BAME Champions & Housing Association Founding Fathers die

It is with great sadness that West Midlands based, Nehemiah Housing Association announce the sudden deaths of two of the Association’s renowned Founding Fathers, Bishop Theophilus McCalla MBE and Bishop Horatio Fearon.

Nehemiah Housing Association’s Chief Executive Llewellyn Graham comments: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Bishop McCalla and Bishop Fearon at this most difficult time. We have been overwhelmed by the tributes that are being paid to both men who were instrumental in the launch of Nehemiah Housing Association in 1989.”

Over the past three decades, the community-based Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) housing provider has grown dramatically, having started life in 1989 as Nehemiah Housing Association before merging with United Churches Housing Association in 2007. Following a rebrand in 2018, the organisation is now known as Nehemiah Housing.

Nehemiah Housing has expanded so much during the last 30 years and now has a total property portfolio of 1,243 homes in the West Midlands

Llewellyn adds: “Both Bishop McCalla and Bishop Fearon worked tirelessly alongside Nehemiah’s current Chairman Bishop Wilton Powell OBE to establish Nehemiah Housing Association. Its beginnings were in a meeting called by Bishop McCalla, Bishop Wilton Powell and Bishop Horatio Fearon at the Aberdeen Street Church of God of Prophecy (COGOP) in Winson Green. The meeting, which took place on 19th February 1986, expressed concerns about the poor housing condition of many older COGOP members, many of whom were widowed, isolated, and lonely with no relatives to support them in later life. While there was an underlying assumption that black people do not like or use what was termed in the 80’s ‘old people’s homes’, Nehemiah set out to promote housing for older people managed by the community. They pioneered a culturally sensitive housing and support service, with a sheltered housing model that had independent living but with a sense of community and a family feel at its core, so that older people were not isolated.

“In 1989, when Nehemiah Housing Association was established and the hard work, tenacity, passion and belief became a reality, Bishop McCalla became the first Chairman of Nehemiah with Bishop Fearon elected as Treasurer and since those early days they have continued to play an important role in the development of the association and helped us celebrate our 30th anniversary last year.

“Many have described Bishop McCalla and Bishop Fearon as visionaries which has been evidenced in them being champions and advocates for elders, families, children and young people in spearheading both church and social action programmes. In establishing Nehemiah Housing Association, they were men who shared the common perspective of caring for the seniors of our community.

“I have spoken to Bishop McCalla and Bishop Fearon’s family and prayed with them and they are both grateful for the many messages of support and love that they have received from the West Midlands community.

“Bishop Fearon’s son Kevin is of course a Director at Nehemiah and Vincent McCalla one of our former board members is Bishop McCalla’s son so the Nehemiah family is hurting even more. 

“But in this sadness, we must take joy from both men’s legacy as it is still having an impact on Nehemiah Housing today and will last a lifetime, with McCalla House Retirement Scheme in Wolverhampton named after Bishop McCalla and Fearon Place, Smethwick named after Bishop Fearon.

“Both men were giants of their generation, known and loved by many around the communities in which they served. I am sure all that knew them will agree they inspired and encouraged several generations – including me.  They both led a life that was so innovative, varied and dynamic that it’s hard to summarise what they did.

“Both in their 80s, one curious observation of longevity is that you can end up outliving not only your contemporaries but also your achievements. Something of this applies here. Throughout their time they played a significant part in shaping what is modern BAME housing associations in the West Midlands. Yet precisely because many of the battles they fought for the BAME community, the Windrush generation, occurred back in the early 80s, there are many today who are unaware of the role both Bishop McCalla and Bishop Fearon played in creating a culture that we now take for granted.”

Stephanie Freeman

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