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Praise and reflection for Unity as housing association celebrates 35 years of achievement

Unity Homes and Enterprise has hosted a special stakeholder event to celebrate 35 years of providing high quality homes, regenerating deprived communities and creating economic opportunities for people in Leeds.

Established as a housing association in 1987 to address the shortage of homes for the BME population in Chapeltown, Unity has since expanded its operations across the city to areas including Harehills, Beeston and Holbeck, and recently completed new affordable housing developments in Kirklees.

Guests heard from a range of speakers, including a keynote address from Chartered Institute of Housing President Lara Oyedele, and watched a short film – produced by local creative agency Peg – which showcased Unity’s evolution and accomplishments over three and a half decades.

Unity Chair Shruti Bhargava told the large audience that “two Asian women and two black men came together, ‘in unity’ to form this housing association, right here in the heart of Chapeltown.”

She said: “35 years later, we’re still here, and still making a difference to people’s lives.  We now provide over 1300 homes, we run three business centres which provide workspace for more than 80 businesses, we help people into employment, we support BME entrepreneurs, and we do a whole lot more.”

Unity Chief Executive Cedric Boston said it was now a “really important time for Unity.”

He said: “We will go forward, we want to do more of what we do – providing a decent home and economic opportunities for people to improve their lives.  But it is very challenging, so we need all the help and support we can get.”

Mr Boston said the event would be the first of many stakeholder gatherings, “where we meet, exchange information, collaborate and work out how we achieve the agenda we have set ourselves – to do more to help people living in our community.”

Corinna Lawrence, Chief Executive of Feel Good Factor, a registered charity, spoke warmly of working closely with Unity since 2003.

She said: “Unity was the lead and accountable body that enabled the set up of Feel Good Factor.  We were looking to get £1 million of funding for the people of Chapeltown and Harehills, working around health and wellbeing.  The pleasure of doing that work was how everyone came together, all the different groups of people and organisations that really believed in what we could do.”

And Pam Charles, an older person advocate for Leeds Black Elders Association, told guests that housing had become a very big part of her organisation’s work.

She said: “The housing needs of older people vary.  The fantastic partnership between Unity and ourselves means we can offer value and support to some of the most vulnerable in really desperate times.”

Concluding the evening, Lara Oyedele – who also serves as Chair of Bradford homelessness charity Hope Housing and Chief Executive of Black on Board which aims to increase diverse representation on boards – congratulated Unity on its achievements.

She said: “I think it’s a fabulous organisation.  It should be used as a model for BME housing associations.  We house people, but then we take care of all the other needs that people have for a productive and useful life.”

Ms Oyedele added: “I am very proud to be associated with this organisation.”

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Cedric Boston, Unity Chief Executive

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Unity Housing Association was formed in 1987 with the objective of building a strong, BME-led, community housing association to address the needs of black and minority ethnic communities in Leeds. The initial focus was on Chapeltown, but this has widened to other areas of the city including Harehills, Beeston, Holbeck, Chapel Allerton and Pudsey. Alongside two schemes in Huddersfield, a new affordable housing development has recently been completed in Cleckheaton. With a turnover of £6.8 million and an annual investment in new and existing homes of around £6.5 million, Unity now manages over 1,300 properties for tenants from all communities and ethnic backgrounds. In 2000 the association established its not-for-profit subsidiary company, Unity Enterprise, to support local entrepreneurial activity. It now provides 142 affordable business units for more than 80 diverse businesses across three centres in Leeds. Unity Employment Services (UES) was set-up in 2011 to support Unity tenants and their surrounding communities in accessing employment and training opportunities. It has since supported more than 1,700 individuals into work and training.

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