CHI Member Maureen McGovern discusses Greenlawns, Ireland’s first rental co-operative built in the 1980s.
Maureen McGovern was an original resident of the homes in Greenlawns. She is a CHI Member to this day, who has relocated to Cherry Orchard in recent years.
“I’m nine years here in Cherry Orchard and I was 18 years in Greenlawns. As the first rental housing co-operative in Ireland, it was very important that it was done right. There was very bad housing in the area, and the parish was giving land away to build houses, so people had the opportunity to buy. However, because it was near Darndale it was felt that it wouldn’t grow because of the reputation of Darndale.”
Word of the project snowballed. Maureen soon learned of the possibility of a co-operative solution to her housing need. “I was approached by Peter Kearns who attended the first meeting because he knew I was interested in alternative housing. Some of us knew at the time that there was a 95% grant for social housing which was coming online. We approached Bernard Thompson, CEO of NABCo as it was called then and said why don’t we apply for 95% grant and see what we could do with the land?” NABCo took on the project and worked with the community for a year, employing architects and contractors to deliver the scheme in consultation with the Members. “It was really interesting because we could work with the architects and the membership was a mixture of disabled people, single parents, families and older people. It was a nice mix.” Members discussed the financing of the scheme and how the rental model would work to ensure the viability and affordability of the scheme. An additional 5% financing was needed. “We put our thinking hats on and decided we would talk to the Credit Union to get it. It was great for me to be involved in that, because I’m really interested in different housing options, I really believed in co-ops at the time, I think I was a bit of a hippy.” Moving into Greenlawns was an important day for Maureen, who had rented and worked as a live-in assistant before moving into her own new home. “It was great moving into Greenlawns. It was my first house. I was delighted to be a part of it, I felt I had control over my life, and they were good quality houses as well.
Before I moved to Greenlawns, I was living and working in Wicklow for an older lady who wanted someone to stay with her at nighttime and I was ideal for that. It meant I didn’t have to pay rent and I could organise myself for a new house. There was a lot of people who were in very bad housing in Coolock at the time.”
Maureen was delighted to be part of the conceptualisation of Greenlawns, particularly as it empowered people to come together as a community to develop a long-term housing solution. She is happy to see how the model has adapted and grown to become more prevalent throughout Ireland, she says, “The politics of the new housing at Greenlawns was great. The co-operative model felt like a new beginning and look at it now, it’s throughout Ireland now and it should be celebrated. It was an important move for housing policy.”
Greenlawns housed mostly women and single mothers. They came together to learn more about the co-operative nature of their homes through Information and Familiarisation sessions run by NABCo (now CHI) and continued to meet to discuss issues that affected the estate. “It was a dream for some people. Most of us were women, some had kids, some were young, some were older. I think Coolock was built on women if I’m honest.” The faces of Greenlawns changed over the years, with some residents moving to other areas as their housing needs and circumstances changed, including Maureen. Maureen approached CHI about the need to move due to a health condition, and CHI was able to relocate Maureen to a more suitable house in Cherry Orchard.
Speaking about the move, Maureen says she has settled into her new community: “I know people out here now. It’s a different type of community. There’s a nice mixture of people, younger people, families, older people, people living on their own. It’s important to have a mix of people and not have just one type of person living in a particular area. I enjoyed my time in Greenlawns, I loved the idea of the co-op, and now there’s thousands of homes like that. We were determined to get Greenlawns built, and we did.”
Maureen has had a lifelong interest in housing and worked in housing regeneration in Rialto and Fatima. One of her areas of interest was in local participation in housing policy. “My role was to ensure that the local people’s participation in policies, for example, if someone became disabled and was living upstairs in a building, how do we get them a place on the bottom floor and keep them in the community with their support? We wrote the book on the learnings and some of the findings were interesting. It was all very political, and we were working with DCC as well and a lot of organisations in housing. It didn’t always go well, but a lot of it did”, says Maureen.