Phil Welsh: Housing volunteer and leader

Phil Welsh: Housing volunteer and leader
The Herald Scotland
09.08.13

Born: September 24, 1942; Died: July 12, 2013.

Phil Welsh, who has died aged 70, was a well-known figure in the Scottish housing movement, a founder member of West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative (WWHC) in Cambuslang and the co-operative’s first chairperson. He was instrumental in transforming Whitlawburn and was well-known and loved in the Cambuslang area. He was awarded the MBE in 1996 for his services to voluntary housing.

Originally from Eastfield, he was schooled at the local St Brides School and was popular with both fellow pupils and teachers, with his wit and intelligence to the fore. He was an early settler in the newly-built Whitlawburn estate in 1968 and worked in the steelworks in Clydebridge, and the famous Hoover factory in Cambuslang. He was an active trade unionist in both places. He was also well known for his love of football and ran local amateur football teams, Clyde United and Eastfield United.

In the late 1980s, it was clear the Whitlawburn Estate was rapidly going downhill. Mr Welsh’s wife, Sadie, encouraged him to get involved with the local tenants association, and since then Whitlawburn has improved beyond recognition.

He was instrumental in the successful tenants’ ballot to transfer the housing stock from Glasgow City Council to the community-owned West Whitlawburn Housing Co-operative. He said at the time the first cheque he ever signed in his life was for £2.2m to buy the houses on behalf of WWHC while he only had 10p in his pocket, such was his humility.

The stunning transformation of the West Whitlawburn estate is all due to the vision, determination and sheer hard work of Mr Welsh and his colleagues who established the co-operative. Glasgow City Council was starved of funding at the time, the estate was crumbling, physically and socially, and something had to change. Step forward Mr Welsh and his colleagues who bravely took on the ownership and management of the housing stock, and set about the huge task of estate regeneration. Community ownership was born in Whitlawburn, and there was no looking back.

His leadership, drive and selflessness were essential in making the co-operative such an outstanding success. He was awarded the MBE in 1996 but would only accept the accolade if it was recognised that the award was not only for him personally, but was on behalf of all WWHC committee and staff. He had a nice chat with the Queen and put her right about a few things too in his inimitable style. He quipped that they were alike in that neither of them ever carried money.

Mr Welsh often said that housing was more about people than it was about bricks and mortar and he evangelised this philosophy wherever he spoke about housing. He had no time for institutionalised bureaucracy or ivory tower pontificators.

As a well-known figure around the Scottish housing movement, he had a reputation for speaking his mind as a passionate advocate for the housing co-operative model. He believed it was the best vehicle for tenant empowerment and community regeneration.

He espoused the values and principles of The International Co-operative Alliance. He instinctively shared the values of Robert Owen at New Lanark and The Rochdale Pioneers. Mr Welsh’s name was regularly mentioned as an inspiration in discussions on co-operatives from Singapore to Rio de Janeiro. The boy from Eastfield became known worldwide. One of his last WWHC engagements saw him speaking to local politicians during Co-operatives Fortnight 2013. The strapline for the event fortnight is "local, loved and trusted" and that is as true for Mr Welsh as it is for co-ops generally.

His reputation also led to other housing organisations seeking his advice and services. He was asked to join the committees of various other housing organisations, such as New Gorbals HA, Camlachie HA and Cadder HA. He gladly accepted these challenges and helped strengthen those organisations in their early years.

He also joined the committee of SHARE, the housing association training organisation, where he served for almost 17 years, two of them as chair. He was a passionate believer in the importance of training particularly for voluntary committee members and he was a regular attendee and contributor at SHARE’s annual conference at Peebles Hydro Hotel. He was always interested in the evening entertainment, particularly the karaoke. In the mid to late 1990s he was part of a great double act with the late John Butterly of Reidvale HA, when they regularly delivered an entertaining and informative training session on the role of the committee member in a housing co-operative/association for staff new to the housing sector.

He was highly intelligent with a tremendous human touch. He touched many people with his warmth, spirit and generosity. He will be very warmly remembered and it would be fitting that everyone toasts his amazing and hugely successful life, with a drop of his favourite tipple- a wee Jack Daniels and ice.

His family and WWHC have established The Phil Welsh Welfare Fund to help alleviate poverty and hardship locally, and help provide food parcels to those in greatest need.

He is survived by his wife Sadie, son Phil, granddaughter Lauren and sister Elizabeth. His other sister, Nora, died some years ago.

His life, work and success will remain as an enormous inspiration to the many people who were touched by his huge personality, warmth, generosity and his caring wisdom.