L to R: Conway Court Project Manager Elaine Ellis with Homeless Connect CEO Nicola McCrudden
The Simon Community’s Conway Court Project opened in 2007. It provides self-contained accommodation for 25 families with low support needs in West Belfast. At any one time the hostel would have around 70 to 80 residents depending on the size of the families staying there. Last week, I had the chance to visit the hostel alongside our CEO Nicola McCrudden.
It was a pleasure to meet with Elaine Ellis, the Manager of Conway Court, to hear about the work the Simon Community are doing. Elaine has been employed in the homelessness sector for nineteen years.
Her dedication to supporting the families at Conway Court and the professionalism which she brings to the role was apparent as she showed us round the facilities. The Simon Community are fortunate to have staff like her.
Families at Conway Court become homeless for a range of different reasons. Some of the key factors have been relationship breakdown and overcrowding in current accommodation. Unfortunately, some families have found themselves living at Conway Court for over two years due to a lack of affordable housing to move on to. Covid slowed the process of social housing allocation but fortunately this is beginning to pick up again.
It was great to hear about two recent innovations at Conway Court. The first was the introduction of a Learning and Play Co-ordinator. As is well known, children experiencing homelessness face particular challenges. With the advent of the Covid pandemic, the Simon Community was concerned about the negative impact the loss of nurseries and schools would have for the children living at Conway Court.
With funding from Children in Need, they employed the Learning and Play Co-ordinator. The Co-ordinator would run sessions for the children to give them the opportunity to play and learn in creative ways. At Conway Court they have a Play Resource Centre, which is a space ideally suited for creativity. Stocked with books, toys and paints, it is a bright space where children facing challenging circumstances can have fun. The first Learning and Play Co-ordinator has now returned to teaching, but the Simon Community will be advertising the post again soon.
The Impact of Social Media
At the back of Conway Court, a new playground has recently been installed alongside an array of garden plants. The new playground and plants were funded through the “Digg Mama Digg Deep” campaign. In an illustration of the power of social media, the campaign came about through the support of well-known Instagrammer Caroline O’Neill (aka @diggmama). The campaign led to the installation of brilliant playground equipment for the children to enjoy as well as new garden plants.
The playground will be an excellent facility for children for many years to come. It provides an innovative example of how charities in the homelessness sector can utilise social media to make a real difference for those they are seeking to support.
Homeless Connect are grateful to the Simon Community for facilitating our visit to Conway Court. If you are interested in finding out more about Conway Court or the Simon Community, do give them a follow on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.
Policy and Public Affairs Officer Homeless Connect