Oliver Bond House

The social production of community

THE BACKBONE OF SOCIAL CAPITAL - I observed Oliver Bond’s women arrange of money for families in need, or provide a ride to the city, a sack of groceries to get through the end of the month, fund-raising for the children summer trips, but also emotional support, fostering community relationships, mediating between the public world of schools, social services, medical care and all sort of everyday interactions that produce the #cityofcare.

The provision of social housing is always politically charged, and buildings can cease to be seen as dwellings and instead be viewed solely through the prism of the perceived success, or failure, of individual schemes. On the contrary, this photographic journey will allow us to experience the social production of community that constitutes Oliver Bond House.

Built in 1936, the Liberties Oliver Bond flats complex is one of Ireland’s largest local authority housing estates consisting of sixteen separate blocks of flats and three houses, a total of 394 households built over 2.847 hectares with a current population of about 1,200 people.

The establishment of such a large and distinctive city-centre flat complex was a response to the 1932 Irish Housing Act, which placed increased emphasis on slum clearance and, paradoxically enough, with the serious housing and public health issues facing the city at the time.

The buildings themselves are monuments to their architect, Herbert Simms, the man who designed them along with 17,000 other social housing units across Dublin between 1923 and 1931. The flat blocks designed by Simms and his team were not just of architectural importance. Their construction helped to retain population at the heart of the city, keeping communities intact and contributing to the continued vibrancy of urban life. This was facilitated by a policy of decanting residents from the slums to the new dwellings, then building further blocks as the remaining slum buildings were cleared. Simms himself preferred central block housing rather than suburban schemes as a solution to large-scale slum clearance.

In this research I found extensive networks of kin and friends supporting, reinforcing each other, devising schemes for self-help, strategies for survival in a community of severe economic deprivation.

"Looking after one another, this is our community! I do have a passion and for our community and we don’t want anyone that’s coming in and doing ill to a community or is not good for our community. Everyone should make a contribution to their community, no matter how small." (John, 72, long-term resident).

A special thanks to Fran Dempsey (Iron Man) and Gerard Martin (Diesel) from the Liberties Food Bank for posing in these photographs.

Community support in the Oliver Bond flats is based on a common ground: people take care of each other and as such take over several welfare functions of the state.

"The community built through the tenants association and there were a lot of matriarchal women, a lot of them are dead now, they were matriarchs. You did nothing wrong in our flats and they would stand when there was drugs coming into the flats they stood at the gates and they prevented all that happening and they marched for much better conditions for the city!" (Riona, 60, long-term resident)

"We've always been basically really strong for as long as I can remember. I remember years ago even when there was a football match... The women organized it. Get to tell you, getting around, getting everybody down, putting through, voluntary for a cause, everybody looking after everybody. Strong women, all women.

And now? [lipsmack] I'd like to think that DCC would do more for... for the kids, yet they live in these facilities and the way we're living is absolutely disgraceful, there is absolutely nothing in there. The football team is fantastic, it's all we have... the football team, that's-that's a blessing in the sky!"

Thanks to Eddie Keogh - Oliver Bond Celtic manager - posing in the last photograph for #cityofcare.

The women interviewed in Oliver Bond view community work as a personal calling, putting emphasis in their motivation in early exposure to spatial segregation, stigmatization and class oppression. Their own mothers helped interpret experiences with classism and segregation and instilled in their daughters a belief in their ability to overcome these obstacles.

The ethnographic study of the Liberties has shown that disadvantaged communities have historically relied on their social capital to aid in survival when other forms of capital have been lacking.

The material and cultural support needed to absorb, sustain and socialize community members in Oliver Bond is provided by networks of kin, friends, and more or less formal local institutions and associations. Their social and economic lives are so entwined that community produce a tangible response to economic restructuring and welfare state retrenchment.

A special thank to Edward Whelan posing with his daughter in their Oliver Bond flat (above) and outside it (below) for #cityofcare.

The people who live in the flats are heavily networked, I observed a complex, interhousehold kin network (blood relatives and others) that facilitates sharing of all kinds of resources and creates pressure among members to share whatever they have.

The COVID-19 pandemic, along with the shelter-in-place orders implemented to manage the crisis, put a spotlight on these enduring housing affordability and quality gaps, particularly among low-income and vulnerable households. People living in poor quality housing or unsafe living conditions (such as overcrowding or homelessness) faced elevated health and safety risks. The COVID-19 pandemic reinforced the critical role of social housing in providing stable, safe and affordable accommodation – and spurred a renewed urgency to address housing vulnerability.

Back on March 2021, the Oliver Bond residents distributed a survey containing seven simple questions about environmental conditions to all 397 units within the estate with the support of the local community development project Robert Emmet CDP. The evidence described a living condition clearly in breach of residents Right To Adequate Housing that must be “habitable”, in terms of providing the inhabitants with adequate space and protecting from cold, damp, heat, rain, wind or other threats to health, structural hazards and disease vectors. The vast majority of people in Oliver Bond House are living with damp, mould, and cold. About a third doesn’t have cold or hot running water. A third has problems with pests, including rats, and two-thirds don’t have adequate vermin free refuse storage. These are very basic issues that go to the very heart of what decent, healthy and safe accommodation should be.

We are grateful to Caroline for allowing us to come in and photograph her home and the mold within its walls.

The renovation of the social housing stock has been a priority for social housing providers in recent years, to upgrade ageing dwellings but also to improve the overall energy efficiency of the stock in the context of energy poverty and a changing climate. Nevertheless, it will be important for policymakers to ensure that largescale housing regenerations do not result in the displacement of low-income tenants. To avoid “renovictions” – the residential displacement of low-income and vulnerable households following investments to improve housing quality.