Our story

Brighter Places was established in 2021 through the merger of United Communities and Solon South West. This launched a new phase in a proud history of social housing in Bristol and surrounding areas.

The creation of Brighter Places will lead to a greater investment in existing and new homes in the city. It also builds on a proud legacy of civil rights resistance, community activism and co-operative associations that dates to the 1960s.

Bristol’s first Black housing association

United Housing Association (UHA) was established in 1985 in St Pauls by Black community leaders including Owen Henry and Guy Reid-Bailey. It was the first Black housing association in Bristol.

Owen Henry had helped set up the St Pauls Festival Committee back in 1968 and both Owen Henry and Guy Reid-Bailey had been leading activists in the Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963. This had exposed the racism of the bus company and trade union in excluding Black workers from working on the city’s buses.

Plaque marking the 1963 Bus Boycott campaign. L to R: Prince Brown, Owen Henry, Paul Stephenson, Guy Read-Bailey and Roy Hackett

The successful boycott reversed this practice and helped to bring in the UK’s first anti-racism laws, the Race Relations Acts of 1965 and 1968.

UHA set about tackling the appalling housing conditions and lack of equal access to decent accommodation that faced Black and minority ethnic residents in St Pauls. This particularly affected older people of Caribbean descent – the Windrush generation – who lacked secure housing for their retirement.

Mural of Owen Henry in St Pauls Bristol
Mural of Owen Henry in St Pauls – part of ‘The Seven Saints of St Pauls’ by artist Michele Curtis

An alliance with BCHF

By 2013 UHA was working closely with Bristol Community Housing Foundation (BCHF), a not-for-profit set up to regenerate a large estate in Upper Horfield, north Bristol, with 800 homes.

In 2017 the alliance between UHA and BCHF became a formal merger and United Communities was born. The new association built upon the commitment of its predecessors to invest in people and local communities and to support resident-led community projects.

Solon reclaims empty stock

Meanwhile, in the mid 1970s, Annie Scott had arrived in Bristol to work part-time in an architect’s office. Her plan was to use the rest of her week to set up a housing association based on the work of a London housing association, Solon. It offered housing and support for those most in need.

With a loan for repairs from Solon in London and a local team of people who shared her vision, Annie Scott oversaw the purchase of a run-down terrace in Totterdown. Solon South West was born.

By the mid 1970s the new national Housing Corporation had begun to fund local housing projects. Solon South West had access to this money. By 1976 Solon had expanded to own and manage 100 homes in areas such as St Pauls, Easton, Bedminster and Clifton. By 1989 this had grown to 687 homes, including some in Mendip and the Forest of Dean.

Solon South West continued to grow and to keep its independence for the next 45 years. By 2021 it was managing more than 1,100 homes and working with many partner organisations to invest in new developments, gradually improving the quality of its housing stock.

Shared values, greater resources

By 2019, United Communities and Solon were working together to share expertise and improve value for money. They recognised a strong common commitment to affordable homes, thriving communities and resident support. So they decided to ask their residents about building a joint future by coming together as a new organisation. After a full resident consultation the response was positive, and the two organisations formally merged on 1 April 2021.

Better homes, community-led

Brighter Places is the beginning of that future. Our focus is on high quality housing as a cornerstone to unlock social, economic and health benefits within communities.

Brighter Places is managing over 3,300 homes with more than 8,000 residents and has many new projects in the pipeline.

Footnote

With such an extraordinary legacy and a strong team of committed colleagues, our ambitions can only grow. We continue to represent housing associations as a powerful force, operating as anchors to the long-term outcomes of residents and communities.

Two of the Seven Saints of St Pauls murals are on United Communities properties. A mural of Owen Henry is on the corner of City Road and Ashley Road, and a mural of activist and co-founder of St Pauls Carnival Barbara Dettering is to be found on the end of Tudor Road by the St Paul Adventure playground.

Our organisation is traced back to these tireless campaigners who worked to improve the lives of the Black community in St. Pauls. We owe so much to these courageous and determined campaigners.

Anna Klimczak, chief executive of Brighter Places

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