Kenya Build 2019 (8 - 12 April)
by HFS Chief Executive Nicola Barclay

A week after I returned from Kenya, and back into the swing of things at work, I’m still trying to reconcile the events in my head. Some of the group who came with me have been posting photos and comments on LinkedIn. The most common phrase is ‘words can’t describe’ so how do I sum up our experience? Why is it so hard to explain the profound impact of the experience to those who didn’t join us?

To go back to the beginning of this story, I set up a charity partnership with Habitat for Humanity three years ago, shortly after I became Chief Exec of Homes for Scotland. I believed that it was incumbent on me to use my influence and position to be a force for good, beyond the excellent work that we do as part of the day job, promoting and advocating for the need for more homes across Scotland. I had a duty to reach further and have a ‘better and wider’ impact on the lives of others.

I was aware that our levels of poverty and need are a world away from those in developing countries. While we recognise that improved housing options in Scotland can improve the education, health and financial outcomes of our citizens, in places like Kenya and India, the provision of a basic home can be the difference between basic life chances: 

• do your kids have a dry floor to study on, without fear of scorpions or snakes biting them? 
• do you have a lockable door on your house that protects you from the risk of theft, attack and even rape?
• do you have access to clean water and hygienic places to prepare and cook food, with a chimney to stop you inhaling deadly smoke and fumes? 

Superficially, health, safety and education are similar desires across the globe, but in the developing world the provision of a home can lead to far more fundamental outcomes. 

I’d been to Mumbai in 2017 to see the work of Habitat for Humanity for myself, and on my return I was encouraged to reach out to our wider membership, announcing the possibility of a Homes for Scotland build at our Annual Lunch. 

So fast forward two years, and 20 of us have just returned from 10 days in Homa Bay, western Kenya. We are an eclectic mix of people from across the industry:

• Myself and our Head of Public Affairs, Jennifer 
• Head of New Build Mortgages at Lloyds, Douglas 
• Business Development Director at Hart Builders, Gill 
• Two members of the Contract Scotland team - Kelly and Eilidh 
• Land staff from Bellway, Taylor Wimpey and Mac and Mic:  Sara, Caroline and Charles  
• Lisa, a planner from Montagu Evans 
• Murray from Haus Architecture, 
• A team of 5 from Castle Rock Edinvar - Les, Lynn, Fi, Chris and Graeme 
• James, an associate director at Buccleuch Property 
• Brian, a Partner at Morton Fraser 

The team leader and deputy were appointed by Habitat for Humanity – John and Jemma managed to put up with 18 Scots admirably!

Our trip got off to a rocky start when the connecting flight for 12 of us to Amsterdam was cancelled, while we were on the runway! But the resulting team spirit to finding alternatives and keeping calm set the scene for the whole trip. We met up with the rest of the team the following morning, at the escarpment to the Great Rift Valley, a suitably impressive location for our first rendezvous!

So on with the build! We mucked in and followed the lead of John ‘Chap Chap’, the local mason who ran the build project. We shifted countless wheelbarrows of sand, rocks, hardcore and cement; we passed thousands of bricks along a line to get them to where they were needed; we filled in the gaps with mortar, as we chatted to the locals about football, family, housing and all the common bonds that hold humanity together. 

And we made friends. From 4-year-old Anita who everyone fell in love with, to 84-year-old Mama Saline who we were building the house for. She had lost all 7 of her children to AIDS and HIV and now looked after her orphaned grandchildren. We played frisbee and kicked a ball, and we lent the local children Rocky the bear, and I wish I could have seen their faces when Rocky was returned to them after we had gone. We cuddled babies and tried to work out who was the mum - everyone seemed to share the responsibility for looking after them, and we quickly slotted into a routine of work, water breaks, food and rest. We enabled the build programme to be shortened from 3 months to 6 weeks, just by providing additional labour and bucket loads of enthusiasm and energy!

So, what did we learn? That it’s hard to explain to a rural community why we felt the urge to fly 4500 miles to a country we don’t know, to build a home for someone we had never met, and to raise a lot of money for a community completely unlike any we had ever come across before. But that’s exactly what we did. Because we wanted to - wanted to give back, to share, to contribute to the wider good - beyond our own small world.

And we bring back a sense of achievement, a sense that we can all individually make a difference, bring hope to others, and bring a sense of perspective to our own lives, as we try to carry on as before, while knowing that we have changed. We’ve left a small part of ourselves behind. And the red dust of Africa is on our boots, probably in our lungs and definitely in our hearts.

Published 25 April 2019

Women Build - Mumbai 2017 (21-28 January)

by HFS Chief Executive Nicola Barclay

What do you get when you cross 13 western women, a home building charity, and a remote Indian community? A new house for Leela and her family, that’s what! 

My journey to Mumbai started last year when I decided that it was about time Homes for Scotland stepped up to the plate and got serious about its corporate social responsibility. We have a loud and strong voice in Scotland – representing the home building industry on a variety of planning and policy issues – and I decided that we should put it to good use by highlighting the global challenge that is building enough homes. Habitat for Humanity therefore seemed the perfect fit.

Although I’ve worked in the home building industry my entire career, I have never been involved in construction. My previous roles have mainly focused on land acquisitions and securing planning consents. By the time diggers arrived on site, I was already off looking for the next land deal. So, whilst I readily agreed when the good folks at Habitat for Humanity suggested I go on a build, it was with a fair amount of trepidation!

As luck would have it, a Women’s Build was due to take place in Mumbai in January 2017, and there were a few spaces still left. I quickly signed up before I could change my mind and found a willing accomplice in Gill Henry, Head of Business Development at Cruden Homes. Neither of us had done anything like this before, but we were both up for a challenge! 
The idea of a Women’s Build appealed to me as I loved the idea of females coming together to support others in India. As a society, traditional divisions of labour are still very much in place, especially in the remote village we were travelling to. The women spend most of their time cooking, fetching water from the well, washing clothes in the river and rearing the children so the quality of their domestic environment has a huge impact on their day-to-day life. 

I don’t think I truly understood the meaning of the word ‘community’ until I experienced it there. Everyone in this small tribal village came out to help build a house for their neighbour. We worked alongside everyone from old women to young kids and the local stone masons helped us to create a home made of handmade bricks and mortar. They all pulled together and we rolled up our sleeves, applied the factor 50 and grafted hard alongside them. In the space of five days we constructed a home that will survive the monsoon season – the roof won’t leak and the floor won’t turn to mud - and it will provide separate living and sleeping quarters. Most importantly, Leela’s two young boys Rohit and Rutik will have somewhere to study. 

But the 13 women who came together that week also created a community – one of solidarity for our fellow women around the world, and one of support for each other. There were highs and lows throughout our time together – jokes and laughter; ill health and bereavement; and we are still supporting each other now, as we try to adjust back into our ‘normal’ lives – knowing that we have all changed, while the world around us hasn’t. 

So we carry on, but with the benefit of a recalibration of our values:  family, friends and community are fundamental to our happiness, but the value of a home is immeasurable. 

HFS charity partners Habitat for Humanity Great Britain work to ensure every family has a decent place to live.  Visit for further information.

Published 22 February 2017

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