Anita Conway, Radius Housing
Anita Conway looks out as much as in; as someone who knows the housing sector inside out, she carries with her knowledge of the industry both at home and abroad. It’s clear that she’s a compassionate and driven woman with ambitions both in business and social reform. A sense of camaraderie and trust clearly lies at the heart of her ethos, along with a pinch of that charming Northern Irish humour.
Whilst she may be humble, there’s no doubt that the work Anita is doing with Radius is changing the face of Belfast for the better, for good.
Can you see any of the international elements come into your work, either from developers or others that might get involved in projects you’re working on in the future?
“I think as city centres are reimagined and we come out of COVID there’s going to be the question of ‘what are we going to do with some of these buildings?’, and people are starting to think about how we are going to reimagine our city. I think now that housing and residential elements are going to become more prevalent in city centres as they are reimagined, so I think there will be foreign direct investment in that especially if there are built to rent projects. And as we look at big companies, in medtech for example, that are coming in, where’s the accommodation? Where’s the key worker accommodation? Where’s the affordable accommodation? So there is potential.
“I think there’s a role there potentially, for us to partner up. And certainly we’re looking at certain schemes where it wouldn’t be all social housing, that we would have a private element or an affordable element or all three. And I think our drive is really not to build single sector accommodation but to develop quality homes for all . It must be accommodation that reflects our communities. And I think that then, as the city thrives and develops, we have a major role to be part of providing the residential, open space and civic space that are part of our developments making them attractive places people want to live. And as well as that, we cannot forget the existing residents who have been city dwellers for years. We need to ensure their views and aspirations are met and it’s not just for anybody new coming in and that they feel part of and a beneficiary of the changing city. There needs to be a blended approach.”
How do you think spending time away from Northern Ireland, both studying and working, changed your perspective?
“Spending time abroad definitely gives you a bigger perspective. It shows you the ways in which things are done differently, and the vast differences in the communities you meet when at university or working or travelling aboard. Your perspective, when you’re learning and you’re in those formative years, changes when you’re meeting people that come from very different backgrounds. I was also at an age where the Troubles were still going on, so to come away from that and experience some form of normality was very powerful – thankfully it’s something we’ve achieved here now.
“I suppose it gave me a uniqueness too – there weren’t a lot of people from Northern Ireland at the time going over to GB to study. It helped me to network and to build up my links. I spent a year down in Cambridge on my placement, and I think they accepted me more easily than somebody from ‘up north’. I think we are welcomed everywhere in the world – it must be one of the selling factors when trying to get people to invest in NI. That’s the real Northern Irish mentality – if you’re good craic we like you, it doesn’t really matter where you come from and there is an acceptable of new people. But I was always amazed by that North/South division that seemed to be there in GB. Time away from home gives you the ability to deal with people from a range of different backgrounds and start to upskill yourself at a young age, to speak to anyone. It also taught me to speak slower! People struggled to understand me when I returned after a short visit home – we often speak like we’ve been put on fast forward!
“But I just think it gives you more awareness of the wider world, and just that breadth of meeting different people from different backgrounds. And Northern Ireland has gotten much more open, more attractive for people to come and live here and much more multicultural than it was then. So you do come back with different skills and different tastes and different ambitions. And I think that’s very positive.”