinters. A day Athy Town Council joins Respond! to congratulate you the residents of Respond! that have chosen this location as your home and your children that will grow up here as residents of Respond! It is great to see what we have here in front of us today.” And with that the flowers were presented, a much-in-demand Kildare county jersey, signed by every member of the Kildare GAA football team, was raffled, and the best garden awards were given out.

- Lisa Deeney