Virginia Shaw, Housing Support Services

Virginia ‘Ginnie’ Shaw was initiator and foundermember of East Yorkshire Housing Association (EYHA) in Bridlington in 1980s, arising out of research carried out by the local Shelter group into the lack of housing with support for homeless young people. Its first project was to house homeless young people in supported housing in a street house in Blackburn Ave in central Bridlington, its second project was to provide housing with support in a family setting for people with learning difficulties on closure of former psychiatric hospital at Brandsburton, East Yorkshire. Ginnie acted as Secretary, Chair and Treasurer until she and her family moved from the area to York in January 1991. EYHA merged with Boothferry Housing Association and the Associations continue to operate as providers of housing with care and support in an extremely difficult financial policy and practice environment to this day.

After moving to York, Ginnie joined the Management Committee of Tuke Housing Association Ltd in 1992. Under her leadership as Chair, the Association supported several innovative projects, often by contributing from its own resources and by identifying charitable funding, including:

  • Accommodation with support for young people, the Scarcroft Project, initially based at Scarcroft Road, York, then expanding into move-on accommodation for young people in “ordinary” housing 
  • Feasibility study for a Home Improvement Agency for York, successfully drawing in government funding from Supporting People. The study proposed an innovative approach to the provision of an HIA which was not realised. However, an important element of the service, the handyperson, continues to be provided by Yorkshire Housing    

Ginnie joinedtheNational Disabled Persons Housing Service Ltd (later known by the name of HoDis), an Industrial and Provident Society with charitable Rules, as its Director in 1995. The mission of HoDis was to promote improvements in housing services to disabled people in the UK, principally through the setting up of local Disabled Persons Housing Services, according to the social model of disability. She was a pioneer in the application of the social model to housing.  

The social model of disability identifies barriers within society – the physical environment, discriminatory attitudes, and the policies and practices of organisations – as the source of disabled people’s problems, not their individual impairment. So, it is society that must change, not the individual disabled person who must adapt. Disability is thereby a civil rights issue, in common with the philosophy underpinning all equalities policies and practices. 

Examples of Ginnie’s work include:

  • A Perfect Match?  A good practice guide to disability housing registers (for the Housing Corporation) edition 1 1999; first edition sold out, edition 2 published 2004
  • Needs first  A guide for housing associations on prioritising tenants’ needs for adaptations (for the Housing Corporation) 2001
  • Better ways A good practice guide for housing providers to lettings policy and practice (for the Housing Corporation) 2002
  • Planning to meet the needs of disabled people in New Osbaldwick (for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation) 2002

In 2001 she was appointed as an expert advisor to the Government (then the Department for the Environment Transport and the Regions) and was a member of various Government and other Advisory Groups, such as the Department for Work and Pensions Advisory Group on Common Parts. In 2002 she became only the second woman nationally to achieve membership of the Chartered Institute of Housing by the Distinguished Professional route.

During her time with HoDis, Ginnie co-chaired the Homes Fit for Children Campaign with the parent of a disabled child, Brendan McKeever. The purpose of the campaign was to enable access to Disabled Facilities Grant for disabled children so that they and their families could benefit from this important grant, the only mandatory improvement grant. The campaign, lasting 8 years, was successful, first in Northern Ireland, then Wales and finally England (the system was and is different in Scotland). 

In 1991 she joined York Racial Equality Network (YREN) and in 2002 became their first trustee who was not a member of the Black and Minority Ethnic community. She continued to be a valued member of the Management Committee, serving as Minutes Secretary until she stood down in July 2017. Ginnie remains a committed member of YREN, supporting fundraising events (one of which, “Banish the Winter Blues”, she initiated in January 2014) and sharing her craftwork skills at community engagement sessions at Tang Hall Community Centre. She represented YREN on the Lord Mayor’s Fundraising Committee for the 2015-16 Mayoral year, having suggested YREN as a possible beneficial charity. This involved organising and attending a wide range of fundraising events, thus not only raising much needed unrestricted funds for YREN but providing extremely valuable increased profile for the charity in the city.

Most recently, Ginnie has been campaigning at Kirkby Misperton to close the Third Energy fracking site (KM8). A singer all her life, she found a new talent as a lyricist, writing words to well-known tunes. The songs are either based on existing songs (“No more fracking anymore”, adapted from “She’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes”, “Don’t frack this land”, adapted from Cole Porter’s “Don’t fence me in” and “No more fracking, anywhere” using Frere Jacques) or adaptations of protest songs (“Where has all fresh water gone” adapted from Pete Seeger’s “Where have all the flowers gone”) or in some cases adding new verses to existing protest songs (Holly Neer’s “We are a strong and angry people” written at the time of the Vietnam War).  She has explored a variety of sources, such as the Quaker Songbook, “Sing in the Spirit”, and the Greenham Common Women, to draw inspiration for a “Frack Free Songbook”).  The songs have been sung by children as young as 8 years old and people as old as their 80s, raising the spirit and calming the atmosphere on many otherwise fraught occasions.  The songs have been shared with a wider audience on “You Tube”.

Ginnie continues to uphold the principle of non-violent direct action and her ukulele group, Minster Ukes, provides sing-alongs for a mainly older audience, fundraising for various good causes in the York area.

She represented the Green Party in the local elections for Clifton ward in 2007 and again in 2001, and for Parliament in the 2015 election; the first Green to stand in York Outer. She polled 4.7% of the vote, not quite saving the deposit.

Janice Peggs with Ginnie Shaw 

Image ©By kind permission of Ginnie Shaw